'Materia Nova', a centre for new materials
Working for businesses in the region, the Materia Nova research centre develops materials of the future in the field of polymers and surface coatings.
Established in 1995 by the Polytechnic Faculty of Mons (FPMs) and the University of Mons-Hainaut, Materia Nova is a research centre employing 50 researchers and highly qualified technicians. It has been an autonomous organisation since 2001. Its main activities involve studying polymers on the one hand(1) and surfaces and interfaces on the other.
In the “Polymers” division, there are three units: Chemistry of new materials, Polymer materials and composites and Physics and chemistry of polymers. It sets out notably to model the behaviour of materials in order to understand or predict their optical and electronic properties. Other research involves lactic acid-based biodegradable polymers in two fields of application: disposable rigid packaging and synthetic textile fibres.
The “Surfaces and interfaces” division is split into four units: Inorganic and analytical chemistry; Electrochemistry and surface treatments, Research into molecular modelling and Material sciences. The research may be highly sophisticated, but their applications are very practical: an atomiser, paint, motor oils, the improvement of soap effectiveness, etc. Another activity involves research into new materials, made from thin films, whose wide-ranging applications vary from electronics to the production of “intelligent” layers (whose properties vary according to the external conditions), as well as the development of chemical barriers (anticorrosion layers with minimal environmental impact) and solar panels.
Beyond its core business, Materia Nova offers a wide range of services to businesses: applied research, research and development for industrial applications, studies for new uses of materials, market research, procedure validation and transfer, technical consultancy, etc. The organisation also conducts a scientific technology watch, along with a permanent inventory of patents.
Materia Nova possesses highly efficient state-of-the-art equipment, which is renewed and improved on a continuous basis, for use in its research for industrial applications. The centre also benefits from pure research conducted at the University and the FPMs.
Since its creation, Materia Nova has extended its contacts with businesses, universities and research centres. In 2005 for example, it undertook research or services for around sixty clients. In this way, the cable manufacturer Nexans Benelux SA was able to maintain and develop its site at Dour through the production of new high-voltage cables, which resulted from the research undertaken in partnership with Materia Nova. In the long term, the company is planning to create 50 additional jobs. Research centres in large companies such as Glaverbel and Dow Corning have stated that they are prepared to move their activities near to Materia Nova.
The project for flexible display screens based on polymer materials, in which Materia Nova was associated at the Philips Research Centre (Netherlands), the University of Linköping (Sweden), the University of Cambridge, the Research Centre at Covion and the Cambridge Display Technology (United Kingdom) received the Descartes Prize in 2003 from the European Commission for international research. Also of note is MABIOLAC (composite LACtic acid-based BIOdegradable MAterials), a project undertaken as part of the INTERREG programme which is perfectly in line with the sustainable development policy advocated by the EU. It is piloted by Materia Nova in partnership with the Hainaut-based company GALACTIC S.A. (the only Belgian producer of lactic acid, a promising substance resulting from the agri-food industry), the Graduate School of Chemistry in Lille and the National School for textile arts and industries in Roubaix.
(1)Substances made from large molecules formed by the repetition of one or several basic units of atoms ("monomers") in their chains. Polymers include certain organic compounds which form living matter, such as proteins, cellulose and natural resins, along with a number of synthetic materials such as plastics, fibres and adhesives. Glass, silicates and graphite can be broadly considered to be polymers (source: Biotel).