Super-powered microscopes and three-dimensional printers - it sounds like the stuff of science fiction.
But these impressive technologies are very much a reality, as special guests at the opening of the Australian Institute for Innovative Materials (AIIM) Processing and Devices facility yesterday discovered.
Based at the University of Wollongong's Innovation Campus, the $47 million facility will allow new breakthroughs to be scaled-up from lab-sized quantities to materials suitable for commercialisation.
Bionic implants, energy storage systems for electric cars and methods of converting solar energy are among the future applications for the materials being developed by AIIM researchers.
The new building includes a purpose-built electron microscope facility located within a timber structure to prevent interference with the sensitive microscopes, which are among Australia's most powerful.
Following a tour of the new facility, federal tertiary education and science and research minister Senator Chris Evans marvelled at the technology on offer.
"Clearly the microscope technology is quite breathtaking, those of us who went to school and used those little microscopes next to the bunsen burners are absolutely blown away by the sort of capacity that we have now and what that means for industrial research and other research," he said.
"The scope and the breadth of the research being done here now and the breadth of the capabilities is ... really putting Wollongong on the map as somewhere where world-class research is occurring."
The tour took in the Intelligent Polymer Research Institute where a range of items printed in 3-D, including a small wrench, were on display.
Institute director Professor Gordon Wallace said 3-D printing meant researchers could use sophisticated materials, such as bio-polymers, protein molecules and even living cells, to build up complex structures.
"Those complex structures can be used in applications that range from energy storage and conversion right through to the very challenging area of medical bionics," he said.
"We're targeting projects developing conduits for both nerve and muscle repair and also implants for epilepsy detection and control."
Prof Wallace said the team was developing fabrication technology which would enable those devices to be manufactured.
The new building was funded chiefly through a $43.8 million grant from the Federal Government's Education Investment Fund.