Future Materials and Australian Nanotechnology Alliance

In this Issue

  • Research News

    Metal microstructure holds the key - Dr Chris Hutchinson is working on ways of altering the microstructure of metals to improve their performance. He’s just been awarded a prestigious Australian Research Council Future Fellowship to pursue the research.

  • Know your material

    Counting the cost of corrosion - Estimates are that corrosion may have cost Australia up to $32 billion per annum. That’s more than $1,500 for every person in Australia each year. Researchers at the Curtin University of Technology believe that much of it is preventable.

  • Tin Tacks

    Award suggests rail research on track - The University of Wollongong (UoW) and RailCorp have been honoured with a major award for their joint research to improve track strength and stability to cater for heavier, faster trains. UoW researchers have assisted in the redesign of the ballast grading to enhance its strength and stability, the introduction of geogrids to improve performance of recycled ballast and the use of prefabricated subsurface drains to improve the performance of soft soil under the repeated loading from heavy trains

  • Sensational Materials

    Quench Coat – an eco-friendly metal coating replacement - CSIRO has developed a novel coating technology called ‘Quench Coat’ that protects galvanised products from 'white rust' – the form of zinc oxide that tarnishes freshly galvanised coatings, making them look dull.

    Zinc oxide nanoparticles and the synchrotron - Sunscreens, plastics and paints often contain zinc oxide nanoparticles, which protect skin and other surfaces from harmful ultraviolet rays. In response to recent claims that nanoparticles of zinc oxide could increase the risk of sunlight damaging the skin if they were absorbed into the skin, Australian researchers are using synchrotron techniques to explore the detailed toxicology and reactivity of zinc oxide.

    Hybrid nanoparticles express courier drugs - Dr Zhi Ping (Gordon) Xu is combining novel nanomaterials with biomolecules to enable safe, efficient and site-specific delivery of drugs or genes. He says nanocoating layered double hydroxide nanoparticles with a porous silica and conjugating this with biomolecules would enable delivery of large amounts of therapeutics to specific disease sites.

Event Calendar

For more information on international conferences in minerals, metals and materials click here.


The strategic alliance between Future Materials and the Australian Nanotechnology Alliance encapsulates our belief in collaboration through open innovation principles. Aligning Future Materials’ foundations within research organisations and the ANA’s industry focus provides a catalyst for economic development utilising new and advanced materials


Future Materials
School of Chemistry & Molecular Biosciences (Bld 68)
University of Queensland
ST LUCIA QLD 4072
Australian Nanotechnology Alliance
PO Box 609
HAMILTON QLD 4007

Phone: 07 33653829 • Email: c.gerbo@uq.edu.au
www.future.org.auwww.nanotechnology.org.au


Notice Board

Researchers in Business: The Australian Government has committed $10 million within Enterprise Connect to support the placement of researchers from universities or public research agencies into businesses where it is identified that such a placement would help to develop and implement a new idea with commercial potential. For more information see Researchers in Business.

ICONN’s preliminary program is now available. If you haven’t registered, early bird has been expended to December 15th.

The Australian Institute of Nuclear Science and Engineering Inc (AINSE) announced that Dr John Daniels and Dr David Turner have been appointed 2009 Research Fellows. Dr John Daniels will be positioned within the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of New South Wales and Dr David Turner will be undertaking his research in the School of Chemistry at Monash University

Twelve Australian scientific research groups have been awarded a total of $200,000 in grants to participate in the European Marie Curie International Research Staff Exchange Scheme (IRSES). Funding for these grants is provided through the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research International Science Linkages program, and is managed by the Australian Academy of Science.


Carla's Corner

From Oz to Europe (and back again)

Carla Gerbo

With the festive season and the end of year upon us, it’s time to reflect and look forward

Reflecting on the year that’s been, one cannot but be impressed with the performance of the Australian materials science community as highlighted in the Nanotechnology World R&D Report 2008 (produced by Science Metrix). This report examines performance as ranked by Scientometrics (papers) and Technometrics (patents) by the leading 24 countries in the nano environment.

