The Bragg Centre for Materials Research aims to discover, create, characterise, and exploit materials engineered at the atomic and molecular level. It brings together scientists and engineers to work at all stages of research from blue-sky to industrial innovation. Our interdisciplinary research combines the fundamental understanding, design, modelling and fabrication of materials to lead to new devices, systems and applications.

We collaborate with industry and other universities to deliver new scientific insights, and to attract some of the world’s best researchers in materials science.

Our suite of advanced shared experimental facilities is available for use by industry and other universities. It includes:

The Bragg Centre's research themes are:

Analytical science

Analytical science applies techniques and methodologies to develop new materials, or improve the functionality of existing materials. We develop new techniques and exploit existing methods to examine the morphology, structure and chemical composition of materials at the atomic scale.

Our research draws upon the analysis of nanomaterials, metals, ceramics, minerals, and materials with the properties of cement. We focus on the analysis of soft matter (such as liquids, gels, foams and biological materials), which offers scope for the development of entirely novel scientific avenues with application in the fine chemical, energy, biomedical, pharmaceutical and food sectors.

Key facilities: electron microscopy; scanning probe microscopy; atomic force microscopy; X-ray diffraction; X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy; scanning and transmission electron microscopy; focused ion beam microscopy; X-ray and electron spectroscopies; versatile X-ray spectroscopy for natural environmental conditions.   

Bionanotechnology

Bionanotechnology involves scientists and engineers from biology, physics and chemistry working with nanometre-sized materials. Our research includes:

  • drug delivery and tissue engineering based on protein gels and nanostructured materials
  • biosensors for rapid diagnosis systems at the point of care
  • functional materials inspired by biology
  • models of membranes to help understand biological systems and disease
  • stem cell therapies through the manipulation of biological systems
  • microfluidics for organ-on-a-chip systems
  • microbubbles to carry drugs for more targeted treatments, for example delivery at the site of a tumour
  • methods to control how bacteria interact and cooperate

We collaborate extensively with the Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, as well as other universities and industry.

Key facilities: fast-scan atomic force microscopy; force-spectroscopy; scanning electrochemical and ion conductance microscopy; confocal, multiphoton, and Raman microscopy; bespoke cell culture, molecular biology and biochemistry facilities; microfluidics rapid prototype facilities.

Electronic and photonic materials

Our research includes work on semiconducting, superconducting, magnetic and piezoelectric materials, terahertz electronics and photonics, glasses, and lasers.

Semiconducting, superconducting and magnetic materials

Our research involves the development of more energy-efficient materials for computers and other electronic mobile devices with applications that include low power electronics, information storage, energy harvesting, photovoltaics, molecular batteries, quantum technologies, and bio-compatible sensors. We combine different functionalities within a single material through nanoscale engineering of its mechanical, electronic, magnetic and optical properties. This supports science such as quantum coherence, molecular spintronics, magnonics, skyrmions, and topological insulators.

Piezoelectric materials

Piezoelectricity is electricity generated through physical pressure. An example use of these materials is a pickup on a guitar to convert vibration of the strings into an electrical signal which can then be amplified by a loudspeaker. Our research focuses on the potential for:

  • lead-free piezoelectric materials
  • energy-efficient electronics and opto-electronics
  • sensors for medicine and extreme environments
  • quantum devices for secure data transmission and information processing
  • high temperature materials, with applications in aerospace, automotive and process engineering.

Terahertz electronics and photonics

Terahertz frequencies lie between the microwave and infrared ranges of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Our research in this area includes:

  • the quantum cascade laser. This can be used in precision gas spectroscopy to detect key indicators of climate change through atmospheric sensing
  • medical imaging using terahertz near-field and self-mixing spectroscopy techniques
  • developing photonic integrated circuits for optical and data communication
  • glass thin films
  • pulsed laser processing of materials
  • glass ceramics
  • optical fibre engineering for lasers, sensors and amplifiers
  • the interaction of lasers with biological matter such as dental minerals and bone
  • the processing of rare-earth materials and minerals

Key facilities: Terahertz Photonics Laboratory; cleanroom; electron-beam lithography; III-V semiconductor molecular beam epitaxy laboratories; facilities for the spectroscopic characterization of glass and minerals, bio-minerals and animal tissues; a fabrication facility to enable organic, ferromagnetic, piezoelectric, superconducting, and exotic topologically insulating materials to be combined with atomic resolution in a bespoke set of ultra-high vacuum chambers.

Functional surfaces

Our functional surfaces research focusses on tribology, surface engineering, corrosion and erosion, and improving flows of liquids.

Tribology

Tribology is the science of interacting surfaces in relative motion—particularly friction, wear and lubrication. Our aim is to develop models to reduce friction and wear. This has application across engineering systems, including in:

  • car and aircraft engines
  • brakes and bearings
  • wind turbines
  • extreme environments such as space
  • biomedical joint implants
  • metal grinding and forming

Surface engineering

Our research involves:

  • reducing friction between surfaces through improved coatings
  • bioinspired surfaces for anti-fouling
  • nanostructured surfaces for corrosion and tribology applications
  • surfaces that can react and adapt

This results in an increased quality of life for recipients of surgical implants, reduced environmental pollutants in manufacturing processes, better transport fuel efficiency, and improvements in the efficiency and safety of a wide range of products.

Corrosion

We work with the oil and gas sector to find ways to reduce and mitigate corrosion in oil wells and pipelines, as well as improving the recovery of oil and gas by minimising the effects of mineral scale, waxes and other foulants.

Key facilities: multi-functional physical vapour deposition/plasma enhanced chemical vapour deposition (PVD/PECVD) platform; cleanroom.

Multiscale materials

Our work on multiscale materials involves the construction of high-performance materials from the atomic to macroscale.

Topics include crystallization, nanomaterial synthesis, supramolecular assembly, and nanocomposites. We aim to develop an understanding of the physico-chemical interactions in fabricating new materials with applications such as molecular devices, catalytic materials, drug therapies, membranes and batteries, nanotechnologies, sensors, and structural materials.

Key facilities/techniques: electron-beam lithography; laser ablation; bottom-up assembly techniques using atomic, molecular and nanomaterial building blocks; automated systems for materials fabrication; advanced characterization techniques.

Soft matter

Soft matter includes surfactants, polymers, gels, liquid crystals, and glasses. Our research aims to understand the relationship between the structures and dynamics of soft matter, and their properties.

Applications include:

  • novel polymer and colloidal systems in batteries
  • auxetic liquid crystal elastomers for biological tissue replacement and impact resistant systems
  • novel non-display applications of liquid crystals
  • cellulose-based systems as environmentally-sustainable composites
  • improved manufacturing processes for pharmaceuticals and foods
  • high-impact resistant polymer composites for applications such as luggage and body armour

Key facilities/techniques: 3D photon correlation spectroscopy; SAXS/WAXS; ultrasonics; X-ray tomography; NMR; broadband dielectric relaxation spectroscopy; cleanroom prototyping laboratory for liquid-crystal-based devices; bespoke surface and interfacial characterization facilities; mechanical spectroscopy; mathematical modelling of fluid dynamics; specialized techniques for preparation and testing of soft matter materials.

The University is a founder member of the Henry Royce Institute for Advanced Materials. The institute's work at Leeds is based at the Bragg Centre.