Today the 39th International Conference and exposition on Advanced Ceramics and Composites (ICACC) started in Daytona Beach, Florida. Here, scientist from all over the world will be discussing their latest work and findings in the field of ceramic materials during the coming week. Although my project on ceramic materials has been completed for over 2 years now, culminating in a second PhD, I was invited to present my work here. As with many of this kind of conferences, I am afraid that, as a computational materials scientist, I belong to a minority, strongly outnumbered by the experimental (materials) scientists present. This is an aspect that I will need to consider preparing my presentations.
The first morning session consisted of four plenary lectures (general overview presentations in which celebrated group leaders present the overall picture of the work done in their group and their hopes/views on the future). We started of an interesting lecture on “Thermal Barrier Coatings for Gas Turbines” by Prof. David Clarke, where we learned that, since a major part of the world wide energy production is gas based, improving gas-turbine efficiency by only 1% would produce more energy than all renewable production currently in play. This efficiency improvement can be obtained by operating the gas-turbines at higher temperatures. Unfortunately, the metal fans of such a turbine start to degrade if temperatures are too high. By coating them with materials that have a low thermal conductivity, it is possible to operate at the required high temperatures, while the metal fans experience an acceptable operating temperature which is a few hundred degrees lower. Next Prof. Sanjay Mathur from the university of Cologne presented his groups work on the development of precursor libraries (these ideas are similar as those behind computational high-throughput projects). In precursor chemistry, where changing functional groups or doping leads to changes in the surface morphology, such libraries would then present an interesting tool for designing new materials for energy and health applications. As this apparently is a very hot topic, the fire-alarm of the conference center went into overdrive and everyone needed to be evacuated. When the conference resumed half an hour later Prof. Mathur reassured us he did not intend to fire things up like this. His presentation was followed by that of Prof. Cato Laurencin, who showed us how ceramic materials could be used in a new field he wishes to launch: “Regenerative engineering”. Here, combinations of micro- and nanostructured ceramics are used as matrices to grow and differentiate stem cells intended to heal fractured bones and cartilage. The final presentation by Prof. Kazushige Ohno discussed next generation filters for diesel particulates, which should provide us with a cleaner future.
In the afternoon the parallel symposia started, where I followed the 4th Global Young Investigator Forum (GYIF). Here, Prof. Ricardo Castro presented an interesting method for experimentally obtaining the surface energy of nanoparticles. His quest originated from the simple observation that existing phase diagrams for bulk materials no longer hold when one is working with nano-particles. In such systems, the energy contributions due to the surface of the particle become comparable to those of the inner bulk. Interestingly, one of the example systems Prof. Castro looked into was Mn3+ doped CeO2. In his work he found that the Mn was mainly located at the surface of the CeO2 particles, something I also expected from my own work on aliovalent doped CeO2, based on the defect formation energies of Cu and Co doping. Further presentations discussed Organometal trihalide perovskite solar cells. Although these solar cells still are rather unstable, they do show promise with regard to their efficiency.(The origin of this efficiency is unfortunately not really understood. Maybe other perovskite MOFs are more stable?)