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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/J018589/1
Title: Materials World Network: Composite Single Crystals - From Structural Evolution to Mechanical Characterization
Principal Investigator: Meldrum, Professor F
Other Investigators:
Armes, Professor SP
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Cornell University
Department: Sch of Chemistry
Organisation: University of Leeds
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 01 October 2012 Ends: 30 September 2016 Value (£): 947,914
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Materials Characterisation Materials Synthesis & Growth
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
No relevance to Underpinning Sectors
Related Grants:
Panel History:  
Summary on Grant Application Form
The combination of synthetic materials science with design concepts adapted from Nature is a promising route to the development of new materials. Biominerals such as bones, teeth and seashells provide an ideal inspiration for this approach, as illustrated by Nature's ability to manipulate mechanically weak engineering materials such as calcium carbonate to produce hard skeletal materials that exhibit excellent fracture toughness and unique morphologies. One key feature of these composite materials, which is an essential feature of their superior mechanical properties, is their structures involve strong intercalation of organic molecules within the mineral host. Here organics can not only be located between crystalline units as for materials such as nacre, but also within single crystals, as found for example in sea urchin spines. Indeed, single crystal biominerals often occlude up to several weight per cent of macromolecules, which is perhaps surprising given that crystallization is traditionally considered to be a method for purifying solids.

We will investigate the application of this biogenic strategy - the encapsulation of "inclusion materials" within single crystals - to create novel composite materials. Although the potential for synthesizing composite materials based on this approach is enormous, our lack of fundamental understanding means that progress in this field remains largely based on trial-and-error experiments. In this project, we have assembled an international team of researchers uniquely positioned to fill this gap, and by doing so we will develop a comprehensive understanding of 1) the mechanisms by which "inclusion materials" are occluded within a crystal lattice; 2) the internal micro- and nano-structure of the resulting single crystal composites; and 3) how the resulting structures ultimately dictate the mechanical properties of the resulting composite material. Our research strategy is based on a systematic study of the incorporation of a broad range of "inclusion" materials - ranging from molecules to microscopic polymer particles, and from compliant to stiff frameworks. We will design and synthesise bespoke molecules, particles and gels with appropriate chemical structures to promote intercalation, and in doing so develop the first truly unified understanding of how additives are occluded within crystals. It is also expected that novel syntheses of polymeric particles and gels will also result from this approach.

Understanding the strategies by which biominerals form, and how their design leads to superior properties is clearly a complex, multidisciplinary problem, encompassing fields such as crystal growth, materials characterisation, polymer chemistry, and analysis of mechanical properties. This joint NSF-EPSRC research grant involves an international collaboration between a consortium of world-leading research groups based in the USA and the UK, who by working closely together seek to combine the multidisciplinary expertise of each team to address this complex scientific problem and hence enable the rational design of novel biomaterials. Our ultimate goal is to create for the first time a truly unified understanding of how additives - ranging from molecular, to polymeric, to particulate, to compliant and ultimately stiff frameworks - can be incorporated within single crystals, and to determine how this strategy can be applied to the design of new materials with specific mechanical properties. This integrated approach will provide a general methodology for synthesizing composite crystals, contribute to our understanding of the biological systems from which the inspiration came, and will ultimately provide the basis for synthesizing next-generation materials such as artificial bone and tough synthetic dental enamel.
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Organisation Website: http://www.leeds.ac.uk