The USA ranks highest in 6 of the eight Scientometric fields examined (Nanomaterials, Nanoelectronics, NEMS, Nanobiology, NanoEnvironment and Nanometrology) with Germany ranking highest in Nanophotonics and Switzerland in Nanoenergy. Australia’s performance in NEMS, Nanoenergy and Nanoenvironment is strong. But, most importantly, Australia’s performance in all areas (between 1997 and 2006) has improved and the expected trend is for this to continue.

While I know many would argue that there’s more to performance than numbers of patents and papers, they are the only statistics we have, and they do provide a standard reporting with international markets. As many of you would imagine, the statistics from China (which along with Korea and Taiwan are the countries to watch) are impressive. The Global Research Report China shows Chinese scientist published 112,000 papers in 2008 compared to 20,000 in 1998. According to the Thomas Reuters report, China has already overtaken the EU and Japan, and will leapfrog the US within the next decade. The good news for Australia is that a significant number of the Chinese papers are undertaken in cooperation with colleagues in the US, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Australia.

The importance of China and developing research collaborations (like those which Professor Max Lu of the University of Queensland has painstakingly developed) is widely acknowledged, and China is a high priority in the ANA/Future Materials’ international program from 2010. We will be looking at seeking funding through a number of sources aimed at bringing delegates from research and industry to key events. The Shanghai World Expo, opening in around 6 months, could very well be one of those events, and we ask that if you or a colleague is interested in being involved in such a mission, email me and register your interest. ANA/Future Materials will be looking at two such missions in 2010 and I will keep you informed of this through this newsletter (or you may wish to share your ideas with me).

On our home turf, 2010 starts with ICONN from February 22-26 in Sydney. It’s Australia’s most significant nanotechnology conference. The 2010 International Conference on Nanoscience and Nanotechnology brings together the Australian and International community working in the field of nanoscale science and technology to discuss new and advances in the field. ICONN 2010 will cover nanostructure growth, synthesis, fabrication, characterisation, device design, modelling, testing and applications. Added to all that, ICONN is a fantastic opportunity to network and learn not only from the conference program but from the exhibitors.

It’s an important time for Australian materials science, research and applications for commercial production. It’s clear that industry needs to embrace these new technologies and it is our role to continue to assist in knowledge transfer knowledge. We aim to prove that materials science = technology for a competitive advantage.

I’ll finish by wishing all our readers a revitalising break over the Christmas / New Year period. And look forward to more great stories in the 2010.

Carla Gerbo
National Co-Ordinator - Future Materials
Director & CEO - Australian Nanotechnology Alliance


Research News

Metal microstructure holds the key

Dr Chris Hutchinson is one of Australia’s new Future Fellows

Dr Chris Hutchinson is working on ways of altering the microstructure of metals to improve their performance. He’s a metallurgist based in the Department of Materials Engineering at Monash University, and has just been awarded a prestigious Australian Research Council Future Fellowship to pursue the research. The Fellowships are awarded to leading researchers across the country in an effort to promote Australia as an innovation centre and advance key industries.

For centuries now, engineers have been fascinated and intrigued by metals and alloys. Although they are the fabric of modern society, there is still a great deal of ground-breaking research being done in this area.

Strength in metals is achieved by creating barriers to the movement of defects known as dislocations. Dislocations, however, also promote ductility, allowing a metal to deform when subjected to a stress. This results in a trade-off between strength and ductility. So for example, very strong materials are typically very brittle whereas ductile materials are typically very weak. However, in most engineering applications, it’s desirable to have materials that are both strong and ductile.

Hutchinson and his team are looking at how an alloy’s microstructure can be altered to overcome this problem. Taking inspiration from nature, Hutchinson uses the example of a tree.

“A sapling is very flexible and supple,” explains Hutchinson. “But a mature tree is strong and rigid - yet the tree is still made from the same material. We are looking at how we can alter the microstructure of metals once they are in service to achieve similar results.”

The idea is to create what are termed “dynamically responding microstructures,” that change their behaviour depending on the type of load applied. Such technology could have incredible uses in many practical applications where a combination of high strength and high ductility (or toughness) is required. For example, a car panel needs to have high strength to avoid unnecessary deformation and save weight, but in a crash situation, ductility is required to help absorb impact energy.

