Materials characterisation techniques to revolutionise the treatment of oral disease

Nathanael Leung hard at work using the Deben MT5000 Microtrst Tensile Stage integrated in the PFIB-SEM at the University of Surrey

The University of Surrey’s efforts to develop the groundwork of new, state-of-the-art ceramic composites that will revolutionise the treatment of oral disease

Dr Tan Sui is a lecturer in Materials Engineering (Assistant Professor) in the Department of Mechanical Engineering Sciences at the University of Surrey, UK. Her current research group consists of one Research Fellow, four PhD students as principal supervisor and three PhD/EngD students as co-supervisor. Her research portfolio is focused on investigating the structure property evolution and structural integrity of hierarchical natural and bioinspired materials. Sui’s research areas also include probing the processing-structure-residual stress relationship and micromechanical mechanism of failure in engineering alloys and advanced energy materials. Her expertise includes synchrotron X-ray with multi-modal correlative microscopy and multi-scale modelling. Her research vision is to characterise and understand the intricate links between structure and mechanical property in these material systems at different length scales, as this is essential for development towards improved design and extended functionality for future applications.

In 2018 Dr Sui’s group purchased a high-precisiontension-compression-bending stage from Deben. The MT5000 system was ordered with various exchangeable loadcells and a heating-cooling feature. The aim is to develop a unique facility which specialises in in-situ and correlative materials characterisation at the University of Surrey. The Deben MT5000 has been successfully integrated with a Tescan Fera3 Xe Plasma FIB-SEM at Surrey and synchrotron X-ray beamlines at Diamond Light Source (DLS). A full range of loading scenarios and sequences will undoubtedly enable the generation of new data that will provide further insight into the complex mechanism of mechanical deformation and failure in natural and engineered materials (including dental tissues, bioinspired composites and engineering alloys).

Nathanael Leung (a second-year PhD student) and Dr Jingyi Mo (a Research Fellow) from Dr Sui’s group have been working on novel bioinspired dental composites using the Deben Microtest MT5000 system. The experimental work provided the groundwork for a recently awarded two-year EPSRC grant (EP/S022813/1), collaborating with University of Bristol, University of Birmingham, Chinese University of Hong Kong and National Physical Laboratory (NPL). The goal of the project is to provide a fundamental understanding of the role of bioinspired microstructural features in determining the mechanical properties of novel dental composites for dental crown applications. Studies have shown that over 40% of the world’s population is affected by oral disease, therefore there is a ‘real-life’ growing demand for highly effective solutions with increased longevity.

The Deben system experience

Leung describes his work and experience using the Deben system: “My project is to optimise the design and development of cost effective, freeze-casted, bioinspired ceramic composites, fabricated in the Biomaterials Engineering Group (bioMEG) led by Professor Bo Su, Bristol, by studying the fracture mechanics of the material. I do this by using the stage to perform three-point bending fracture toughness tests on nacre-like composites, inside an SEM. Being able to perform these tests in an SEM allows me to observe and identify the fracture mechanisms that are taking place, in real-time. This tells me what adjustments need to be made to the microstructural design and to determine a structural configuration that provides the optimum fracture toughness properties.” 


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