An introduction to Professor Matthew Hall, Chair in Materials Engineering

I am originally from a small village called Old Whittington not far from the town of Chesterfield in north Derbyshire. In 1911, a local resident of our village – Harry Brierley – was a metallurgist who famously invented the alloy known as stainless steel. I would like to say this is why I became interested in materials engineering but actually my interests started elsewhere!

My research interest in the subject of porous media began in 1978 at the age of 2 when I began to explore fluid transport and the Atterberg limits of soils (to the untrained eye I was making mud pies in the garden). From here, my interests evolved towards hard rock and, by the age of 16, I was firmly focussed on heavy metal of all kinds (No, I don’t have any pictures…). Indeed this interest remained throughout the 90’s, before returning mainly to fluid transport in stabilised soils (the topic of my PhD) in 2001. For the past few years my research has focussed on the characterisation of micro-scale and nano-scale porosity using various complementary techniques ranging from Xray CT, to SEM, TEM, Hg porosimetry, and (of course) gas sorption analysis.
Me in front of the TEM
A bit of background…

After leaving school at 18 I went to work for a couple of years, and played guitar in a band, before returning to University. I studied a 4-year sandwich degree in Building Surveying at the nearby Sheffield Hallam University (formerly Sheffield City Polytechnic). During this time I became especially interested in the defects in building materials; weathering, moisture transport, etc. Our 3rd year was an industry placement and so I spent it at the Materials Research Institute (MRI) in Sheffield where I spent a lot of time on metals, surface analysis, and electron microscopy. The MRI allowed me to still use the labs for my final year degree dissertation, which I did with English Heritage; studying the weathering and depositional staining of historic building material facades using SEM EDS. I wrote up the work and later managed to publish it in a journal. I was now hooked on research and went straight on to start my PhD in 2001 – this time on stabilised soils in the Geotechnics group at Sheffield Hallam, in the Civil & Environmental Engineering Department.

In summer 2003 I was (quite bizarrely) approached by a TV company who were making a new challenge series aimed at constructing a full sized building (21 x 5m, single storey) in a continuous 24 hour period. They invited me to lead a team to do this using stabilised soil, also known as ‘rammed earth’ construction. Apart from the fact I had never built a house, had no construction workers, no land, no planning permission, no equipment, and no money…it seemed perfectly feasible, so I said ‘yes’. I managed to get a £50k grant from WRAP, and convinced the local council to donate a plot of land. I then agreed to train a team of 24 local trade apprentices (16 – 19 year old brick layers, carpenters, plumbers, etc.) how to build structural walls with stabilised soil. I sourced the material locally and tested it in the University labs. We were allowed to clear the site and pour a concrete foundation slab prior to the challenge. Finally the big day came… and we started at 4am in the morning. By 1:30am the following morning, we had completed the walls, attached the roof, and covered it. Quite a long day, and only a few minor personal injuries, but an awesome challenge!
(L) Laying the foundations (R) Outdoor Test Walls

(L) Being filmed during the 24 hour construction (R) The finished building!
By 2004 I had managed to complete my PhD and had published a number of journal papers. I was looking for my next challenge…  I took up a Lectureship at the University of Nottingham in March 2005 teaching materials to 1st and 2nd year undergraduates in building engineering and architecture. I continued my research on porous materials and worked for many years on hygrothermics; coupled heat and mass sorption and diffusion behaviour. I edited two text books on the subject, ran a few research grants, even set up an MSc degree in Energy Conversion for which I was course Director for nearly 10 years. I met so many great students during this time, many of whom I have seen go onto achieve great things and who have since become good friends.

Around 2009 I was promoted to Associate Professor, moved my research to the Nottingham Centre for Geomechanics, and also was introduced to the British Geological Survey. I started to expand my research into other applications involving fluids in porous media such as CO2 acidized flow through rocks and CO2 sequestration by mineralisation. By 2013 I took over as Director of the Nottingham Centre for Carbon Capture and Storage – a partnership set up between the University of Nottingham and BGS. In 2014, I was awarded a Royal Academy of Engineering Senior Research Fellowship sponsored by BGS.
In 2015, GERC was born – a relaunch of the former centre with new funding for our five Assistant Professors (Donald, Veerle, Stephen, Bagus, and Matteo), as well as Max and Lindsay from GERC HQ, and our colleagues overseas at Virginia Tech! I also set up the GAAS facility and lab where Aleks now works alongside some of our PhD students. In 2016 I was promoted to Full Professor of Materials Engineering and Royal Academy of Engineering Research Chair in CCS and Alternative Hydrocarbons. In the same year we started work, in earnest, on the GTB field site… and now here we are in 2017! I feel incredibly lucky to have such pleasant, enthusiastic and hard-working colleagues to work with, especially the ones we have in GERC. After all, if there’s one thing I have learnt it’s that only people matter! Here’s to our next challenge……

Visiting a coal bed methane site in Virginia with colleagues from Virginia Tech 

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