Alba Paniagua-Diaz, XM2 postgraduate researcher.

About XM2

‌Combining depth and breadth of metamaterial research, intrinsically linked with international academic and industrial collaborations.

Metamaterials, fabricated microstructures having properties beyond those found in nature, are emerging as an important new class of materials with applications in many technology areas, from energy harvesting, through perfect imaging, to communication, and the much-hyped ‘cloaking’.

The EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Metamaterials (XM2) is based on the Streatham Campus at the University of Exeter in the Departments of Physics and Engineering. We have a well-established and strong track record of relevant research, spanning a unique mix of interests, from microwave metasurfaces to carbon nanotubes, from the fundamental theory of electromagnetism, to new understanding in acoustics, from graphene plasmonics to spintronics, magnonics and magnetic composites, from terahertz photonics to biomimetics.

The need for a new training approach.

Nationally, around 35% of the UK’s doctoral graduates in physical sciences and engineering are employed in the higher education sector 3 years after graduating, and this has been a declining fraction since the mid 1990s. This decline has been accompanied by a marked transition in the role of PhD programmes. Emphasis has shifted from identifying and nurturing individual scholars, towards more closely matching the needs of industry. To embrace this change, we are training cohorts of doctoral scientists and engineers with relevant research skills, a broad knowledge base, and well-developed professional attributes, to become the UK’s future leaders in industry and academia in the field of material science.

Management and Oversight Boards

The Management Board comprises of the investigators of the EPSRC grant funding the centre (EP/L015331/1), and bears ultimately responsibility for its success.  It meets regularly to monitor and discuss student progress and feedback, training events, student recruitment, industrial involvement, project proposals from staff, and budgetary issues.  The current membership and roles of the management team are given here.

Strategic oversight of all aspects of the CDT is provided by an Oversight Board (OB) who offer independent evaluation of our activities.  Our OB is a mix of industrial, Government and academic researchers and meets twice yearly.  Current members are listed here.

An industrial perspective

Industrial research in the UK is highly dependent upon the recruitment of high-calibre scientists from academia, but this is rarely a straightforward process. Potential recruits are often poorly prepared for the shift into the commercial world, with only a hazy understanding of the differences between academic and industrial science, and a limited understanding of what an employer is truly looking for. This leads to many good candidates failing at interview – the first hurdle in their careers – and those that pass usually require lengthy on-the-job training in the most basic business skills before employers can unlock the true potential of their recruits.

XM2 is aimed at bridging this gap between industry and academia, providing employers with highly trained technologists who can make an immediate impact to their businesses whilst maintaining the scientific rigour and innovative thinking that UK businesses so desperately require. As a member of the Oversight Board, I can see the excellent progress that is being made. Through a mixture of research projects, classroom training, visits to industry and invited speakers, a vibrant team of researchers has been formed, pursuing fundamental research whilst maintaining an appreciation of its value to the outside world. The calibre of the students has been very impressive, with many publishing their work within months of joining the Centre, and they are exhibiting the love of problem-solving and trenchant questions that will make them excellent scientists and engineers. This is all due to the quality of their education and leadership, provided by some of the UK’s best academic researchers, all of whom are experts in their fields. XM2 is making impressive progress, preparing new blood for UK industry, and I’m looking forward to being involved in the new discoveries that lie ahead.

QinetiQ and Oversight Board Member