Material Science - Surprising Elements!

IHPC’s first seminar series in 2007 kicked off to a huge start with a staggering 440 students and 17 teachers from 28 schools attending the event at A*Star’s main auditorium at Biopolis on 30th January 2007. This was a major improvement in attendance since the last seminar series held in 2006 and the students were gearing up to learn more from IHPC...

Dr Michael Sullivan, team leader of the Computational Chemistry team at IHPC, started things off with his presentation on ‘Modern Day Alchemy’. He touched on how Materials Science is really a form of modern day alchemy where materials scientists are constantly discovering and producing new forms of materials from the hybridisation of other known materials. Dr Sullivan also focused on the calculative powers that computational resources can bring into the discovery of new materials. By using IHPC’s project on lead-free solder as an example, it would take approximately three years to predict the melting temperatures of about 80 alloys through conventional experimentation. However, using IHPC’s computational resources, the process can be reduced to just one year.

Following that, Assistant Professor Lim Kok Hwa from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) took the stage with his presentation on ‘Mixing Elements’. The development of methods to predict suitable compositions of catalysts was the main focus of Professor Lim’s talk as he delved into having a better understanding of the role of catalysts and catalytic reactions in materials science research. Another resident researcher at IHPC, Dr Jin Hongmei, who heads the Multiscale Modelling team, shared with the audience on using hydrogen as a form of alternative energy in her presentation entitled ‘Computer Simulation of H2 Storage Materials’. Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe and it has great potential as an energy source.  It is also non-polluting, and forms water as a harmless by-product during usage. However, it is extremely volatile and difficult to store, hence making its use as a fuel limited. Referring back to the applications of computational science, Dr Jin explained that by using computational modelling to simulate the processes in which hydrogen may be stored, scientists and researchers may one day find a way to work around the unstable nature of hydrogen and essentially tap into its potential as a clean energy source.

Last but not least, Assistant Professor Lam Ying Meng who is also from NTU spoke on the latest craze in the materials science arena – ‘Materials Science and Applications at the Nanoscale’. In layman terms, ‘nano’ or ‘nanoscale’ refers to a scale of measurement that is almost the size of an atom. Throughout the history of man, humans have been fascinated with the enormity of structures and is led by the thinking that ‘size is everything’. But with the revolution of ‘nano’ within the last fifty years, miniaturisation is now the new approach to science. Professor Lam explained that there are two basic approaches to doing ‘nano’ – the ‘top-down’ or ‘bottom-up’ methods. The top-down approach is based on lithography, which is the art and science of defining small features from a bulk mass, while the bottom-up approach focuses on the synthesis of novel molecules and nanoparticles, and the subsequent assembly of such building blocks into larger functional structures.

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30 January 2007 : Material Science - Surprising Elements!

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