Research themes

Examples of research themes that are pursued in the department of Materials Science & Engineering are:

Computational Materials Science

The Virtual Materials and Mechanics programme is focused on applying advanced computational methods to help solving engineering problems of scientific interest and societal importance, by studying materials behaviour under specialized, controlled conditions and by designing new materials and processing techniques.

Key research themes and staff

1. Mechanics
Elasticity of nanoscale cantilevers, fundamentals of friction, surface patterning by nanoimprinting, plasticity in bulk and thin film materials, contact mechanics, dislocation-grain boundary interactions, hardening and nanostructured bainitic steels, defect behaviour in Fe.

2. Alloy design
Diffusion dynamics, atomic pattern-driven structure design, impurity chemistry and compound formation in Fe

3. Surfaces and interfaces
Nucleation and precipitation, oxidation, polymer/metal interfaces, ionic liquids on metals, phase-change materials, liquid-wall interaction.

4. Energy
Plasma-wall interactions, ultrafast laser melting of silicon, embrittlement of steels for nuclear applications

5. New techniques and equipment
Nudged elastic band optimization, constrained ab initio MD, Force-biased MC, Reverse MC, potential fitting, Reaxff interaction, genetic algorithms, cluster expansion, lattice Kinetic Monte Carlo.

Computational Materials Science

Corrosion Technology and Electrochemistry

The ultimate research mission of CTE is to gain fundamental knowledge of local corrosion processes and promote education and best practices in corrosion control for the socio-economic benefit of society, preservation of resources and protection of the environment.

To this aim, CTE focuses its expertise on the following key research areas:
-  Local electrochemical analysis of corrosion mechanisms 
-  Interfacial bonding of organic coatings and adhesives on metal (oxide) surfaces
-  Multifunctional and eco-friendly corrosion inhibitors and evaluation of smart coatings

A full, detailed and high level understanding of local corrosion phenomena, interfacial bonding and corrosion inhibition is only to be gained by the (in-situ) application of local electrochemical and surface analysis techniques. Continuous in-house development and (in-situ) application of these micro- and nanoscale electrochemical and advanced surface analysis techniques is crucial.


Joining is critical to constructions ranging from micro to macroscopic length scales. This research theme focuses on welding, with particular emphasis on the effects of imposed thermal and mechanical conditions on the resultant structure and properties of materials, as well as the behaviour and control of joining processes. Current areas of activity include:

  • microstructure development – measurement and phase field simulations
  • prediction and measurement of stress fields and associated distortion
  • fluid flow and flow stability of liquid metals
  • hot cracking – microstructural influences on crack initiation

Applications range from mulit-pass welds in additive manufacturing to resistance spot welding of high strength automotive alloys. Welded microstructures are generally examined after completion of a weld and provide an indication of likely performance (mechanical, electrochemical etc.) of a weld. Our research also extends to the in-situ development of the microstructure, for which synchrotron based X-ray diffraction is employed, together with numerical (phase field) simulations.


Materials In Art and Archaeology

MAA develops and applies ground-breaking, analytical concepts for studying objects from cultural heritage. Our expertise centres on the elemental and structural characterization of materials in support of technical art history and conservation of artwork. We have close collaboration with (inter)nationally leading partners in the worlds of arts, archaeology and sciences and bridge the gap between the sciences and the humanities in both education and research.

Many of our artworks are multi-material, layered objects. This notably concerns paintings, but also applies to painted objects, drawings, parchment and other coated, archaeological remains. Our research focuses on the understanding of the stratigraphy of those art objects, their materials as well as degradation reactions at surface interfaces.

Discolouration of painting pigments
This line of research requires the use of advanced, synchrotron-based structural and elemental characterization tools with high, micrometre-scale resolution. In collaboration with synchrotron specialists and museum specialists we reveal the degradation mechanism of a number of important early-modern pigment Development of fundamentally new imaging strategies for the visualization of hidden paint layers.

These included studies with computed laminography , computed tomography,   k-edge absorption imaging, TeraHertz imaging , X-ray fluorescence scanning ,  X-ray diffraction scanning,  and photo-acoustic spectroscopy. These techniques are able to overcome the limitations above, by their sensitivity for specific materials, elements, layer interfaces, crystalline phases, colours or their overall 3d imaging capability. Historical innovations in art production.

The main research focus of our group centres on materials in historical forms of art production.

Mechanical Behaviour

The experimental study of mechanical behaviour focuses on the relationship between material properties and local microstructures, and considers properties such as fracture toughness and fatigue. Another focus is on the numerical simulation of small-scale phenomena that affect mechanical behaviour.

Mechanical behaviour

Metals Production, Refining and Recycling

Recycling: recycling is a field within metals science that is rapidly gaining in importance, with the increasing societal consciousness for sustainable use of materials resources. Whereas physical separation of components is being developed by many macroscopic techniques, there is a significant lagging in the thermodynamic understanding of recycling at the microscopic, atomic level, in order to reach accurately controlled compositions and purities to avoid down-cycling. In the group MPMP research is being executed that is aimed at developing processes for the efficient recycling of critical metals, in particular precocious metals and rare-earth elements, on a thermodynamic basis.
On the basis of a scientific approach a hydrometallurgical and pyrometallurgical processing route has been developed to regain rare-earth elements from computer scrap. 

Metals and Sustainable Development
Microstructure Control

Attention is equally divided between the study of aluminium alloys and steels. The primary emphasis is on the development of robust, physically based models which describe the phase transformation processes that are determinative for the evolution of microstructure in these metals. The ultimate goal is to derive a fundamental understanding of the physical processes occurring during phase transformation.

Microstructure control

Surfaces & Interfaces

Surface and Interface Engineering consists of two research lines with a focus on the effect of interfaces on properties and stability, one conducted by Dr. Wim Sloof and his group and one conducted by Dr. Amarante Böttger and her group. Both associate professors also lead advanced experimental facilities for materials study, an X-ray Laboratory (Böttger) and a Surface Analysis Lab (Sloof). 

The program involves both state-of-the-art experimental and theoretical/computational work. The research focuses on subjects that are positioned at the crossroads of scientific challenge, engineering complexity, and societal urgency. Energy applications, self-healing materials, and fabrication techniques for new-generation integrated circuits are the primary subjects.

The research by Dr. Böttger’s group primarily focuses on surface and interface driven solid-state reactions in solar, hydrogen, and other energy applications. Both experimental and computational methods are used. The research addresses a variety of subjects including metal-hydrogen interaction, silicon-metal compounds and photovoltaic cell materials. In addition, new techniques are developed for X-ray diffraction and fluorescence experiments, also involving advanced statistical analysis of diffraction data.

The X-ray Laboratory has state-of-the-art XRD and XRF equipment. The research is focused on powder diffraction, texture analysis, strain and defect density determination and, where XRD and XRF combine, on composition analysis.

The mission of the lab is to supply high precision, high reliability data for our own research projects, and for researchers in and outside the department, several of them across TU Delft. External companies and governmental organisations also make use of the group’s expertise.