The Structure-Property Optimisation Group is focused on the characterisation of materials to understand the interplay between materials processing, materials microstructure and materials properties.

When materials are manufactured, variations in processing parameters or materials feedstocks will affect microstructure and chemistry. Changes in structure will, in turn, affect properties and behaviour, whether mechanical properties or functional behaviour. The focus of the group’s work is in characterisation of materials structure and correlation to both processing routes and behaviour.

Detailed characterisation of materials can be achieved through a range of analytical tools. Emphasis of the group’s work is based on analysis through methods such as electron microscopy, x-ray diffraction, vibrational spectroscopy and various form of spectroscopy used to determine sample structure, chemistry and crystallography. Students in the group will graduate with high levels of competency in these methods. In addition, emphasis of the group’s work is on the mechanical behaviour of surfaces and interfaces, which are investigated through methods such as nano-indentation, wear and scratch testing.

Current focus of the group’s research sits across several types of materials:

  1. Hard thin film coatings: these are materials typically in the form of micron-scale coatings. These are made from materials such as chromium nitride, transition metal silicides or diamond-like carbon. These materials exhibit high hardness and wear resistance and are used as coatings for cutting tools or drill bits. Some exhibit specific functional properties or are designed for high corrosion resistance. These materials are prepared by methods such physical vapour deposition or thermal spray methods.
  2. High entropy alloys: these are a relatively new class of alloys formed by adding significant proportions (often 10-25%) of (typically) five or more elements. These alloys often exhibit non-equilibrium single phase microstructures that exhibit both high ductility and strength. Little is known about the deformation behaviour of these alloys or their behaviour under processes such as welding.
  3. Biochars: these are charcoal-like materials processed through the pyrolysis of (waste) biomass, such as timber, chicken litter or wheat straw. Biochars can be added to the soil and have been shown to enhance soil fertility and plant growth and are stable carbon-rich materials that can act as an effective form of carbon sequestration. These materials have significant potential in combating the effects of greenhouse gas emissions and in enhancing food security, especially in developing countries. The behaviour of biochars in soils depends strongly on the feedstocks used and processing conditions employed.


Professor Paul Munroe is currently Deputy Dean (Research) in the Faculty of Science. Prior to that he was the Head of School of Materials Science & Engineering and Director of the university’s Electron Microscope Unit. He has published over 500 research papers in structure-property relationships in materials and has received sustained supported from the Australian Research Council and industry for over 25 years. His research has attracted almost 20,000 citations and he has a current h-index of 69.

Dr Sara Tahery is currently a research fellow in the Structure-Property Optimisation Group. She has a PhD in Materials Science & Engineering from UNSW, which was awarded in 2016. She has significant experience in the characterisation and analysis of biochar-based materials by a range of spectroscopy and microscopy techniques.