Matthew (government agency)

I started work for the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA) in 1999 after completing a DPhil at the University of Oxford on a metallurgical research area. I had previously studied a BSc in Materials Science at Brunel University. After a brief period in a different field, I came back into materials science in 2002. I now work in a small team of materials scientists within the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, an agency of the Ministry of Defence (MoD). When DERA was privatised in 2001 to become QinetiQ, a small part - around 3,000 staff - was retained by the government to become Dstl.)

Our role as an MoD laboratory is two-fold:

  • to carry out research into areas sensitive to national security, eg chemical and biological defence;
  • to provide expert and impartial advice to the MOD on all areas of science and technology relevant to defence.

My role falls into the second area. I am responsible for providing expert, impartial advice on light alloys technology (aluminium, magnesium, titanium and beryllium) and also on high-temperature materials for propulsion applications (e.g., nickel-based superalloys for gas turbine engines). This involves:

  • developing research strategy to meet the MoD's long-term capability requirements;
  • putting together research and development programmes;
  • monitoring (in a technical sense) R&D programmes with research providers;
  • providing advice on current materials problems causing difficulties for UK forces.

Below are two examples of these current materials problems and how I am involved in their resolution:

  • In the future the MoD wishes to transport its forces rapidly and with a minimum logistic footprint. While this may not appear to involve materials, they are absolutely implicit in whether or not this can be achieved. With this goal in mind, I am putting together a research programme with defence contractors and universities to develop a high-strength aluminium armour alloy so that an armoured vehicle can be developed that is resistant to attack and can be transported rapidly to theatre by aircraft.
  • All UK helicopters operating in Iraq and Afghanistan have a (gas turbine engine) compressor erosion problem owing to the ingestion of sand and grit. I am working with Rolls-Royce, the MoD's Lynx helicopter team, Joint Helicopter Command, and a commercial blade coating company to evaluate an erosion resistant TiN coating for Lynx engine compressor blades. These engines with coated blades were tested on helicopters operating in Iraq in Autumn 2005.

The job is extremely challenging since the Dstl team has to keep abreast of the state of the art in materials science and interpret the MoD's future requirements and turn them into research programmes that will deliver. Since we do very little research ourselves, there is a risk that we will lose expertise in the long run. To reduce this risk, some of our staff are seconded on a part-time basis to universities to carry out research. Furthermore, I am currently working towards CEng (Chartered Engineer) and MIMMM status (through the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3)) with the full support of Dstl.

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