Hutchinson is looking at novel ways of altering the material properties of metals. Rather than using traditional methods like work hardening and heat treatment to improve strength pre-installation, it may be possible to use alternative energy sources found in-situ to achieve the same effect. For example cars repetitively rolling over a bridge could strengthen steel re-enforcement leading to improved material properties over time. Or when a relatively brittle material starts to deform, a transformation may occur to make it becomes more ductile to blunt the cracking.

Hutchinson highlights that thanks to facilities like the Monash Centre for Electron Microscopy (MCEM) he is able to immediately see the results of his experiments at the finest length scale. Located on the Clayton Campus, the MCEM is a world class facility and one of the most stable buildings in Australia.

“Characterisation used to be a serious bottleneck for us because we couldn’t actually see all the details of the micro-structures we were creating,” says Hutchinson. “Now we can see how dislocations interact with, and in some cases, modify the microstructure and how that affects material properties.

“The synchrotron has also provided us with some new and exciting visualisation techniques, so this is definitely a very exciting area at the moment.”

More info: damian.fullston@csiro.au


Know your materials

Counting the cost of corrosion

Corrosion is costing more than $1,500 for every person in Australia each year

Researchers at the Curtin University of Technology believe that corrosion may be costing the Australian economy more than $30 billion each year. What’s more, much of it is preventable.

“Almost all engineering materials, such as steel, plastics and concrete, are subjected to corrosion and degradation,” says Dr Reza Javaherdashti, a Research Fellow in Curtin’s School of Civil and Mechanical Engineering. “This includes all vehicles, buildings and infrastructure.”

Corrosion can result in terrible tragedies such as train derailments, oil spills, collapsed bridges, gas shortages and severe power outages.

“Estimates are that corrosion may have cost Australia up to $32 billion per annum,” says Javaherdashti. “That is more than $1,500 for every person in Australia each year.”

Professor Rolf Gubner, Director of the Western Australian Corrosion Research Group (WACRG), says corrosion education was the key to saving $8 billion of avoidable corrosion damage each year.

“Most decision makers do not realise that corrosion is a significant problem,” he says. “An appreciation of corrosion will, in many cases, provide opportunities for its threat to be removed during the design stages of a project, or a successful treatment program to be implemented.”

Professor Gubner said it was an important issue that government and industry needed to take seriously.

“The world has experienced one of the greatest economic crises in modern history,” he observes. “We need to be looking at everything we can to save money and improve efficiency. Timely, well-planned action on corrosion is one way that we can improve the efficiency of our economy. Besides saving money, doing this can also help prevent horrible accidents.”

WACRG is part of Curtin’s new $116 million Resources and Chemistry Precinct, which is a cluster of more than 200 research and teaching staff. This is one of the greatest concentrations of expertise in fields such as hydrometallurgy, water quality and treatment, nanotechnology, corrosion research, forensic science and biotechnology in the Southern Hemisphere.

More info: http://corrosion.curtin.edu.au/


Tin Tacks

Award suggests rail research on track

Professor Buddhima Indraratna (UOW) and David Christie (RailCorp) proudly display the B-HERT award trophy. Photo courtesy Professor Indraratna and Leisa Hunt (B-HERT)

The University of Wollongong (UoW) and RailCorp have been honoured with a major award for their timely joint research to improve track strength and stability to cater for heavier, faster trains.

At a ceremony in Melbourne, Professor Buddhima Indraratna received the Business-Higher Education Round Table’s (B-HERT) most coveted, ‘2009 Award for Best Research & Development Collaboration’ for outstanding achievement. This award is in recognition of the significant contributions made by the UOW-Railcorp (NSW) partnership of Professor Indraratna (Professor of Civil Engineering) and David Christie (Senior Geotechnical Consultant, RailCorp, NSW).

Professor Indraratna from UoW’s Faculty of Engineering is also its Director of the Centre for Geotechnical and Railway Engineering, and the Wollongong Co-ordinator for the Co-operative Research Centre for Rail Innovation. He is regarded by his peers as being the leader of a group of researchers who are at the forefront of rail research in the world. Since the mid 1990s after starting rail track research for the first time in an Australian university, almost every PhD student in the rail track area in Australia has been a student of Professor Indraratna.

Professor Indraratna paid special tribute to his past and present PhD students and his dedicated research staff who have worked with him for about 15 years in rail track research that has brought recognition to the University of Wollongong as one of the most prominent rail track research centres in the world.

