Aarhus University focuses on materials research for building the future

Developing new materials with special properties is of crucial importance for scientific progress in areas such as energy, construction, environmentally responsible technologies, transport and electronics. Aarhus University has therefore established the interdisciplinary Centre for Integrated Materials Research (iMAT), which opened on 15 August. iMAT will support a number of industries and generally meet some of the global challenges we face in the future.

2017.08.16 | Rasmus Rørbæk

Professor Bo Brummerstedt Iversen is director of iMAT, the strategic research centre at Aarhus University. (Photo: Rasmus Rørbæk)

Throughout the history of the world, civilisation has experienced paradigm leaps through newly discovered materials – from the stone axes of our ancestors to the silicon used in computers today. However, we have run into a ‘materials wall’ so to speak. Unlike earlier practices, it is impossible to use methods such as mining to extract advanced new materials from nature.

New materials form the backbone of modern societal development. Materials are essential for establishing sustainability in a number of contexts. It is likely that answers to some of the major challenges facing mankind will be found in breakthroughs in materials research.

This is the background for Science and Technology’s decision to set up a new strategic research centre – the Centre for Integrated Materials Research (iMAT). The main focal point at iMAT will be to gather the strong research environments at a number of departments and centres at Aarhus University, and create a specific focus on materials research, cutting across the faculty’s usual academic boundaries.

“By setting up iMAT, we’d like to gather the many materials research activities carried out at Aarhus University, creating synergy and a community of interests between the different academic groupings at the faculty. By establishing the centre and gathering focus on this world-leading science taking place here at Aarhus University, we can ensure a much stronger position in Denmark and abroad. iMAT means that we are better equipped to actively contribute to finding solutions to a number of the UN’s global issues – the grand challenges,” says Dean Niels Chr. Nielsen, Science and Technology. Professor Nielsen initiated the establishment of several interdisciplinary research centres at Aarhus University in areas of importance to society.

We must do something about it now
We are facing a challenge that is fairly comprehensive, but nevertheless tangible. Humans must build a future in their own way, and the new materials can only be developed on the basis of a deep understanding of the individual material’s structure and properties.

“You could say, with a twinkle in the eye, that there would be no materials studies without materials. We have the facilities to produce some very advanced materials here at Aarhus University, and one of the major focal points of our work will be developing methods to improve the synthesis of materials,” explains Professor Bo Brummerstedt, director of the new centre at Aarhus University.

Modern materials research is a symbiosis between four basic activities: synthesis of materials, structure determination, measurement of properties, and computer modelling and predicting the material’s structure and properties.

“Overall, you could say that the symbiosis between synthesis, comprehensive structural studies, measuring material properties, and efficient modelling provides the major breakthrough, both academically and commercially. The academic environments that excel in all four disciplines will have a crucial edge, and the overall ambition at iMAT is to ensure that Aarhus University gets exactly that,” says Professor Brummerstedt.

iMAT is a conglomerate that includes the Department of Chemistry, the Department of Physics and Astronomy, the Department of Geoscience and the Department of Engineering, as well as the Interdisciplinary Nanoscience Centre (iNANO), where the extensive business collaboration that already takes place will be consolidated and expanded.

“Science and Technology has state-of-the-art research facilities at its disposal in the form of equipment and laboratories, and carries out world-leading research in a considerable number of academic disciplines. We’re pleased that we can now set up this strategic centre for materials research at Science and Technology.

Here we’re gathering expertise and research facilities in a way that can cover not only future research efforts in Denmark, but also research strategies at an EU level. iMAT also provides an opportunity to create even stronger ties between research groups and not least the business sector.

One of the centre’s aims is to make the research infrastructure accessible to industry, and to jointly build up further value and the potential for collaboration,” says Professor Nielsen.

Mutual benefits
In recent years, Science and Technology has launched a number of robust activities to strengthen and support collaboration with the business sector. An important part of the work at the new iMAT centre will involve collaboration with the outside world on a number of projects. This initiative is welcomed from several sides, including the Grundfos Group, which is one of the leading companies in the world in areas such as pump technology. The opportunity for direct access to the latest knowledge about revolutionary materials is important here, as well as integrating new properties in the next generation of technology.

“Grundfos is a world leader and, as such, an ongoing core task for the group is to set new standards in the industry. Our skilled employees succeed in this task via a high level of customer-oriented technology and digital innovation. The new centre for materials research at Aarhus University – iMAT – represents an interesting starting point for comprehensive and interdisciplinary knowledge production that can contribute to this development. I look forward to exciting collaboration with the university – also at this level,” says Group Executive Vice President for Business Development Ernst Lutz, Grundfos.

Materials of the future see the light of day
iMAT has a broadly based research portfolio at Aarhus University, and has research activities located at the departments that will be part of the centre’s focus. However, the centre also has unique equipment at its disposal, providing researchers with an opportunity to devise and carry out the extremely complicated projects necessary to create the materials of the future. This includes Northern Europe’s most powerful magnet, which is the dominant part of the Danish Centre for Ultrahigh Field NMR Spectroscopy, and the ASTRID2 particle accelerator, which makes it possible to study material properties by means of intense X-ray beams. The university also has extremely powerful electron microscopes for further analysing the internal structure of the materials.

In the near future, iMAT will have an even stronger research infrastructure when materials research has an opportunity to create revolutionary new instruments at ESS (European Spallation Source) and the MAX IV Laboratory – two multi-million installations currently being built in Lund, Sweden.

“Aarhus University is deeply involved in developing and building parts of these fantastic research facilities. ESS and MAX IV will make Scandinavia the European centre for materials research. We’re playing an important role with the responsibility for building two revolutionary instruments that will enable studies of processes such as materials under operating conditions in operando or chemical processes in situ while they are taking place.

This provides exceptional opportunities for creating research projects that can fundamentally boost human understanding of the structure and function of materials. I look forward to building further on our close and good relations with ESS and MAX IV via our work here at iMAT,” says Professor Brummerstedt.

For more information, please contact

Professor Bo Brummerstedt Iversen
Department of Chemistry
Aarhus University
Mobile +45 2778 2887
bo@chem.au.dk

Dean Niels Chr. Nielsen
Science and Technology
Aarhus University
dean.scitech@au.dk

Read more about the opening here.

Read about iMAT at the centre’s website here.

Public / media, Staff, Business