Research Unit Materials Science
Austria has a pronounced strength in the field of mechanical engineering as well as materials, both scientifically and economically. The main focus is on metallic structural materials, which clearly correlates with the domestic metallurgy as well as the industrial plant and mechanical engineering industry. However, constantly growing demands on materials require constant research and improvement. Faster, more convenient, safer, lighter and, above all, more cost-effective are the properties that the market demands from new "high-tech materials". Weight reduction inevitably asks for an increase in the strength of materials used in critical areas.
The development of new materials is internationally classified as a key technology with a cross-sectional character and pacemaker function for many industrial sectors. The ability to produce, process and apply high-performance materials is a prerequisite for internationally competitive products and processes and a key to greater resource efficiency and environmental protection.
Materials Science – as old as mankind and as new and fashioned as modern communication and information technologies – is tightly connected with any development and manufacturing. Therefore, major eras are also named after their dominating materials – such as stone age, bronze age, and iron age. The present era could be named silicon age – which is the dominating material whenever it comes to modern developments (microelectronics, quantum-dots, photovoltaic, sensors and actuators, etc.) – or the golden age of materials science. Materials Science is the research and development of materials and their knowledge-based selection for technological applications.
By exploring the physical, chemical, and engineering origin of materials properties – of course with the help of mathematics – materials science is truly an interdisciplinary activity. While the role of physics (and especially modern physics with quantum theory for example) and chemistry is crystal-clear, the engineering nature is somehow not as obvious. Bones and glass sponges (Euplectella, the so-called “Venus flower basket”, inhabiting the sea at 40 to 5 000 m depth, since 540 million years), for example, have their outstanding properties (strength combined with flexibility) mainly because of their clever (hierarchical) architectures across several length scales – from nano- to centimeter.
Ceramics are the oldest synthetically produced materials, pottery can be traced back to ~20 000 BC. Products made of metals are comparably young, with gold being most likely the first metal used by mankind (~9 000 BC) – basically for decoration, religious artifacts, and commerce, as gold is too soft to be used for tools. Tools made of metals started with copper (~9 000 BC), forming also the bases for the first alloy-development, bronze (~3 500 BC). While iron from meteorites, which is the only native iron in earth’s crust (due to meteoric impacts), was already used ~5 000 BC for various products, wrought-iron products date back to ~2 500 – 3 000 BC. Because iron smelting – extraction of usable iron from naturally occurring iron ores – is way more difficult than tin and copper smelting (which form bronze), iron products were a rarity until ~1 000 BC. Therefore, iron and especially steels were traded higher than gold.
Because of the important role and tight connection with any technological development and breakthrough, Materials and Matter is one of the five main research focuses of TU Wien. The Master's Programme Materials Science started with Oct. 2012 as an inter-faculty (including five faculties) study-program, acknowledging and highlighting the interdisciplinary nature and importance of materials science. Of course, materials science is part of many more study-programs and institutes as well.
Advances in processing technology and materials are pushing into increasingly specialized areas of application. For this reason, it is no longer sufficient in today's world to develop workpieces from just one material; rather, certain properties are required that can only be realized with new technologies or composite materials.
Modern materials obtain their special properties less from their chemical composition than from a special arrangement of specific components (microstructure and morphology). For example, barrier, wear or protective layers are applied to base materials to take advantage of both components.
The focus of our research within Materials Science (Paul Mayrhofer) is directed towards developing the science underlying the relationships between synthesis, chemistry, structure, properties and performance in structural, nanoscale and functional materials. We also continue the traditional research in the area of crystal growth, physical properties of metastable ceramic and metallic alloys and multilayers, and their thermal stability. The combination of applied and fundamental research in the area of protective coatings for machining tools and components used in automobile and aviation industry is addressed within several industrial projects.
The Materials Science Division comprises two Research Groups: