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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » August 1, 2014
AGH University of Science and Technology
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Ceramic Innovation
August 1, 2014   
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Professor Jerzy Lis, dean of the Faculty of Materials Science and Ceramics at the AGH University of Science and Technology in Krakow, talks to Karolina Olszewska. Professor Lis is also chairman of the board of the Krakow Centre of Innovative Technologies (INNOAGH), a special-purpose company established by the AGH UST that aims to support the establishment of innovative firms by researchers using technology and inventions developed at the university.

The AGH University of Science and Technology works extensively with industry, carrying out nearly 200 research and development projects at the moment. These are financed chiefly by the government-run National Centre for Research and Development (NCBR). How profitable is this collaboration for your university?

We have very interesting proposals related to projects covered by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Framework Programme for Research and Innovation. Ceramics and new materials are a vast field for research and innovation. Our faculty has been in existence for almost 65 years, and the results of its work have often been applied in practice during this time. This provides a good source of income.

Ceramics is a broad term. What does the definition cover in practice?

Porcelain and tableware as well as ceramic tiles, bathroom tiles and refractories. The term also covers the manufacture of glass, including glass for windows, industrial glass and glass for other applications. Our strategic partners include the construction industry. After all, concrete is the material that is produced across the world in the largest quantities, and this brings us to ceramics again. We have partners among cement plants, cellular concrete factories, gypsum and construction chemicals producers as well as companies producing insulation materials such as mineral wool and glass wool. Our faculty is also about materials engineering targeted at special materials – the newest, most advanced, ceramic materials and more.

Let’s start with what everyone has at home – bathroom tiles. Where does the science come in?

Until recently we would use faience or terra-cotta tiles for the floors or walls. About 10 years ago a new family of materials called gres tiles in Poland began to be produced. These were invented in Italy and are classified among precious stoneware. They had to be adapted to the needs of Polish industry. The appropriate raw materials had to be selected, and it was necessary to determine how long they needed to be fired. Plus the new glazes and ornamentation had to be adapted. We created completely new glazes and defined the principles of producing new pigments, which means colored powders, using advanced chemistry methods. We work with materials that are fired very briefly and additionally ornamented with the use of printers.

Where else are glass and refractory materials technologies applied?

They are the basis of the modern metal, cement and glass industries. All new production technologies require materials resistant to temperatures well in excess of 1,000 degrees Celsius. In this area, leading the way in Poland are producers based in Ropczyce near Rzeszów, Żarów, Krakow and Skawina.

In terms of glass, Professor Jan Wasylak with his team from the AGH UST Department of Glass Technology and Amorphous Coatings has developed a material that is reinforced with nanopowders on the surface. With this technology it is possible to produce lighter glass as well as bottles. This is one of about 200 projects that are being handled by 120 employees from Professor Wasylak’s department.

Ceramics also include materials for electronics. After all, integrated circuits are based on silicon, and silicon is a ceramic material. Optoelectronics, fiber optics – all this is glass, in other words ceramics. The heart of a laser crystal is a single ceramic crystal.

The Department of Building Materials Technology, currently headed by Professor Jan Deja, is working on projects including new binding materials. This involves the use of waste ash coming from the coal combustion process in power plants. There are many examples like this at that faculty.

Our leading strategic partner is Germany’s SGL Carbon Group, which produces carbon materials. It has two plants in Poland, in [the southern towns of] Racibórz and Nowy S±cz. Together we are launching a World Carbon Materials Research Centre at the AGH UST. Carbon materials are a promising and fashionable group of materials that also includes carbon fibers, nanotubes and graphene.

What do graphene projects involve?

We are looking for applications of graphene in electronics. It can be also used in biomaterials because it has antibacterial properties. Graphene coatings are used to cover implants. We are also trying to use this allotropic form of carbon in construction materials that are required to exhibit exceptional durability. All this work is being carried out as part of a project financed by the NCBR and coordinated by the Institute of Electronic Materials Technology in Warsaw.

Are ceramic biomaterials what the AGH UST wants to offer medicine?

The Department of Biomaterials, headed by Professor Jan Chłopek, is working on technologies to make it possible to create resorbable carbon bone implants. The department is also developing special carbon fibers for use in surgery. These fibers turn into tissue after some time.

Meanwhile, a team led by Professor Anna ¦lósarczyk, together with a group of researchers from the Medical University of Lublin in eastern Poland, is working on materials for dentistry. We are also looking for drug carriers, which means particles that, carried by the blood, reach a trouble spot in the patient’s body and deposit a drug there. We are also working on materials for tissue engineering, a branch of science that deals with producing spare parts for the human body.

You mentioned being satisfied with your collaboration with industry. Are companies equally satisfied with their collaboration with AGH UST researchers?

Our faculty has for 65 years been educating professionals for industry, and industry hires our graduates. Thanks to cooperation with the university, companies can not only deploy innovative technologies, but also apply for funding for innovation. The NCBR, which finances projects, requires that research consortiums include representatives from both science and industry.

On the other hand, the researchers themselves create their own innovative companies. The Krakow Centre of Innovative Technologies (INNOAGH) of which I’m chairman is a company owned by the AGH University of Science and Technology that represents the university and its employees in areas such as copyrights and establishes spin-off businesses based on AGH UST human capital. INNOAGH also represents the university when industry buys patents, licenses and know-how from us. Scientists create the technology as part of their research work and then hire workers, through a spin-off company, in order to go commercial with this technology. We already have 12 companies of this type from different departments at the UST. We are planning that the first spin-offs originating from our faculty will introduce biomaterials to the market for use in fields including dentistry.
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