Professor Indraratna and his co-researchers along with RailCorp have been involved in the design and construction of modern rail tracks using high strength plastic grids and synthetic drain systems and for introducing new ballast standards for rail tracks in Australia to cater for faster and heavier trains.

Transporting increased amounts of freight, coal and ore on rail at higher speeds demand a strong and reliable track structure. Rock of high quality for rail ballast is a diminishing resource and extensive quarrying degrades the environment.

“Achievements have been the redesign of the ballast grading to enhance its strength and stability, the introduction of geogrids to improve performance of recycled ballast and the use of prefabricated subsurface drains to improve the performance of soft soil under the repeated loading from heavy trains,” says Professor Indraratna.

Earlier this year, the NSW Premier Nathan Rees and Transport minister David Campbell announced $10 million in funding from RailCorp to establish the SMART Rail institute at UoW.

The Rail Institute will play a critical part in the overall development of the University of Wollongong’s SMART (Simulation, Modelling and Analysis for Research and Teaching) Infrastructure Facility now under construction at the University.

B-HERT Awards were established in 1998 to recognise outstanding achievements in collaboration between business and higher education in the fields of research and development and education and training. The objective of the program is to highlight at a national level the benefits of such collaboration and enhance links between industry and universities.

More info: http://www.uow.edu.au/eng/research/geotechnical/index.html and http://www.railcrc.net.au/


Sensational Materials

Quench Coat – an eco-friendly metal coating replacement

The corrosion resistance of Quench Coat equals that of chromate coatings while maintaining the freshly galvanised appearance. (Image CSIRO)

CSIRO has developed a novel coating technology called ‘Quench Coat’ that protects galvanised products from 'white rust' – the form of zinc oxide that tarnishes freshly galvanised coatings, making them look dull.

Currently Australian galvanisers use a chromium-based treatment immediately after galvanising to maintain a shiny appearance during the early life of the product. Chromate is widely used as a conversion coating on metals such as zinc, aluminium and magnesium to help protect against short-term corrosion and as a base for additional protective coatings. However, although chromate is an excellent corrosion inhibitor, it’s also highly toxic!

CSIRO Materials Science and Engineering scientist, Dr Scott Furman, says although chromate is still widely used in Australia, the industry is keen to find an alternative.

"Quench Coat is a simple drop-in replacement for chromate in the galvanising industry," Dr Furman says. "Some alternatives to chromate require the use of hazardous solvents, which have occupational health and safety issues. Because Quench Coat is water-based, it has none of these disadvantages."

In CSIRO’s trials, Quench Coat matched the performance of chromate in accelerated and outdoor exposure tests. It is more readily paintable than chromate, with good adhesion characteristics, and is also well suited to applications where the metal product needs other protective coatings.

Comparison between a sample protected by Quench Coat and a plain galvanised surface. (Image CSIRO)

Because this technology eliminates the need to use a toxic chemical during manufacturing, products can be marketed with a ‘green’ label, which may help distinguish them from those that still use chromate coatings. The cost and performance are similar to chromate, without the additional costs associated with the disposal of hazardous chromium wastes. Quench Coat will contribute to a safer working environment and reduce health risks to workers.

Quench Coat was specifically designed as a chromate replacement for hot-dip galvanising but the coating also works with other types of galvanising and forms on other metals, including aluminium and magnesium. It therefore has numerous applications beyond hot-dip galvanising and is capable of providing green solutions to a wide range of industries.

Quench Coat was developed in partnership with a galvanising company to ensure it met industry requirements. CSIRO has identified a number of potential end-users eager to move away from the use of chromate-based manufacturing methods, and is now seeking a coatings company to produce and distribute the technology commercially.

More info: Scott.Furman@csiro.au

Zinc oxide nanoparticles and the synchrotron

Electron micrograph of zinc oxide nanoparticles. The scale bar is 100 nm

Sunscreens, plastics and paints often contain zinc oxide nanoparticles, which protect skin and other surfaces from harmful ultraviolet rays. The advantage of nanoparticles is that we can’t see them on our skin, unlike larger particles that appear white.

In response to recent claims that nanoparticles of zinc oxide could increase the risk of sunlight damaging the skin if they were absorbed into the skin, Australian researchers are using synchrotron techniques to explore the detailed toxicology and reactivity of zinc oxide.

