Professor Leon Black

Professor Leon Black


My first degree was in chemistry, graduating from the University of Bristol in 1992. I stayed in Bristol for my MSc in Advanced Analytical Chemistry when I first developed an interest in material degradation. So, this MSc was followed with a PhD in 1997; ‘Understanding the Factors Influencing the Development of a Patina on Architectural Lead’. I remained in Bristol for a year after my PhD, furthering my interest in ageing, with small projects looking at conservation and restoration of heritage materials. However, the opportunity arose to move to Germany to take up a position at the European Commission Joint Research Centre Institute for Transuranium Elements (ITU) studying the electronic structure of uranium and thorium compounds. While this took me away from construction materials, I had access to state of the art facilities for synthesis and characterisation of some interesting materials. 

After 2 years, I moved from the ITU to start a project at the Institute for Technical Chemistry within the Forschungszentrum Karlsruhe. This was my first work on cement, where I used various techniques (electron microscopy, x-ray diffraction, thermal analysis, etc) to understand the structure of calcium silicate hydrates. With a growing family, it was soon time to return back to the UK, and I moved to the Materials Research Institute at Sheffield Hallam University, developing the use of Raman spectroscopy for the analysis of cements. 

In 2007 I moved from SHU to take up a lectureship at the University of Leeds, where I’ve remained to this day. Over the years, I have slowly moved my research from being applied analytical chemistry, to understanding the interplay between cement composition, microstructure and engineering performance. My research is still based on materials characterisation, but I try to use my expertise to understand how we can make materials more durable, while minimising environmental impact.


  • Director of the Centre for Infrastructure Materials
  • Programme Leader for MSc in Advanced Concrete Technology
  • 3rd and 4th year tutor

Research interests

I'm an analytical and materials’ chemist, who for the last 20 years has used various analytical techniques to investigate the structure and stability of cementitious materials. I spent a number of years applying Raman and photoelectron spectroscopies for the analysis of cement. More recently I've focussed on composition-microstructure-performance relationships in low-clinker binders. What does this mean? Well, I look at how the various phases in cement are affected by other materials such as slag and fly ash are added to cement. I then expose samples to aggressive environments and see which phases have been affected. This information helps us to understand concrete durability from a fundamental perspective. 

I lead the Centre for Infrastructure Materials in Leeds, a part of UKCRIC. The Centre provides state of the art facilities for the characterisation of a huge suite of materials: from cement and concrete, through metals and polymers to new biocomposites. The laboratories are also fully equipped for undertaking accelerated ageing studies on this full range of materials. More recently, I lead the “Technical Challenges” research theme for the UKRI Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Centre for Mineral-Based Construction Materials. Here we are trying to move the construction industry from a linear build-use-demolish approach, to a circular build-use-reuse mindset.

Outside of construction, my research extends into solidification/stabilisation of wastes within cement, and the immobilisation of low and intermediate level nuclear waste. As such, I am a member of Nuclear Leeds.

While in Leeds I was an active participant in Nanocem. My work within the consortium has led to collaborations with the Technical University of Munich, ZAG (Slovenia), Lund University and IFSTTAR (Paris).

Aside from my research, I am Editor of Advances in Cement Research, and serve on the Editorial Board of Cement and Concrete Research.

My technical expertise includes the use of;

  • (Environmental) Scanning Electron Microscopy
  • Vibrational Spectroscopy (Raman and Infra-Red)
  • Thermal Analysis
  • X-ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy
  • X-ray Diffraction

Student education

I teach civil engineering materials throughout many of the undergraduate programmes. My teaching shows how engineering performance can be understood by understanding the fundamental science behind many of the materials used throughout civil engineering. In particular, my teaching covers the fundamentals of cement hydration and the durability of concrete; bringing my research into the lecture theatre.

I lead the MSc in Advanced Concrete Technology. This is a part-time, distance-learning Masters course with the aim of developing the next generation of senior construction professionals working in the design of concrete mixes, concrete production and construction.

I am also heavily involved in the supervision of undergraduate and Masters research projects. My projects cover concrete durability and environmental aspects of cement and concrete.

Research groups and institutes

  • Materials and Structures
  • Cities and Infrastructure
  • Energy and Sustainable Buildings
<h4>Postgraduate research opportunities</h4> <p>We welcome enquiries from motivated and qualified applicants from all around the world who are interested in PhD study. Our <a href="">research opportunities</a> allow you to search for projects and scholarships.</p>
    <li><a href="//">Data-Driven Optimisation of Cement-Based Mixes with Chemical Admixtures and Supplementary Cementitious Materials</a></li>