Major European Centres in the Materials World


Like it or not, we live in a material world. Materials are omnipresent in a society that seems to depend more and more heavily on new equipment and new technologies, cars, planes, and computers being the most obvious examples.

Given the constant consumer demand for better designed and more powerful "stuff," society looks to science to explain the connection between the structure and properties of materials so that they can be optimised, or so that new ones can be created. This is the job of materials scientists, a broad category of researchers with a background in maths, physics, chemistry, mechanics, engineering, and even biology, all of whom contribute to designing the stuff of which tomorrow's material world will be made.

It is a fascinating science. For Next Wave readers who work in this field, or hope to, Next Wave has looked around Europe to help you keep an eye on materials science job opportunities and where they may be opening.


U.K.: Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy, Cambridge University

This department, which was rated 6* in the last Research Assessment Exercise tackles all major areas of materials science; however, research in biomaterials, electronic and device materials, materials chemistry, physical metallurgy, polymers, ceramics, and inorganic composites are areas of special strength. The department has seen its research income double in the last 7 years, now reaching more than £4 million annually, and partnerships with corporations such as Rolls Royce and Pfizer are being developed. The department enjoys a large international network, collaborating with institutions in Switzerland, Singapore, and the United States in particular. As many as 30 academic staff, 100 research fellows, a good number of postdoctoral and visiting scientists, and more than 120 PhD students are currently working in the department.

"About 30 new graduate students arrive each year, many of whom join us with backgrounds in physics, chemistry, or engineering," says the department. Most will do a Ph.D. (click here for current opportunities), and a new master's in computational modelling of materials has been introduced. Many of these projects receive funding from the government or industrial sponsors. For those projects that can't offer funding, a departmental Web page points you toward other possible sources of funding.

Sweden: Department of Materials Science and Engineering or KTH

This department at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm is dedicated to training and research in the field of structural materials, though functional materials are covered to some extent. KTH houses groups in applied and engineering material physics, materials chemistry, applied process metallurgy, mechanical and physical metallurgy, computational thermodynamics, process science and technology, corrosion science, energy and furnace technology, micromodeling, and ceramics.

The department also features two centres, each featuring a different expertise in materials science. Among these is the Centre of Computational Thermodynamics, which carries out joint research with the Swedish Institute for Materials Research ( SIMR). Then, there is the Brinell Centre, which focuses on properties, production, and technology transfer of advanced engineering materials. The latter also "operates a major graduate school in materials science and engineering with a broad multidisciplinary programme," where graduate students are encouraged "to spend at least 6 months in industry or at a research institute," according to departmental literature.

Switzerland: Institute of Materials or IMX, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology

IMX in Lausanne defines materials in the broadest sense, with labs studying ceramics, construction materials, polymers, composites, powders and metals (lab of metallurgical chemistry and mechanical metallurgy). IMX also tackles the areas of optoelectronics of molecular materials and materials simulation.

The institute collaborates closely with the Paul Scherrer Institute ( PSI) and the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research ( EMPA). And the institute features a doctoral school, which, in addition to a focus on research, delivers courses in collaboration with the Max-Planck Institute for Advanced Materials in Stuttgart, and soon with the Brinell Centre in Stockholm. Bursaries may be available to fund your Ph.D.

Belgium: The InterUniversity Microelectronics Centre or IMEC

IMEC in Leuven says it is "Europe's leading independent research centre in the field of microelectronics, nanotechnology, [and] enabling design methods and technologies for ICT [(Information and Communication Technology)] systems." IMEC aims to provide the industry with what it will need 3 to 10 years in advance and to have close collaborations with the industry as well as other research organisations. Because this is an interuniversity centre, it is also dedicated to research training, and the opportunities are many.

IMEC has an internship programme in which students from any nationality may come to work on a research project for several months, with their expenses and accommodation reimbursed. It also takes students for a master's thesis or a Ph.D. For the latter, IMEC will provide financial support. Details of projects, conditions of application (these vary according to your nationality and qualifications), and application forms can all be found on the IMEC Web site. For those of you with more experience, you may also check job opportunities online. IMEC says that there are up to 150 of these every year, for an organisation that currently employs about 900 people, with 85% of them being directly involved in R&D.

