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Editor spotlight: Meet Prof. Charles Sorrell

Career | Editors | Researchers
Editor Spotlight illustration by Hindawi

This blog is part of our ‘Editor Spotlight Series’. Look out for monthly posts where our Academic Editors share insights into their roles, tips for authors, and discuss trends within their specialist fields.

Professor Charles Sorrell is an Academic Editor for Hindawi’s journal Advances in Materials Science and Engineering. For over 40 years, he has made numerous contributions to research is his field of Ceramic Engineering and, more broadly, Materials Engineering, with the most extended efforts in high-temperature superconductors, biomaterials, advanced refractories, and photocatalysts. His work invariably focuses on materials processing, although the interpretation of the data  is regularly based on phase equilibria considerations and the development of a mechanistic understanding of the phenomena. At present, he continues to research and makes regular contributions through a wide variety of scholarly articles and publications.

Professor Charles Sorrell School of Materials Science and Engineering, UNSW Sydney. ORCID: 0000-0002-5727-8332

Professor Charles Sorrell School of Materials Science and Engineering, UNSW Sydney. ORCID:0000-0002-5727-8332 

What is your background and how did you become a researcher in your field?

I have a BSc from the University of Missouri-Rolla in Ceramic Engineering where I researched Phase Equilibria of the Alumina-Zirconia-Silica System (1977). I then went to Pennsylvania State University to research Crystal Growth of Directionally Solidified Boride-Carbide Eutectics for my M.Sc. in Ceramic Science (1980), after which I returned to the University of Missouri-Rolla to complete the requirements for a second BSc, this time in Chemistry (1980). My Ph.D. in Ceramic Engineering was obtained from the University of New South Wales where I worked on Phase Equilibria and Thermodynamic Relationships in the Systems Zr-Si-N and Zr-Si-O-N (1987). 

My father was a Professor of Ceramic Engineering at the University of Missouri-Rolla (now Missouri University of Science and Technology), so I followed him into the field. Upon completion of my Ph.D. at the University of New South Wales (now UNSW Sydney), I was invited to join the academic staff as a lecturer.

What is your current area of research and what important developments are happening in your field?

My current research focus is the development of photocatalytic nanomaterials for biomedical and environmental remediation applications. As for the former, we have been developing both processing methods and applications for these materials in cancer treatment, although their applicability is much broader. Concerning the latter, these materials are targeted at the removal of biological contaminants and toxic chemicals and gases from drinking water and air. In all cases, these technologies are aimed at real-world applications, so the research is applied even though it often is underpinned by the development of an understanding of the fundamental mechanisms that determine how processes work. All of these materials come under the wider umbrella of functional materials, which are, in this case, ceramics that exhibit highly specialised properties that can be engineered; these properties include electrical, magnetic, optical, thermal, and/or mechanical characteristics that often exhibit mutual dependencies, so there can be an interplay between them. This field is probably the world’s most exciting and diverse research area outside of biomedicine.

Which issue do you feel is most urgent in your field of work and do you have any predictions for the future?

The prognosis in this field is that the situation is just going to tighten up, with more competition in a limited pool of grant funding and high-impact publications. The upside to this is that it is almost inevitable that, in principle, research of better quality will be funded and journals with a lower impact factor will rise as they will accommodate the overflow.

Why is this journal important for the field? What is its relevance to society? 

I believe that one of the major challenges facing authors today is the chase for publications in journals with high-impact factors, which has resulted in (1) excessive numbers of submissions to top journals, (2) consequent high rejection rates on the basis of numbers rather than quality, and (3) focussing of journal topic areas to the exclusion of less appealing areas. This has created a niche for other journals, such as those published by Hindawi, which can service a broader range of topics and authors.

Share an experience as an Editor for Advances in Materials Science Engineering and/or an article that deserves special mention.

In my role as an Academic Editor for Advances in Materials Science and Engineering, I think what sets Hindawi apart from other publishers is the attention paid to ensure that the papers do not fall into common traps. When I receive communications from the team to the effect that they have picked up a few too many textual similarities or the authors cite few papers other than those by themselves, I am impressed.

What advice would you give to a Ph.D. researcher trying to write their first article?

My advice to any new researcher is the same as that to an established researcher:

  • Read the instructions to authors and follow them.
  • Ensure that the grammar and punctuation of the manuscript text are perfect.
  • Ensure that the images are perfect.
  • Ensure that the paper represents an original contribution and is not derivative of other work.
  • Do not leave loose ends in the data ignored and unexplained.
  • Ensure that all data are interpreted mechanistically; a simple report of findings without suitable data analysis is a meaningless exercise in publication.
  • Use the intellectual expertise at your fingertips in the form of researchers with whom you can communicate and who almost certainly know more than you do.
  • Do not be surprised if you have incompetent referees inflicted on you and do not be afraid to tell the editor; ensure that you explain why they are incompetent.
  • If you receive a report from a competent referee who offers useful suggestions, be grateful for this, take advantage of the referee’s experience, and follow the suggestions.
  • Do not be worried if the paper is rejected; competition is tough but there are many journals out there.

What are your thoughts on Open Access? How has Open Access helped you in your research?

Open Access might seem irrelevant to some major universities that buy the key licences but, for less well-endowed institutions, this is likely to be an important benefit. I serve as an Editor for several journals as a normal aspect of service to the profession. However, Hindawi is a case in point because, while it is a relatively new publishing venture, its editorial and publication protocols often are at a higher standard than those of the major publishers with whom I work.

This interview was conducted by the Hindawi team. It is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY). The illustration is by Hindawi and is also CC-BY.

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