Their main aims are to help ensure that zinc oxide nanoparticles are safe for human use and don’t adversely affect the environment, and that legislation governing the use of nanoparticles is based on accurate scientific data.

Melbourne scientist Terry Turney is working with industry, CSIRO, Monash, RMIT and Deakin Universitiesy and medical researchers to determine the long-term impact of zinc oxide nanoparticles in sunscreens. As a former director of nanotechnology for CSIRO, Terry and his research group helped developed an ultra-low-cost method for producing nanoparticles, now used by a Melbourne company that exports tonnes of precisely engineered zinc oxide nanoparticles around the world. His current interests include a commercial company that makes micronutrients for agriculture.

Zinc oxide is a photocatalyst. When it absorbs light energy, it can then act as a catalyst (ie, zinc oxide helps to promote other reactions such as oxidation without actually undergoing any reactions itself). Although the effect is more pronounced in smaller particles such as nanoparticles, it is not clear whether the increased reactivity is entirely due to the increased relative surface area found in nanoparticles.

Terry and his colleagues are looking closely at how introducing very small quantities of cobalt or manganese atoms (either inside the nanoparticles or on the surface) might influence zinc oxide nanoparticle properties. A single nanoparticle is typically 20-30 nm across and might contain around 200 cobalt or manganese atoms, so high-precision analysis is essential. The position and number of the cobalt or manganese atoms can be controlled by modifying the manufacturing conditions.

Synchrotron techniques make it possible to characterise the positions of the cobalt and manganese atoms even when these are present in very small numbers.

“We’re starting to think of the Australian Synchrotron as a one-stop shop,” Terry says. “We’ve already used three beamlines: soft x-ray absorption, x-ray absorption spectroscopy and powder diffraction. And yes, we can see the difference between samples from different manufacturing processes.

“Using the synchrotron, we’ve finally been able to obtain precise structural details of our relatively large nanoparticles (20-30 nm). Medical researchers are now correlating that data with chemical and biological reactivity studies.

“Next year we’d like to use the x-ray fluorescence microprobe to look at where the nanoparticles might end up inside the skin cells.”

This story first appeared in the Australian Synchrotron's Lightspeed newsletter, November 2009. More info: http://www.synchrotron.org.au/

Hybrid nanoparticles express courier drugs

Dr Xu's nano-particle research spans the boundaries of chemistry and biology.

Dr Zhi Ping (Gordon) Xu is combining novel nanomaterials with biomolecules to enable safe, efficient and site-specific delivery of drugs or genes. And to help him in his quest, Dr Xu has just received $75,000 University of Queensland Foundation Research Excellence Award.

Dr Xu, who works at the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN), says nanocoating layered double hydroxide nanoparticles with a porous silica and conjugating this with biomolecules would enable delivery of large amounts of therapeutics to specific disease sites.

“Drug delivery has increasingly become an interdisciplinary field courier with the global market for advanced drug delivery systems amounting to approximately US$134 billion in 2008,” says Dr Xu. “Delivering drugs or genes requires the nanoparticle to evade the body's immune defences, recognise and attach to the specific cell, cross the cell membrane, and localise to the subcellular site of action or migrate to perinuclear area for further entrance into the nucleus.”

According to Dr Xu, the key to this project is the unique properties of the hybrid nanoparticles. The layered double hydroxide (LDH) is able to carry large amounts of therapeutic agent, while the coated porous silica can be readily modified for targeted delivery of the therapeutic payload to specific cells in the body.

“To be an effective delivery system, the nanoparticle must be a suitable carrier and readily transported through various biological barriers to the site of action,” he explains.“By functionalising the porous silica coating and binding targeting biomolecules such as antibodies, folic acid or peptides, we hope to deliver therapeutics specifically to the disease site.”

Dr Xu is an acknowledged leader in the synthesis, characterisation and application of LDH nanomaterials and his skills are further supplemented by the animal model and in vitro expertise of AIBN's Professor Julie Campbell and Queensland Brain Institute's Dr Nyoman Kurniawan.

More info: Dr Zhi Ping Xu (07 3346 3809); http://aibn.uq.edu.au/


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