Coatings, Surfaces and Interfaces

Multifunctional coatings provide intelligent modifications to base substrates, and find applications in a wide range of areas, such as aerospace, building, packaging and cosmetics. The current research focuses on innovative material development of coatings onto porous substrates, with likely applications in the food or sensitive goods packaging industries. Interfacial properties between the coating and its substrate are being exploited in order to determine their influence on bulk coating performance such as superhydrophobicity, thermal resistance, and antimicrobial capabilities, and are being investigated both experimentally and via computational modelling. The unique properties of nanoparticles have successfully been incorporated into ‘routine’ paperboard-coatings, and are currently being tested for both antimicrobial and thermal barrier development within the coating. Meanwhile, in-situ polymerization of silane monomers and supercritical impregnation of alkyl ketene dimers into porous substrates are the techniques used for superhydrophobic development. Bond development of the polysiloxanes as assessed via FTIR is being compared with surface development of superhydrophobicity via contact angle measurements, along with SEM imaging. Ultimately, these individual coatings will be combined as one multifunctional coating.

Initial Response Soil Remediation from Oil Spills

Soil is a diverse and complex medium of minerals, organic matter, water, air and living organisms, and irreparable damage to this habitat via contamination from an oil spill has been found to occur within seven days. Immediate response clean-ups are primarily concerned with safety and containing the spread, with only small amounts of oil removal or clean-up occurring. This is left for long term soil remediation, which can take several decades and is often cumbersome and time-intensive, not to mention that the habitat itself has long-been destroyed. The current research interest within this area of work is to investigate new and existing technologies for their applicability in the immediate-response clean-up phase, in order to provide significantly better outcomes for soil habitats. Initial work has focused on characterizing and quantifying the behaviour of an oil spill through and across loose and compact soils. Once suitable methodology has been developed, two lines of research will be pursued. Bio-emulsifiers will be introduced into the oil spill and/or moisture in the soil, and the oil mobility / kinetics will be studied. Interfacial and surface investigations such as oil contact angles on soil will be used to determine the likelihood of oil spreading, and the potential gain from the bio-emulsifiers in reducing this spread. The other line of investigation will look at oil-consuming bacteria and their effects on oil spreading. While this process is slow, optimization of the kinetics of oil-breakdown from the bacteria will be investigated, and changes to surface characteristics from their presence within the soil will also be observed.

Differentiated Learning

Personalized or differentiated learning is the first of thirteen grand challenges for Engineers in the 21 st century, and aims at addressing the different needs of learners within a class. While differentiated teaching and learning is commonplace in K-12 settings in education, it has yet to find widespread favour in higher education. Research is required to develop differentiated teaching and learning theories for university-level students which incorporates findings from several inter-related disciplines. A systematic review of educational, engineering education, psychology of learning, and brain-based studies into learning has begun in order to identify the differentiation principles suitable for higher education students. This work will be merged with current differentiation literature from K-12 settings to develop a differentiation theory applicable for later-year students. Meanwhile, educational research is being conducted in freshman introduction to engineering classes where several techniques are being trialled to judge the effectiveness of differentiated techniques. A variety of measures have been developed to create an independent assessment of these strategies. Initial results have indicated a positive student growth from differentiated homework sheets, and also benefits in conducting group design projects. They have highlighted some lack of confidence issues which will be addressed in future classes. Activities will continue to be modified and results will assist in developing a differentiated theory for higher education students. Future work will also involve implementing these techniques into higher-level classes rather than only Freshman, and also potentially into graduate student development.