Dr Alexander (Sandy) Knowles MEng, PhD, AFHEA

Dr Alexander (Sandy) Knowles

School of Metallurgy and Materials
Senior Lecturer in Nuclear Materials
Royal Academy of Engineering Research Fellow
UKRI Future Leaders Fellow

Contact details

University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

Sandy Knowles is a Senior Lecturer in Nuclear Materials, Royal Academy of Engineering Research Fellow & UKRI Future Leaders Fellow in the School of Metallurgy & Materials.

He is an experimental metallurgist focussed on the design & development of new alloys for the extreme environments of nuclear fusion, fission and aerospace gas turbines. He is a forerunner in the development of new “bcc superalloys”. Unlike current γ-γ’ nickel superalloys, β-β’ bcc superalloys make use of a bcc tungsten, titanium or steel matrix, with their higher melting points, for increased operating temperatures. This work, as well as his work on commercial alloys and ‘high entropy alloys’ (HEAs), is supported by Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE), National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL), TIMET and Roll-Royce plc.


  • PhD, Materials Science and Metallurgy, University of Cambridge, 2011-15
  • MEng, Materials Science, University of Oxford, 2007-11
  • FHEA, Fellow of the Advance HE (Higher Education Academy)


Sandy Knowles graduated with a MEng in Materials Science from the University of Oxford in 2011. His master’s research project was on ‘Aluminium matrix composites with nano-ceramic particle additions’ with Prof. M. Galano linked with Materion Aerospace Metal Composites and ALPOCO, developing new high temperature and high wear resistant aluminium metal-matrix-composites.

Sandy then went on to complete a PhD at the University of Cambridge 2011-2015, on ‘Novel refractory metal alloys for ultra-high temperature applications’ with Dr. H. Stone, supported through the EPSRC and Rolls-Royce plc Doctoral Training Centre (DTC). Following this, 2015-16 he was a postdoc at Imperial College London, on the ‘Designing of Alloys for Resource Efficiency (DARE)’ grant working on ‘High strength titanium alloys’ with Prof. D. Dye.

Sandy was then awarded an EPSRC Doctoral Prize Fellowship 2016-17 to develop his “bcc superalloys” for aerospace applications. From 2017-19 he held a EUROfusion Researcher Grant to investigate new nanostructured bcc tungsten superalloys for fusion first wall applications.

Most recently Sandy has been awarded both a Royal Academy of Engineering Research Fellow and a UKRI Future Leaders Fellow to further develop his bcc superalloys concept toward commercialisation. Titanium, steel and tungsten superalloys are sought to Engineering Resilience to the Extreme Environments of nuclear fusion, generation IV fission and gas turbines. The novel nano-structured alloys being developed target higher temperature capability and irradiation tolerance, which are needed to enable improvements in performance and efficiency. The programme has close industrial partnerships with CCFE, TIMET and Rolls Royce and international exchanges with ANSTO Sydney, Max Planck Düsseldorf and ETH Zurich.

Sandy joined the School of Metallurgy & Materials at the University of Birmingham as a Lecturer in Nuclear Materials and EUROfusion Researcher Grant holder in 2018 before being awarded a Royal Academy of Engineering Research Fellowship and a UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship.


Lecture courses:

  • 4th year & MSc: Irradiation Materials Science
  • 3rd year: Materials for Challenging Environments
  • 2nd year: Forefront of Materials Science – Design of Advanced High Temperature Alloys
  • 1st year: ‘Design for Structural Applications, industrial context lectures ‘Nuclear’, ‘Aerospace’ and ‘Biomaterials’

Postgraduate supervision

All 2020 positions are now full.


Sandy’s research has three core activities.

  1. β-β’ bcc superalloys, focused on the design of new bcc refractory metal rich beta titanium alloys reinforced with intermetallic bcc superlattice precipitates. The alloys that have been designed and developed comprise remarkable ultra-fine bulk nano-structures and have demonstrated exceptionally high strengths. These have been demonstrated for the first time within tungsten, molybdenum and titanium ‘bcc superalloys’, with the work also extending to new high temperature steels.
  2. Titanium alloy development. Specifically on new commercial alloys in collaboration TIMET on TIMETAL 575 and 407. On TIMETAL 575, the mechanisms of Si strengthening additions are being studied using advanced electron microscopy. While detailed fatigue studies are being performed on TIMETAL 407, so as to further understand its impressive fatigue performance. Work has also investigated titanium-intermetallic composites and TWIP/TRIP alloys.
  3. High entropy alloys (HEAs), or compositionally complex alloys (CCAs), have opened up new design space for the development of advanced alloys that break away from traditional single principle element systems. The HEA approach is being used to develop new alloys with low neutron cross-section for Gen IV fission cladding and fusion neutron windows as well as ‘bcc superalloys’.


Selected publications

A.J. Knowles, P Gong, K.M. Rahman, W.M. Rainforth, D Dye, E.I. Galindo-Nava, ‘Development of Ni-free Mn-stabilised maraging steels using Fe2SiTi precipitates’, Acta Materialia 174 (2019) 260-270, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.actamat.2019.05.034

D.J.M. King, S.T.Y. Cheung, S.A. Humphry-Baker, C. Parkin, A. Couet, M.B. Cortie, G.R. Lumpkin, S.C Middleburgh, A.J. Knowles, ‘High temperature neutron transparent high-entropy alloys in the Nb-Ti-V-Zr system’, Acta Materialia 166 (2019) 435-446. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.actamat.2019.01.006

A.J. Knowles, A. Bhowmik, S. Purkayastha, N.G. Jones, F. Guiliani, W.J. Clegg, D. Dye, H. Stone ‘Laves phase intermetallic matrix composite in situ toughened by ductile precipitates’, Scripta Materialia, 140 (2017) 59-62, doi.org/10.1016/j.scriptamat.2017.06.043.

A.J. Knowles, T.S. Jun, A. Bhowmik, D.N. Johnstone, T.B. Britton, F. Guiliani, N.G. Jones, C.N. Jones, H.J. Stone and D. Dye ‘A new bcc superlattice intermetallic reinforced titanium alloy system’, Scripta Materialia, 140 (2017) 71-75, doi.org/10.1016/j.scriptamat.2017.06.038.

 A full, up to date publication list can be found at Sandy's personal Scopus page.

View all publications in research portal