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University of Cape Town - Centre for Materials Engineering

Study Materials Engineering at The Centre for Materials Engineering

University of Cape Town South Africa

The Centre for Materials Engineering carries out research, education and training in the field of Materials Engineering. We are concerned with the physical, chemical, electrical and mechanical properties of ceramic, polymeric, metallic and composite materials.

The Centre undertakes extensive research programmes and is supported by industrial partners and the National Research Foundation (NRF). We promote quality research by maintaining international liaisons and publication in reputable journals.

The Centre also aims to support and assist both large and developing industries through research projects, practical solutions and human resource development.

Postgraduate students are prepared for the MSc(Eng), MSc(Applied Science) and PhD degrees. Training in Materials Science and Technology is provided via the BSc(Hons) in Materials Science and short courses for professionals.

- The degree programme
- Funding opportunities and deadlines
- How to apply

This degree is available to selected BSc graduates with a three-year degree in chemistry, physics or geology. The aim is to provide BSc graduates with one year of intensive training in Materials Science.

In addition the BSc (Hons) in Materials Science programme prepares students for registration for research degrees in Materials Engineering at the Masters and ultimately Doctoral levels.

Materials Engineering courses are designed to provide the student with a knowledge of the principles involved in relating the mechanical and physical properties to their structure and constitution.

Emphasis is given to the way in which structure may be controllecd to allow the development of industrial materials, based upon advanced design criteria.

The origins of specific physical and mechanical properties will be traced to the variables involved in the process of manufacture.

The undergraduate Materials Engineering courses may be taken by students in the B.Sc. Engineering programmes, and by students in some BSc programmes. Consult your student advisor.

Postgraduate degree programmes are offered to graduates with BSc and BSc(Eng) degrees.

The laboratory facilities within the Centre for Materials Engineering enable full characterisation and testing of most engineering materials. The laboratories are geared towards both undergraduate teaching and advanced research at postgraduate and post-doctoral levels.

The main facilities include:

  • Corrosion Testing

  • Heat Treatment

  • Mechanical Testing

  • Microscopy

  • Specimen Preparation

  • Thermal Analysis

  • Measurement of Thermophysical Properties

  • Wear Testing

Researchers at the Centre are also able to access other facilities on UCT campus and designated regional facilities within the Western Cape. These facilities include the Electron Microscope Unit at UCT and the X-ray Diffraction system at the National Acceleration Centre.
Specimen Preparation

The Centre has a modern, well-equipped laboratory for the preparation of specimens for microstructural analysis. The Struers Metalog system is employed, and grinding and polishing media are maintained for the preparation of a broad spectrum of material types that range from polymers to hard metals and wear resistant ceramics. Facilities for the preparation of thin foil specimens for transmission electron microscopy include a Struers Tenupol twin jet polisher and a Gatan Precision Ion Polishing System (PIPS)..

Custom designed equipment and test specimens are manufactured in a precision machine workshop that is housed within the Centre.

The microscope suite includes a light microscope laboratory and a Cambridge S200 scanning electron microscope equipped with an energy dispersive x-ray analyser. The light microscope laboratory is geared for incident and transmitted light microscopy. The principal research microscope has a video camera attached for the acquisition of high quality digital images.

The Centre also has access to a suite of electron microscopes at the Electron Microscope Unit at UCT. This includes a JEOL CX200 transmission electron microscope, a LEICA 440 analytic scanning electron microscope and a Cambridge S200 scanning electron microscope. An HKL Technology electron backscattered diffraction system for microtexture examination and orientation mapping is attached to the Cambridge S200 microscope.
Heat Treatment

The heat treatment facility includes a sophisticated high vacuum/controlled atmosphere quenching furnace capable of performing heat treatments up to 1400C. Various salt baths for isothermal treatments are also available, as well as a number of muffler furnaces capable of performing atmospheric heat treatments up to 1100C. The Centre also has a Degussa high-pressure furnace for sintering tungsten carbide hard metals.
Mechanical Testing

The mechanical testing facility has a 250/50kN servo-hydraulic machine (ESH), a 200kN Zwick universal testing machine, an impact testing machine capable of measuring both Izod and Charpy fracture energies, and a 5kN Instron tension/compression tester. In addition, there are several purpose built rigs that include an instrumented drop-weight impact tester and a plane strain compression rig for simulating rolling deformation of aluminium alloys.
Thermal Analysis

The Centre has a NETSCH STA400 thermal analyser that is capable of performing simultaneous TG/DTA and TG/DSC analysis at temperatures up to 15000C. The system is configured for vacuum and controlled gas environment. The phase transformation behaviour of materials can also be characterised using a custom-built digital dilatometer in both vacuum and controlled atmospheres. A high speed Theta Industries quenching dilatometer is also available for the characterisation of phase transformations in metal alloys.
Measurement of Thermophysical Properties

The Centre has an ongoing research programme aimed at improved measurement of thermophysical properties of selected materials. This includes measurement of electrical resistivity (to 1000C), thermo-emf (to 500C), thermal conductivity (to 500C), thermal expansion (to 1200C) and specific heat (to 1500C).
Corrosion Testing

Facilities for corrosion testing include a wide range of techniques to monitor static corrosion as well as the synergistic effects of corrosion and abrasion. Potentiostatic and potentiodynamic testing is carried out on an AMEL System 5000 instrument and allows the determination of environmental conditions that cause general or localised corrosion.
Wear Testing

Abrasive Wear

Abrasion occurs during relative motion of contacting surfaces which are significantly dissimilar in hardness. If the harder surface is relatively rough then the result will be ploughing and cutting of material from the less hard surface.

In two body abrasion the test is carried out using a pin on belt apparatus. A specimen is locked into a bracket and placed into contact with an abrasive belt. The belt moves continuously in one direction while the specimen moves across the belt. In this way the specimen surface is always in contact with fresh abrasive. The contact load, speed and type of abrasive can be varied.

In three body abrasive wear the hard particles are loose and free to roll and slide between the two surfaces in motion. The test specimen is located in a specimen which slides on a wear wheel. Abrasive particles are fed through a funnel between the wheel and the specimen.


Cavitation can occur in a fluid system under cyclic pressure fluctuations. During cavitation erosion, high stresses of up to 1000 MPa are produced by the implosion of cavities against material surfaces. These high stresses can cause severe plastic deformation, strain accumulation, crack propagation and material loss. The test apparatus uses an ultrasonic drill that vibrates at a frequency of 20 Hz and an amplitude of between 75 and 120 mm. The test specimen and drill tip are immersed in a fluid and are separated by a distance of 0.3 mm.

Sliding Wear

In the reciprocating sliding wear test the wear specimen is mounted onto a shuttle base and reciprocates continuously against a particular counterface. The counterface can be ground to a specific surface roughness value. Test can be conducted under dry or lubricated conditions. The sliding motion is linear whillst the sliding velocity is sinusoidal. The frictional force can also be measured.

In pin-on-disk wear test the counterface disc is mounted onto a shaft or disc driven by an electric motor. The wear pin is loaded against the counterface by a simple pivot arm system. The interfacial pressure can be adjusted and test can aslo be conducted under lubricated conditions. The sliding velocity is constant whilst the grinding direction on the counterface changes with respect to the motion of the pin. The frictional force is measured by a load cell restraining tangential movement of the specimen clamp.

For more information, contact us at:
Centre for Materials Engineering
University of Cape Town
Private Bag
Tel +27 21 6503172
Fax +27 21 6897571

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For more information, contact us at:

Centre for Materials Engineering
University of Cape Town
Private Bag

Tel +27 21 6503172
Fax +27 21 6897571