Professor Matthew Barnett

Director, Institute for Frontier Materials

Professor Barnett has made significant technical contributions to alloy development in sheet steel research, light metals development, alloy characterisation and alloy functionality. His area of research involves designing the microstructure of new metal alloys to give enhanced properties.

Guiding world-leading materials research towards the circular economy

Pushing the boundaries of metallurgical research is the goal of Professor Matthew Barnett’s Deakin University-based team, but the ambition that most inspires him is to redesign alloys and processes for a circular economy.

'Material development has led to great societal benefits, but one look at the ocean floor shows us that new materials have also led to environmental harm,' he says. 'I have become interested in reversing this trend by carrying out science that stimulates material reuse.'

With this in mind, his team is working to design metal alloys that will be insensitive to the contamination accompanying recycled metals, and also to create an additive manufacturing process that accepts scrap metal as input feed.

‘The best place to work in the country’

Prof. Barnett is the Director of the Institute for Frontier Materials based at Deakin’s Geelong Waterfront campus, which he describes as 'the best place to work in the country.'

He joined Deakin’s School of Engineering and Technology in 1999 as a researcher, following an Engineering degree with first-class honours from RMIT and a PhD from McGill University in Canada. A former metallurgist with BHP Steel, he has held an Australian Research Council (ARC) QEII Fellowship and an ARC Future Fellowship, and currently also leads the ARC mineAlloy Training Centre.

He is regarded as a world-leading researcher who has made significant technical contributions to alloy development in sheet steel research, light metals development, alloy characterisation and alloy performance. The work of his light metals research team is internationally recognised, especially in the field of wrought alloys.

Designing more durable alloys

The key to making alloys last longer in service is to design the microstructure to enhance ductility, which leads to alloys that can be more readily manufactured, are fracture-resistant and more durable under mechanical loading.

But it’s the aim to improve the recyclability of materials, and particularly alloys, that holds the key slice of attention for Prof. Barnett’s team.

'My main goal is to facilitate the re-design of materials for a circular economy,' he says. 'To achieve this I’m teaming up with researchers in artificial intelligence to help us negotiate and cleverly search the enormity of composition space to find undiscovered material recipes.'

Develop a passion for ‘new knowledge’

Prof. Barnett has been a Visiting Professor in Canada, France, the UK and Belgium, and advises prospective students in all areas to cultivate a passion for 'new knowledge' that is both interesting and important.

'Work towards being a ‘complete’ scientist,' he says. 'Sniff out the best problems, attack them with systematic vigour, keep impeccable records, maintain safety, synthesise data with the world’s best techniques and models, write the work up in the very best journals and use all this to attract the financial support to begin over again and change the world!'

IFM questions and answers

We sat down with Professor Matthew Barnett to find out more about IFM and its work.

About IFM

What is the Institute for Frontier Materials (IFM) and what inspired you to become its Director?

Institute for Frontier Materials has an exciting vibrant, internationally flavoured research culture. We carry out research for the benefit of society by re-designing materials for a circular economy and by imparting materials with extraordinary functionality. Who wouldn’t want the helm of a place like that?!

What do you enjoy about being the Director and how do you balance that task with your own research?

Hmm, tricky question. The best thing about being Director is seeing people thrive in part response to things you’ve helped them with, either directly or indirectly. I don’t think I’ve balanced my research well. I will binge on research when I finish my Directorship!

What distinguishes IFM from other research institutes in this field?

IFM’s culture is its strength – we seek to collaborate more than to compete. We integrate deep fundamental science – imaging atoms with our atom probe – with large scale engineering – e.g. testing new carbon fibres on our full size pilot line. That’s unique.

How does IFM contribute to Deakin's strategic priorities? What are your priorities for the Institute?

IFM is leading Deakin’s Circular Economy Initiative that bridges Deakin’s key priorities of Enabling a Sustainable World and Designing Smarter Technologies.

IFM projects

What are some of the major projects IFM is working on?

We are creating new additive manufacturing technologies, inventing new batteries, working out how to recycle carbon fibre composites and wind turbines, inventing new ways to make fibres from bio-waste and spinning out new manufacturing business opportunities.

Higher Degree by Research 

What disciplines are you looking for in your HDR students and how can prospective students engage with IFM?

Creative initiative on top of discipline competence is what we seek to build upon with our HDRs and Post-Docs. Email anyone in the institute and we’ll create an opportunity.

How do HDR students contribute to IFM’s work? Where do you see your current HDR students working in the future? How do you see them contributing to the field?

HDRs make IFM. We have 180 Higher Degree Researchers and they are responsible for much of our vibrancy and inventiveness. A HDR degree or Post-Doc Fellowship is an excellent way to nurture our innovation ecosystem and take an active role in ensuring it flourishes for the benefit of society.

The future of IFM

What do you think will be some of the most exciting or ground-breaking uses of IFM’s research in 10-20 years’ time?

Putting an end to the linear take-make-dispose mindset for benefit here on earth but also as a key enabler for successful colonization of space!