My research career started at Sussex University, using ion beams and electron beams to modify materials of use in opto-electronics. The main highlight of this was the first use of electron beam excitation to allow electrical repoling of the ferroelectric materials lithium niobate and lithium tantalite well below their Curie temperatures.
In the Clarendon Laboratory at Oxford I changed direction to use diffuse x-ray scattering techniques in the study of ionic disorder in fast ion conductors. During this time, high-temperature superconductors (HTS) were first discovered, followed by an international race to optimise and understand these materials. These were exciting times and I started to work closely with the Crystal Growth Group as they produced the first flux-grown single crystals of two classes of HTS materials, lanthanum strontium cuprate and barium strontium cuprate. My role was single-crystal and powder x-ray crystallogaphy to identify and refine their structures. This period also gave me my first insight into EXAFS and x-ray reflectometry at the national synchrotron source.
On moving to Keele, I changed fields again, using the techniques learned at Oxford to investigate novel magneto-optic materials for magnetic data storage (as eventually applied by Sony in their minidisc, but not because of me!) This involved the growth of thin films using metal-organic chemical vapour deposition, a technique which my research group eventually also applied to the development of novel materials for gas sensor applications based on tin, antimony and bismuth compounds. Magnetic resonance studies of the magneto-optic thin films eventually led, by a roundabout route, to the development of instrumentation for the detection of corrosion, essentially rust, on steel embedded within other materials. This was originally applied to the vehicle tyre retreading industry, but latterly and more successfully to the integrity monitoring of concrete structures. The two technologies developed were licensed to an SME. One is in use commercially and the other under development. However, I never lost my interest in x-rays and during the first few years at Keele was involved in one of the teams performing some of the early research into magnetic x-ray scattering, as a complement to magnetic neutron scattering to determine magnetic structures of crystals. A more recent endeavour has been multi-energy x-ray imaging to determine not just the shape of objects within other materials, but also the material from which they are made. This has applications in a range of forensic related areas, and the current Keele technique was developed in collaboration with the erstwhile UK Forensic Science Service.
I have always had strong interest in the application of science and have collaborated extensively with industry, as well as acting from time to time as a director of various companies. This emphasis on industrial relevance has recently led my research into a strong collaboration with the Computer Science section of the University, in the development of data analysis techniques to process the large data sets obtained from non-destructive tests, including those used for real-time monitoring. I also act as a consultant to a civil engineering company with regard to implementation of the two structural health monitoring techniques, in addition to other smaller consultancy projects.