Learning more about the materials that change our lives
In his Professorial Lecture, Professor Chris Rudd OBE explored the world of “advanced” materials and how they enhance our daily lives.
Tracing his own fascination with materials to his passion for rock climbing and the great outdoors, Professor Chris Rudd OBE – Deputy Vice Chancellor and Head of Campus, Singapore at James Cook University – notes in his Professorial Lecture that while “technical equipment like ropes, carabiners, harnesses and helmets save lives,” the importance of materials also extends far beyond that, and is critical to supporting the needs of society.
For example, progress in material science has allowed for artificial heart valve implants, of which more than 70,000 procedures are carried out each year in the United States alone, to save and prolong lives.
Looking back on the innovative history of materials reveals the discoveries and creation of useful materials that revolutionised the world, and even gave rise to some of our favourite gadgets. Paper – a man-made material that dates back to as early as 2nd century AD – has had arguably the biggest impact on civilisation, enabling mass learning, literacy, dissemination of “accurate” news and widespread access to culture. However, the widespread consumption of paper has a negative impact as well; the paper making industry has substantial climate change impacts, from its raw material sourcing in forests, through production, to the end of life of its products.
Professor Rudd says that “As global consumption increases, only technological advance in materials technology can mitigate depletion of natural, non-renewable resources.” One noteworthy way advancement in materials technology has achieved this is through the invention of LED lights, which use at least 75 per cent less energy compared to incandescent lighting.
In fact, materials and energy are very strongly intertwined. As global energy demand is expected to exceed 650 Million TJ by 2035, only solar energy has the capacity to match this demand.
(Solar conversion efficiency is currently at less than 20 per cent; panels only harvest visible light and are compromised by the heating effect.)
Research and development on energy storage materials is key to enhancing the comprehensive solar energy efficiency and helping society deal with the mismatch between energy supply and demand. Thankfully, new materials based on gallium arsenide and perovskite structured compounds show the potential of achieving significantly higher efficiencies at very low production costs.
Advanced materials have certainly changed the world, and even enabled some of our favourite gadgets. Graphene is a material so strong, flexible, transparent and conductive, along with magnetic and self-healing properties, that it can be applied in many different areas. These applications include touchscreen devices, sports goods, inks, paints and rewritable paper.
The future of materials holds even more transformative potential – whether it’s providing surfaces with anti-viral protection or growing new human organs. Ultimately, materials technology is dedicated to improving the quality of our lives.
View the full recording of the webinar here.
Check out Professor Chris Rudd OBE’s staff and research profiles here.
Find further information on our areas of research and research strength at James Cook University in Singapore here.