Strength comes from research

The Centre of Excellence in Strong Materials is contributing to the growth of South Africa by graduating South Africans. (CoE-SM)

The Centre of Excellence in Strong Materials is contributing to the growth of South Africa by graduating South Africans. (CoE-SM)

The Centre of Excellence in Strong Materials was established in June 2004, with the University of the Witwatersrand as host. Current members include the universities of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and Stellenbosch as well as Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa) and Mintek.

The centre is cross-disciplinary, hosting physicists, chemists, mechanical engineers, chemical engineers, metallurgical engineers and a mathematician with higher degrees awarded in all these disciplines.

There is strong support from Element Six and iThemba Labs (Gauteng) and links with companies, including Anglo Platinum, Anglo Research, Pilot Tools, Multotec, Scaw Metals, Geratech Zirconium Beneficiation, Afrisam, Sasol, Powder Industries and Savek Engineering.

The focus of this centre of excel-lence is the development of applied materials that need good mechanical properties, usually in aggressive environments such as temperature extremes, high pressures, corrosion and radiation. The work is industry-driven, fundamental research is carried out, and applied research strongly encouraged.

Research has included

• Fretting wear for aerospace applications;

• Residual stresses in tungsten carbide coatings to reduce failure;

• The development of carbon nanotubes for catalyst supports;

• Fuel cells and composites;

• Structural ceramics for cutting tools and wear parts;

• Nanostructured ceramics for human body prosthesis;

• A new diamond probe for mammography; and

• In-situ Raman spectroscopy for understanding corrosion.

The lightest, hardest material ever known was predicted in this centre, and work has been undertaken on reducing metal dusting for South Africa's petrochemical industry.

Students are supervised in a range of multi-disciplinary projects in the above disciplines.
Current student numbers are 31 MSc and 41 PhD students. By the end of 2011, 83 master's level and 47 PhD level degrees had been awarded. Of these graduants, 74% were male, 71% black and 49% South African.

Publications produced by the centre include over 390 peer-reviewed journal papers and 40 chapters in books, with eight registered patents.

To provide the facilities that are needed for research, the centre leverages funds for large pieces of equipment and has helped secure two transmission electron microscopes and two scanning electron microscopes, one STA, as well as helping to re-establish the ion implantation facility at iThemba LABS (Gauteng).

It also runs a network in five African countries with funding from Carnegie New York. The centre established the Nanomaterials Research Group at the University of Johannesburg. It organised materials competitions for school pupils, because materials now forms part of the curriculum.

Both staff and students have received awards and recognition locally and overseas. Many members of the centre of excellence review overseas journal papers, serve on journal boards, organise international conferences and serve on professional bodies.

For more information visit or contact Casey Sparkes

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