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BP Holdings Management: advancing understanding of materials science

Posted Nov 23 2012 2:17am


In the laboratory:  conducting deflection testing of a carbon fibre composite material in the National Composites Certification and Evaluation Facility NCCEF)

Ever since humans first learned to use wood and stones to create tools, we have manipulated the materials around us to build better products, such as stronger infrastructure, more efficient appliances and warmer clothing. And, as our understanding of physics, chemistry, biology and mathematics has improved, so too has our ability to push the physical properties of those materials. 

Take, for instance, steel. It’s what is known as a structural material, meaning it’s used to build things and today we find it in the construction of railways, skyscrapers, bridges, cars, pipelines, tools, washing machines and office furniture. It’s even been used in sculpture. 

Over the years, we have learned that steel is an alloy that can display a very wide range of properties according to both the elements added to it and its ‘microstructure’, which can be controlled by deforming and heating it. Powerful electron microscopes have revealed that steels are made up of little crystals that can have many shapes, and contain defects that, in fact, make them very strong. The more we know about steel, the more we can manipulate its properties and the more uses we can find for it.
All of this is vital to an industry that relies on many types of material - steel included - in order to operate safely, reliably and efficiently. This is why BP has established a $100 million research centre, known as the BP International Centre for Advanced Materials, or the BP-ICAM. The centre will lead research aimed at advancing the fundamental understanding and use of materials across a variety of energy and industrial applications. 

The centre will have a ‘hub and spoke’ structure, with the ‘hub’ located within The University of Manchester’s Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences. The ‘spokes’ and other founder members are based at the University of Cambridge, Imperial College London and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.   

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