Division of Materials Engineering

Research Impact

Rubber: the next generation 

James BusfieldA glass tabletop rests on a stack of Formula One rubber tyres in James Busfield’s office, making the perfect table for the man who heads up the Rubber Research Group at Queen Mary. Over the years, James Busfield has worked across a wide range of projects – from improving the performance of car and aeroplane tyres, to developing new applications for ‘smart’ elastomers.

Bone Graft Substitute Materials

Image of bone graft substitute material, Actifuse, used in spinal surgery.

Research undertaken at Queen Mary has resulted in the development of a raft of bioactive synthetic bone graft substitute materials with clinically proven capacity to support the regeneration of new bone.

This world-leading research has resulted in two spin-out companies, ApaTech (founded in 2000, acquired in 2010 by Baxter International) and Progentix Orthobiology (founded in 2004, Technology acquired by NuVasive Inc. in 2009)

These novel materials represent a significant fraction of the global market due to their ability to facilitate faster recovery for the patient while negating the need for these patients to undergo a second operative procedure to extract donor bone graft, risking the associated additional complications of infection and post-operative pain. 

Together, these bioactive bone graft substitute materials have now been used to treat 100’s of thousands of patients in over 30 countries.

Dr Karin Hing has been heavily involved in the research and the development of ApaTech (see the short film - link below). In recognition of her research Dr Hing has been awarded the prestigious Kroll Medal and Prize from the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3) and the Royal Academy of Engineering Silver Medal (she's also appeared on the BBC TV - Bang Goes the Theory!).


Tooth Pastes to Remineralize Teeth and Fight Caries


An interdisciplinary team of scientists from The Institute of Dentistry and the School of Engineering and Materials at Queen Mary, have developed novel re-mineralising toothpastes to treat dentine hypersensitivity and protect teeth from tooth decay.

Led by internationally renowned glass scientist, Prof Robert Hill, materials scientists and bioengineers have optimised and patented a series of glass formulations that can be incorporated as micron-scale particles into toothpastes where they dissolve in saliva to release calcium, phosphate and fluorine ions in the correct proportions for up to 12 hours to form hydroxycarbonate-apatite or more acid resistant fluorapatite to repair eroded enamel and block any open dentine tubules that may be responsible for sensitivity to exposure hot and cold drinks and food.

This underpinning research has led to the spin-out of Biomin Technologies Ltd., and the successful commercialisation of BioMin™ fluorine free and fluorine containing toothpastes which are on sale in the UK, Germany, Australia, China and India.

Nanotechnology opens up new ways to harvest energy 

Professor Mike Reece’s research group is developing new materials to transform waste heat into useful electrical energy in partnership with European Thermodynamics Ltd.

Materials processing and transportation generates a large amount of waste heat energy – such as car exhaust. Yet with the right technology, this waste can become a valuable source of useful energy.


The power of sound to generate electricity

The sounds of cars passing, people talking, even a heart beating can all be picked up by one of Dr Joe Briscoe and Dr Steve Dunn’s ‘nano-generators’, and in turn, generate an electrical charge. “In fact they love the sound of AC/DC”, says Steve.

The idea of harnessing sound is just one of a number of smart solutions to our increasing demand for renewable energy sources.

“Although this technology is unlikely to replace large power stations, it has many possible niche applications” Joe explains. “A version of the generator could be used in medical appliances such as pacemakers where there is no natural power source, but the heart beat is a more or less continuous vibration.”

The generators could also be used to power advertising on trains and busses; or as safety sensors able to detect approaching footsteps.


Cheap solar cells made from shrimp shells

imageResearchers at QMUL have successfully created electricity-generating solar-cells with chemicals found in the shells of shrimps and other crustaceans for the first time. 

The materials chitin and chitosan found in the shells are abundant and significantly cheaper to produce than the expensive metals such as ruthenium, which is similar to platinum, that are currently used in making nanostructured solar-cells.

Further information.

Lightweight Self-Reinforced Plastics for Ultimate Recyclability

samsoniteResearch carried out by Prof. Ton Peijs and colleagues has led to significant breakthroughs in engineering plastics: PURE® and its licensed Tegris® technology, which are lightweight self-reinforced alternatives to traditional polypropylene (PP) composites such as glass-fibre or natural-fibre-reinforced PP. Environmentally friendly and 100% recyclable, these strong and ultra-light self-reinforced plastics have been successfully used across a number of applications, from suitcases and sports gear to protective armour and automotive panels, with impressive results. When used for car, truck and van components, they have been shown to help lower exhaust emission levels and increase fuel economy.

Nanoforce Technology Limited Assists in the Development of Materials and Processes for Industry

imageNanoforce Technology Ltd. is a spin-out company wholly owned by QMUL, active in the field of polymeric and ceramic materials. Bridging the gap between academic research and industrial applications, Nanoforce has done business with over 100 companies since 2008, providing the key research expertise and specialist facilities to enable the development of new materials and commercial products, including Sugru® a room temperature vulcanizing silicone rubber, Zelfo® a self-binding cellulose material, and BiotexTM a range of high-performance yarns, fabrics and pre-consolidated sheets based renewable resources such as PLA and natural flax fibres. Nanoforce has been promoting the development and commercialisation of spark plasma sintering (SPS) since 2006, which resulted in Kennametal recently opening the first commercial SPS facility in the UK to produce advanced ceramic armour. Nanoforce’s clients have included large multi-nationals such as DSM, Dow Chemical, General Electric, SABIC, L’Oreal, Shell, Sibelco, governmental agencies such as Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), and a large number of SME’s.