The materials science industry continues to expand, particularly in sustainable materials, nanotechnology, and smart and responsive materials.
Setting up a materials science lab can be an overwhelming task. There are multiple capital investments involved, and you need to optimize your budget allocation. Aside from purchasing the right equipment for your specific applications, you also need to meet all applicable compliance requirements.
Proper planning can help ensure you make the right decisions and save time and money over the long term. We explain the key requirements for getting started, including commonly used equipment and software and regulatory requirements.
Key equipment required for a materials science lab
Materials science involves studying the properties, composition, and structure of solid materials. As such, materials science labs must be equipped with equipment designed to support the study of material structures, processing methods, and performance.
The list below outlines the types of equipment commonly used to characterize materials.
Spectrometers are devices that measure physical characteristics by separating their spectral components. Various types of spectrometers may be found in a materials science lab.
Atomic spectrometers apply electromagnetic radiation of characteristic wavelengths to samples, enabling the detection of specific elements. When selecting an atomic spectrometer, key factors include detection limits, number of interferences, speed, and ease of use.
Fluorescence spectrometers measure the wavelength and intensity of light emitted by a sample when it is excited by ultraviolet light. This information can be used to identify the composition of the sample and to study its properties. Some fluorescence spectrometers are designed for liquid samples, while others are better suited for solid samples.
Mass spectrometers convert atoms or molecules to gas-phase ions to measure their mass. They can be used to study the properties of materials, the composition and purity of a sample, or the molecule's structure.
Infrared photo-spectrometers measure the vibration of atoms to identify chemical functional groups.
X-ray diffraction spectrometers probe the structure of materials. By passing X-rays onto a sample and measuring the diffraction pattern, scientists can determine the spacing of the atoms in the material and its crystalline structure.
Gas chromatographs are used to separate and analyze organic molecules or gases. A sample is injected into a mobile phase (the carrier gas) and passed through a stationary phase, resulting in the separation of the compounds in the mixture.
Scanning probe microscopes
Scanning probe microscopes work by scanning a sharp tip over the surface of a sample and can be used to measure a wide range of properties, including topography, electrical conductivity, and magnetism. Advances in nanotechnology have enabled the development of more sophisticated SPMs that can now be used to study the structure and behavior of materials at the atomic level.
Software support for materials science labs
Advances in technology have paved the way for physical materials design to be heavily complemented by computational design. Popular software includes:
- COMSOL: Multiphysics software for simulating designs, processes, and devices.
- FactSage: A thermodynamic database for calculating phase diagrams and thermodynamic modeling.
- JMatPro: A simulation software for calculating materials properties for alloys.
- CrystalMaker: Used to display and manipulate crystal and molecular structures.
- ProCAST: Simulates the casting process.
- DICTRA: A tool used to simulate diffusional transformations in multicomponent alloys.
- LAMMPS: A molecular dynamics simulator.
Open source tools:
- pyMKS: Python-based implementation of the
- Materials Knowledge System (MKS).
- OpenCalphad: Phase-based modeling software that performs multiphase calculations for developing and assessing thermodynamic models.
- JARVIS-Tools: Density functional theory tool that provides scripts used to generate and analyze JARVIS-DFT and JARVIS-FF datasets.
- AtomMan (Atomistic Manipulation Toolkit): Python library that enables researchers to create, represent, manipulate, and analyze large-scale atomic systems.
- pyFit-FF: Enables researchers to “feed-forward artificial neural network (ANN) interatomic potentials to interpolate between density functional theory (DFT) energy predictions.”
- OOF: Microstructure-level structure-property tool that utilizes images of simulated or real microstructures to calculate macroscopic properties.
Materials science lab compliance and regulation considerations
The below list outlines important standards for materials science labs. Aside from REACH regulations, these standards are followed voluntarily, but they are often used by governments and businesses to ensure safety, uniformity, and quality control.
International Standard Organization
The International Standards Organization (ISO) develops and publishes international standards. Certain ISO standards are particularly relevant in material science labs. For instance, the ISO 17025 standard covers general requirements for the competence of testing and calibration laboratories. With the high complexity of many material characterization tests, it’s important that results are precise and accurate.
American Section of the International Association for Testing Materials
The American Section of the International Association for Testing Materials (ASTM) develops and maintains standards for material testing laboratories to ensure the accuracy and precision of their tests and provides accreditation for labs that meet its standards. In addition, the ASTM offers continuing education and training opportunities for lab personnel. These opportunities help keep laboratories up-to-date on new developments in material science testing.
American National Standards Institute
The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) develops standards for products, services, and systems in the United States. ANSI/NCSL Z540-1 is the standard for calibration laboratories, and it establishes requirements for the management of measurement uncertainty. To meet these requirements, laboratories must have a quality management system that includes documented procedures and records. Furthermore, they must be able to trace their measurements to accepted reference standards.
The REACH Regulation applies to certain products made in, imported to, or sold in the EU. REACH compliance proves companies are safeguarding human health and the environment. To comply with REACH Regulation, material science labs must ensure that all chemicals they use are registered with the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA). Second, they must conduct a risk assessment for each chemical to determine if it poses a risk to human health or the environment. Finally, they must take steps to control any risks that are identified.
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