National Research Institutions

France: Bordeaux Institute of Chemistry for Condensed Matter or ICMCB

ICMCB describes the focus of its research as the "synthesis, elaboration, and characterisation of new materials, as well as the improvement of existing materials," with applications in fields such as transport, information storage, and waste treatment. The institute's 11 groups work together at the interface of materials sciences, solid chemistry, and molecular sciences. It is affiliated with the French National Centre for Scientific Research ( CNRS) and maintains close links with industry as well as with the University of Bordeaux and the Grande Ecole for Chemistry and Physics ( ENSCPB) in Bordeaux. The institute is thus involved in three master's programmes and takes on local students for placements and Ph.Ds. ICMCB is keen to welcome foreign postdocs and Ph.D. students, especially those from developing countries.

The Netherlands: Institute for Metals Research or NIMR

This Delft Institute was set up jointly by the government, Dutch metal industries, and universities to boost the competitiveness of the Netherlands in metals research. Thus, it is geared toward industry needs and acts as a platform for knowledge exchange and technology transfer. Research programmes are overseen by a small NIMR office in Delft; the research itself is performed within its partner research organisations. NIMR research focuses on the production of metals and the study of their lifetime properties.

The institute has vacancies for Ph.D. students and postdocs, with more than half the staff coming from abroad. NIMR emphasises that it "places considerable value on the further development of its researchers, both scientifically and with regard to their personal skills." This means that science trainees at NIMR have access to training opportunities and "favourable conditions for researchers to promote the continuation of their career either at a university or with one of the NIMR partners." One of these is Cambridge University in the United Kingdom.

Spain: Materials Science Institute of Madrid

ICMM belongs to the Spanish National Research Council ( CSIC). Its focus is research on and development of new materials, through study of the properties, nature, and dimensionality of materials. The Madrid institute has nine departments:

The institute recently counted 71 Ph.D. students, 15 postdoctoral fellows, 7 senior scientists on a Ramón y Cajal contract, and 20 professors.


U.K.: Corus

With its headquarters in London, Corus is an international giant in the metal industry. It manufactures metal products for aerospace, automotive, and energy-generation applications. Corus Research, Development, and Technology (RD&T) has 14 departments; their expertise falls within one of two categories: processes or products and applications. As mentioned on its Web site, Corus currently employs "almost 950 researchers across Britain and the Netherlands." Corus offers about 100 3- to 12-month placements to undergraduate students in the United Kingdom every year. Following the placement, students may apply for a £1500 sponsorship for their next year of study, or for one of the two £1,000 scholarships given annually to reward excellence in materials science. In any case, during their placements, they will receive £225 to £250 per week. The situation is a little different in the Netherlands, where Corus has only about 10 placements and no sponsorships.

Corus also offers on-the-job and formal training to recent graduates; this may last for up to 5 years. Graduates in the United Kingdom may receive training at the master of research (MRes) level; in the Netherlands, thanks to a Corus partnership with the Netherlands Institute for Metal Research, they may have the opportunity to do a Ph.D. or a postdoc.

If you are in the United Kingdom, you may expect a starting salary between £18,000 and £20,000 a year for a graduate job, or more if you obtained a first for your degree or have a postgraduate qualification. You may also gain sponsorship from Corus for a 4-year, industry-based Ph.D. (current stipend at 13,000 per year) or do an industrial CASE Ph.D., the latter being supervised jointly by academia and industry.

Corus is currently recruiting for 2005; you will find details on what it is looking for in candidates, profiles of employees, and a form to register your interest on their Careers Web site. Of course, you may also enter the company with more experience under your belt, and Corus has in place a specific talent development and management programme to support you whatever your level of entry.

International: IBM

Another leading company that employs people with a background in materials science is IBM, which, it says, is constantly "identifying new materials and processes not only to extend current technologies but to provide the exploratory materials for tomorrow's technology." Many fields of materials science are of interest to IBM, ranging from nanotechnology to electrically active organic materials and the measurement and analysis of materials. IBM researchers often work within teams that span several disciplines and countries. Check employment opportunities on the IBM Web site.

Italy: The Giordano Institute

This institute illustrates another way a company can use materials science and another scale of application. Its stated objective is to "improve industrial quality by providing high-quality services and assistance in all aspects of certification." To this end, it has a metallurgy laboratory testing service, with a department in metallography and another in mechanical technology. The institute also carries out basic research in materials technologies and standards, measurements, and testing.

Your next port of call: Materials Sciences Societies

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