Project period: October 2014 – January 2015 

This community later received Accelerator Funding for the project: Controlling Nucleation & Growth to Deliver Novel Materials Functionality

GW4 community leads

University of Bath: Johannes Zimmer (PI), Chris Bowen 
University of Bristol: Isaac Chenchiah 
Cardiff University: Nicolas Dirr 
University of Exeter: David Wright

Project overview

This collaboration brings together all GW4 universities to nucleate a new community that will address an important bottleneck in the development of novel technological devices: the nonequilibrium evolution of material microstructure and its impact on macroscopic material behaviour. 


The ability to design and control microstructure would have transformative implications:  

  • It will enable the development of new functional (“smart”) materials and devices, such as energy harvesting devices based on piezoelectricity, and novel magnetic and liquid-crystal devices. 
  • Control of microstructure and its evolution is essential for the exploitation of emerging manufacturing technologies, which have the potential to significantly reduce the time taken from device design to industrial production. This would have enormous economic benefits.  

Achieving these aims requires a deeper understanding of how materials respond to changes in their environment: i.e., their non-equilibrium behaviour. The importance of this endeavour is recognized worldwide, through the EPSRC Physics Grand Challenge “Emergence and Physics far from Equilibrium”, the US DOE Grand Challenge “How do we characterize and control matter away from equilibrium?” and the UK BIS Great Technology “Advanced Materials”. 

Project summary 

The Initiator fund was used to establish a community, bringing together new cross-disciplinary and cross-institutional contacts from a wide range of departments (Physics, Mechanical Engineering, Chemistry, Biology, Mathematics) at all GW4 universities. It enabled research visits and initiated new collaborations, both across GW4 and internationally. Three meetings were used to bring together the community for discussions, developing a focus on nucleation and phase field problems. Taking these ideas forward, the group submitted a publication, a large EPSRC grant and were successful in an Accelerator grant “Controlling Nucleation and Growth to Deliver Novel Materials Functionality”.