Skip to main content
Alison Davenport home

2020 started with a wonderful Materials Ball in the Great Hall, celebrating Professor Rex Harris’ IOM3 Outstanding Achievement award for research on hydrogen in metals and his passion for global sustainability, which have had a major influence on our research.

Current highlights include Prof Allan Walton’s work on recycling NdFeB magnets in old hard disc drives using hydrogen, which was featured by the BBC: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-52701851

This will be scaled up at the University’s new facility at Tyseley located adjacent to a facility that generates hydrogen from municipal waste. This has also led to the formation of a start-up company, HyProMag.

Recycling is an integral part of growing battery research: Prof Emma Kendrick’s work includes battery reuse and remanufacturing, she is working with collaborators on robotic disassembly to separate components into well-defined waste streams.

Recycling with robots is necessary owing to the safety risks of lithium batteries, which is a growing research area led by Dr Dan Reed, who has just installed a facility next door to the School, where batteries can be safely tested to destruction to understand how to make them safer both for normal use and during recycling.

battery testing facility

Our battery activities are underpinned by fundamental modelling work carried out by Birmingham Fellow Dr Andrew Morris, who is simulating chemistry changes during charging and discharging of potential new battery materials. This was featured as an ACS Editor’s Choice article in the journal Chemistry of Materials: https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/schools/metallurgy-materials/news/2020/research-paper-chemistry-materials.aspx

Of course the rest of the year has been dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic. As case numbers rose in March, there was a rapid move towards delivering the remainder of the semester online while we accelerated plans for a safe shut-down of our labs. Working from home, we then developed alternative assessments to replace all of our exams. Everyone was itching to get back into the labs, and our High Temperature Research Centre with Rolls-Royce was the first University facility to restart after lockdown, and based on this success Met and Mat was the first building to reopen for research on campus. We now have most labs open with limited occupancy and very careful social distancing. In parallel, we have been planning a new “bimodal” mode of delivery for the new academic year comprising short lecture clips for offline viewing followed by interactive class sessions that can be delivered online or in person, alongside socially-distanced laboratory sessions that can be streamed if necessary. We’re still planning to run both individual and group projects with carefully planned lab work to maximise the use of our very busy research labs.

In the midst of this, both the Graduation Ceremony and the College Student Societies Awards took place online, and we were delighted that BUMS won Sports Team of the Year and two of our undergraduates won awards: Molly Service won Role Model of the Year, and Avery Cunningham won the Engineering and Physical Sciences Community Award.

We are of course tireless in our determination to inspire the next generation to study materials. We took a major role in setting up the Discover Materials group (www.discovermaterials.uk) which is a new initiative to co-ordinate materials outreach amongst UK Materials Departments. The group appointed Dr Chris Hamlett to the post of Henry Royce National Outreach Officer for Materials Science and Engineering last year and we are delighted to host him in Met and Mat.

Chris’ work is focusses on inspiring school pupils to take up Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) degrees by creating a series of resources for teachers, forming a network of MSE ambassadors, a national survey of 16-18 year olds, and he’s commissioned a great video to promote MSE as a discipline.

Most notably Chris arranged a significant presence for the 2020 Big Bang Fair, co-ordinating a collaborative stand with Carl-Zeiss, Henry Royce Institute, IOM3, RMS and activity stands showcasing research in turning waste CDs into 3D printable filaments. Sadly, the Big Bang was another victim of COVID-19 so Chris took a ‘light’ version of the stand to schools who were due to attend the Fair and released the video as part of the “Discover Materials Open Week” in July.

As part of our outreach activities, we also like to tell good stories about careers in materials: we’d love to hear about your experiences, so please do get in touch by emailing our Alumni Relations Manager Grace Surman on eps-community@contacts.bham.ac.uk.

Our alumni continue to be a big part of our School and regularly work with us in voluntary and professional capacities. A big thank you to those of you who have kindly volunteered with the School this year. Your mentoring of our students, guest lectures, sharing careers advice and professional expertise is invaluable. Thank you, you've made a real impact here!

I’d like to finish with an invitation to you all to join us at our next Materials Ball, which we will hold just as soon as we are able to do so. As ever, we encourage you to make a weekend of it and stay at the hotel next door to our buildings (the Edgbaston Park Hotel) so that we can invite you for Saturday lunch in the School, and take you on tours of our labs. You can then come back for a reception in the School, and stroll across the lovely Green Heart of Campus to the Great Hall for the Ball itself. We’ve had some great examples of groups of alumni who have booked tables together to enjoy catching up with old friends. We hope to see as many of you as possible as soon as we can in 2021.

With very best wishes,

Alison Davenport
Head of the School of Metallurgy and Materials

Read the 2020 Metallurgy and Materials Alumni Newsletter here.