Prof.dr. B.J. Thijsse

Specific purposes

"Developing processes to achieve specific purposes"

Barend Thijsse, Professor materials science

According to Professor Barend Thijsse, the ultimate challenge for materials scientists is to construct materials with any characteristics they desire. There is a long way to go before this goal is achieved, but the first steps have been taken.

"Historically, materials science has always had a traditional character," explains Thijsse, "whereby the makers sometimes even invoked the higher powers. For example, in medieval times, a smith would have one prayer for forging a sword and another for forging a horseshoe. The smith hoped that his prayers would furnish his products with the desired characteristics. And sometimes they did! Today we know that this was not due to the text of the prayer but to its length."

From scratch
"Our knowledge of materials has increased dramatically. For example, we now know what happens in materials at the level of quantum mechanics. What we still have in common with the past is our desire to create materials with any characteristics we please and so contribute to the quality of life. The ultimate goal is to be able to design materials from scratch. This is still a long way off, but we can already give materials specific characteristics for specific purposes. For example, we can make self-repairing materials, such as paint that 'heals' itself when damaged and concrete that seals its own cracks.

Extreme conditions
"I believe that this step-by-step approach, whereby we can guide processes more and more to achieve the desired characteristics, will bring us closer and closer to the ultimate goal. One of the focus areas of our department is the development of materials that can function under extreme conditions. Examples are coatings for turbine rotors, that must be resistant to extremely high temperatures, and materials that are capable of functioning as implants for long periods in the aggressive environment that is the human body."

Creative laboratory
"Computer simulations are playing an increasingly important role in the development of such materials. By creating models of materials you gain access to a creative laboratory in which you can test what happens to materials when you 'turn the dials'. You can see what effect an extreme increase in temperature has, for example, without having to undertake complex and often costly experiments."


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