BSc Materials Science and Engineering

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Smart & Nano Materials

Course unit fact file
Unit code MATS23901
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 5
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Department of Materials
Available as a free choice unit? No


Smart or functional materials underly an important class of materials that are used in a range of applications from smart phones to solar energy.


The unit aims to: 

  • Introduce the principles underlying the crystal structures of ceramics and the network structure of silicate glasses, demonstrate how the symmetry of structures can control physical properties. 
  • Extend simple concepts of crystal defects to their behaviour in ionic solids, covering: conservation of charge, cation and anion substitution, divergence from stoichiometry and doping, Kröger-Vink notation and the electronic properties of defects.
  • Introduce a number of applications of smart ceramics focussing on their operating principles, including: ferrites and inorganic magnets, gas sensors, ionic conducting ceramics in batteries and fuel cells, transparent conductors for solar cells and touch screens.
  • Present an introduction to the molecular structure of conducting polymers and organic materials;
  • Illustrate applications of organic semiconductors from solar cells to polymer transistors and organic light emitting diodes; 
  • Introduce the concept of liquid crystals, their fundamental principles and applications in displays.
  • Introduce the concept of graphene and 2D materials.


Learning outcomes

A greater depth of the learning outcomes will be covered in the following sections:

  • Knowledge and understanding
  • Intellectual skills
  • Practical skills
  • Transferable skills and personal qualities

Teaching and learning methods

The unit shall be taught by blended learning. All electronic supporting information required for asynchronous activities  will be uploaded to Blackboard.  Students will be emailed every week with joining instructions for the synchronous activities.



Knowledge and understanding

Upon completion of this course students will be able to:

  • Explain the chemical compositions and crystal structures of materials that form the spinel, inverse spinel and perovskite crystal structures.
  • Apply a knowledge of crystal structures, doping and defect properties and electronic structure and explain the mechanisms of operation of a range of smart or functional ceramics and nanomaterials.
  • Describe how magnetic, piezoelectric and ferroelectric and optical phenomena arise in solids.
  • Evaluate  conducting mechanisms in solids and polymers and apply this knowledge to distinguish doping mechanism in inorganic and organic semiconductors.
  • Summarize the concept of liquid crystals and evaluate their classification.
  • Describe the crystal structures of layered materials and two-dimensional crystals, and summarise the effect of the reduced dimensionality on the key physical properties of 2D materials using the example of graphene and categorise the main methods of 2D material synthesis and appraise each synthetic route.

Intellectual skills

Upon completion of this course students will be able to:
  • Evaluate and compare a range of smart and functional ceramic, inorganic materials and nanomaterials based on input and output phenomena.
  • Evaluate the importance of ¿ bond for the electron delocalisation in small organic molecules and apply this knowledge to the idealised model of poly(acetylene). Be able to formulate the main conclusion of the Huckel’s theory for the idealised poly(acetylene).
  • Apply the knowledge of the charge transport mechanisms in relation to operation of organic light emitting diodes and field-effect transistors.
  • Evaluate the main classes of liquid crystals and core physical mechanisms determining their structure and optical properties.

Practical skills

Upon completion of this course students will be able to:
  • Execute simple experiments to characterize the electrical properties of inorganic materials and graphene.
  • Relate observed phenomena to course content. 

Transferable skills and personal qualities

Upon completion of this course students will be able to:

  • Solve numerical problems.
  • To work out problems in 3-dimensions.
  • Write concise and relevant reports in an appropriate format


Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written exam 70%
Written assignment (inc essay) 30%

Feedback methods

Verbal and written

Recommended reading

  • Physical Ceramics: Y.M. Chiang and D.P. Birnie and W.D. Kingery (Wiley).
  • Electroceramics 2nd edition: Materials, Properties, Applications: A.J. Moulson and D.M. Herbert (Wiley).
  • Ceramic Materials: C.B. Carter and M.G. Norton (Springer)
  • Inorganic Materials Chemistry: M. T. Weller (OUP).
  • Further reading lists on BB.


Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 20
Independent study hours
Independent study 80

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
David Lewis Unit coordinator

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