#MondayMaterials Episode 33 – Dr Tim Burnett
Meet the Department 15th January 2018
In the latest #MondayMaterials, we talk to Dr Tim Burnett, a lecturer in Materials Imaging, about his work and research in 3D imaging.
There are two strands to my research. In one strand I am trying to find better ways of understanding materials using 3D imaging, and in the other strand I am trying to understand what controls the cracking of aluminium alloys when they are exposed to humid air.
We have lots of very advanced ways of imaging materials in 3D, but one of the restrictions is that each technique or imaging machine can only look at samples of a certain size. However, there are lots of materials where there are important features that you need to understand at several different scales. For example, it is important to understand the shape of a bone in order to understand what it does and how it will work.
It is also important to see how the bone is made up from different types of bone; namely the dense exterior called ‘cortical bone’ and the very porous internal ‘trabecular bone’. It is then important to look at how each of these different types of bone are built up at the microscale and the nanoscale, as it is at this scale that the basic building blocks of the bone are assembled. Right now, there is not a single method of 3D imaging that can provide all of the results needed, so we have to develop clever ways of combining several different 3D imaging techniques.
Aluminium is a vital engineering material and is widely used in transport applications of ships, cars and aeroplanes. It is a strong, light and corrosion-resistant material, but can suffer from failure when certain combinations of stress and environment – such as exposure to seawater – are applied to the material. This effect is called stress corrosion cracking. Researchers have spent over 50 years trying to understand how certain environments accelerate the mechanical failure of aluminium, and that work is still continuing!
How can your research benefit the public?
Certainly if we better understood stress corrosion cracking this would have a huge impact on the cost and improved performance and safety of not only aluminium but also steel components. These are also affected by this problem and are used in power stations and oil and gas pipelines.
How did you first become interested in your research area?
I have always loved science but I have always loved art as well. Using 3D images to understand the science of materials is a subject which naturally attracted me. There has also been a lot of recent advancements in what it is possible to image. We can image things changing over time at a minute scale and also create images of the chemistry of the process, for example. This makes it a very exciting and fast-moving area as there are lots of things still to be investigated with these new techniques.
Who or what first inspired your interest in science and engineering?
I was first inspired by science and engineering when I started to build my own model aircraft. These were models made from Balsa wood that you could actually fly, and the propeller was powered by a wound up rubber band. With the right design and construction, you could make a plane that flew round in circles just small enough to fit inside the hall we would meet in.
Can you tell us a little about your other interests?
I am a keen mountain biker and used to race competitively. I still enjoy cycling off-road but haven’t done a race in a while.
My spare time is taken up spending time with my son who has just turned 2 and my wife. We like cooking, walking and going to see animals at farms and zoos.
How does being based here in Manchester help your work and research?
The facilities at Manchester are second to none and I feel privileged to have access to such world-leading capabilities. Working in the Henry Moseley X-ray Imaging Facility, I have also been very lucky to see many other interesting things that we have imaged in 3D, including the football World Cup, a 600-year-old sword belonging to a holy Roman Emperor and the preserved head of a Bog man – not to mention a mummified cat!