Dr Alexander (Sandy) Knowles MEng, PhD, FHEA, FIMMM

Dr Alexander (Sandy) Knowles

School of Metallurgy and Materials
Associate Professor in Nuclear Materials
Royal Academy of Engineering Associate Research Fellow
UKRI Future Leaders Fellow

Contact details

University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

Sandy Knowles is an Associate Professor in Nuclear Materials, Royal Academy of Engineering Associate Research Fellow & UKRI Future Leaders Fellow in the School of Metallurgy & Materials. He leads the Materials for Extremes research group.

Sandy is an experimental metallurgist focussed on the design & development of advanced alloys for the extreme environments of nuclear fusion & fission, aerospace gas turbines and concentrated solar power. 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, intermetallics and ‘high entropy alloys’ (HEAs), is supported by Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE), National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL), TIMET and Roll-Royce plc.

Sandy is actively involved in science policy. He was selected as a Foundation for Science and Technology 2020-21 Foundation Future Leader, a policy action network between academia, industry and policy. He is on the UK Fusion Materials national steering group, and editorial team for the UK Fusion Materials Roadmap 2021-2040.


  • PhD, Materials Science and Metallurgy, University of Cambridge, 2011-15
  • MEng, Materials Science, University of Oxford, 2007-11
  • FHEA, Fellow of the Higher Education Academy/Advance HE
  • FIMMM - Fellow of the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining
  • FST ‘Foundation Future Leader’ - Foundation for Science and Technology 2020-21 Cohort


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 UKAEA/CCFE, NNL, TIMET and Rolls Royce and international exchanges with ANSTO Sydney, DECHEMA Frankfurt, Max Planck Düsseldorf and ETH Zurich.

Sandy joined the School of Metallurgy & Materials at the University of Birmingham as a Lecturer in Nuclear Materials & EUROfusion Researcher Grant Fellow in 2018 before being awarded a Royal Academy of Engineering Research Fellowship (2019-24) and a UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship (2020-24/27), he was promoted to Associate Professor in 2021.


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

New PhD studentship positions in the group are advertised via findaphd.com.


Sandy’s research has three core themes.

  1. β-β’ bcc-superalloys, focused on the design of new bcc refractory metal & beta titanium alloys reinforced with intermetallic bcc-superlattice precipitates. These bcc-superalloys comprise remarkable ultra-fine bulk nano-structures with 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 steel ferritic superalloys.
  2. 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 principal element based systems. The HEA approach is being used to develop new alloys with low neutron cross-section for Gen IV fission fuel clad / ATF & fusion tritium breeder as well as fusion first wall/shielding materials.
  3. Functional nano-structured alloys, comprising refined microstructures produced by understanding and controlling phase equilibria through composition & temperature, on which we are demonstrating the power of microstructure length-scale & hierarchy to improve: (3.1) Irradiation damage - using the UoB proton cyclotron & upcoming neutron facilities, (3.2) Hydrogen storage – metal hydrides for enhanced hydrogen capacity & uptake (with Dr Josh Makepeace, UKRI FLF, UoB Chemistry), (3.2) Biomedial titanium implant alloys for antimicrobial resistance (with Dr Sophie Cox, UKRI FLF, UoB Chem Eng).

The COMPASsCO2 European Commission H2020 project seeks improved components and materials performance for advanced solar supercritical-CO2 concentrated solar power (CSP). The project team is composed of twelve members across: Belgium, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom. Sandy is UoB lead of WP3 (Development of metals), with a focus on Cr-superalloys, micromechanics and s-CO2 corrosion characterisation.


Selected publications

A.J. Knowles, D. Dye, R.J. Dodds, A. Watson, C.D. Hardie, S.A. Humphry-Baker, ‘Tungsten-based bcc-superalloys’, Applied Materials Today 23 (2021) 101014, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apmt.2021.101014

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, 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