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Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council

Leading edge


Spotlight on the research leaders of tomorrow

The pulling power of the PhD Bug magnets Alf Adams, godfather of the internet The train that runs on hydrogen


3 News: EPSRC investment news 4-9 Briefings: Research in action 10-13 Leading from the front: How EPSRC is developing the research leaders of tomorrow 14-15 Movers and shakers: EPSRC leadership initiatives reap rewards 16-17 Business matters: Spotlight on three EPSRC PhD students working in industry 18-19 Quantum leap: EPSRC Leadership Fellow, Dr Winfried Hensinger, on dead cats, binary code and space-age computers 20-23 Hot in the city: The EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Financial Computing – making waves in London’s Square Mile



24-25 Mutual attraction: Dr Johanna Galloway’s brilliant early career 26-29 Printers progress: Personalised drugs – prepared at home on a 3D printer 30-31 Focus on the future: PhD student, Lisa Sargeant, on the EPSRC Student Futures initiative 32-33 Spin doctor: Richard Bomphrey’s flying microbots – just what you need in a disaster 34-37 Legacy of light: Professor Alf Adams pioneered DVD lasers and much more besides. Today, his work could reinvent how the internet is powered

32 Editor: Mark Mallett ( Design: Rachael Brown ( Contributors: Hayley Birch, Barry Hague, Dr Winfried Hensinger, Professor Stephen Sweeney, Grace Palmer Contact: 01793 444305/442804 Produced by: Communications, Information & Strategy, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council Printed by: RCUK’s in-house service provider

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38 Size matters: Body-scanning software could make online shopping a whole lot easier – and save millions to boot 39 In profile: Pioneering chemist Professor Rachel O’Reilly

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK’s main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences. EPSRC invests around £800 million a year in research and postgraduate training to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change.

EPSRC works alongside other Research Councils which have responsibility in other research areas. The Research Councils work collectively on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK.

The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone’s health, lifestyle and culture.

To provide feedback on this magazine, and to subscribe to print and/or electronic versions of Pioneer, please e-mail










£26 million for UK energy centres EPSRC is co-funding one of the biggest Research Council investments to support UK energy efficiency policy, reduce carbon use and cut greenhouse gas emissions. Five new End Use Energy Demand research centres are to receive over £26 million in funding from EPSRC, which leads the Research Councils UK Energy Programme,

and from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). The investment includes a further £13 million from industrial partners. The new funding will enable the research centres to look into the complexities of energy use across society and explore how energy can be both saved and used more efficiently.

£8 million for UK-China smart grids

£6.5 million manufacturing boost Sixteen major new research & development projects that will help to stimulate innovation in the UK’s manufacturing sector are to share a £6.5 million funding award from EPSRC and industrial partners. The projects will lead to the development of technologies such as:

Leading energy scientists from the UK and China are joining forces to develop green technology that will revolutionise the way electricity is distributed via national power grids. Smart grids manage the supply and demand of power through the national distribution network, and the new investment will

introduce high-tech communications to the system. The investment will help both countries reduce their carbon footprint and improve their sustainable energy output. EPSRC has invested £4 million in the project, with matched-resource funding from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC).

An innovative method of controlling and optimising car painting processes

Autonomous intelligent machining

Online control of welding processes using ultrasonic test techniques

The sustainable and resource efficient cutting of titanium

Smart maths cash

£19 million for e-health centres

The companies leading the projects along with EPSRC include: Airbus Operations Ltd, AMRC Manufacturing Ltd, GKN Aerospace Ltd, Innoval Technology, Renishaw, Unilever and Vibraglaz (UK) Ltd.

EPSRC is investing £1.3 million in the International Centre for Mathematical Sciences (ICMS). The primary role of the ICMS is to organise research workshops in mathematics and related areas of science, and the four-year funding will help the centre attract the world’s leading researchers in mathematics and related scientific fields to the UK. The funding will also showcase British research in the mathematical sciences and support events involving representatives from other sciences, commerce and industry who depend upon mathematics to solve a huge range of problems.

Liquid assets EPSRC is co-investing in major collaborative research and development projects led by the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) which focus on helping safeguard future water supplies. An investment of £5.6 million has been made by the participating organisations PIONEER 09 Winter 2013

EPSRC and the Medical Research Council (MRC) are co-investing £19 million in four e-health research centres of excellence. The centres will maximise the value of the NHS by linking e-health records with other research and routinely collected data. By combining clinical, social and research data, researchers aim to identify more effective treatments, improve drug safety, assess public health risks and study the causes of diseases and disability. The centres will also act as a vital point of contact for industry, the National Health Service and policymakers.

Cyber security institute announced A new academic research institute to improve understanding of the science behind the growing cyber security threat has been co-funded by a £3.8 million grant from EPSRC and the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).

and companies, and the projects will address overseas and UK water security challenges.

The funding comes as part of a crossgovernment commitment towards increasing the nation’s academic capability in all fields of cyber security.

The R&D will focus on finding innovative solutions to help secure Earth’s future water supply, while at the same time turning this challenge into a commercial opportunity by developing profitable new ways to use current water sources more effectively.

The research will ultimately make it easier for businesses, individuals and government to take informed decisions about how to implement better cyber protection measures and safely benefit from the huge opportunities offered in cyber space.



Sponsored research in action

Tracks to the future

Back pain breakthrough Lower back pain affects 80 per cent of the population at some point in their lives, costing billions to the NHS and the wider economy through sickness leave. EPSRC-sponsored scientists at Sheffield Hallam University have developed a potential cure for chronic back pain through hydrogel injections that can regenerate damaged discs.

Doc: “It works! Ha ha, it works! I finally invent something that works!” In Back to the Future III, Doc Emmett Brown uses 20th century know-how to transport a time-travelling steam train from the 19th century into the future, making a halt in mid1980s America. Back in the present, EPSRC-sponsored engineering students and staff at the University of Birmingham have designed a similarly futuristic locomotive powered by hydrogen, the first of its kind in the UK. The team hope the project will encourage the rail industry to take a closer look at the technology, which provides a clean and efficient example of how hydrogen power could work for future trains on nonelectrified routes. The narrow gauge locomotive (pictured) is a hybrid design, combining a hydrogen fuel cell and lead acid batteries similar to the ones used in cars.

by using one of the train’s 10 advanced hydrogen storage units first employed on the university’s hydrogen-powered canal boat, the Ross Barlow, also funded by EPSRC, and first featured in a 2009 edition of Pioneer. The train’s fuel cell is used both to power the permanent magnet electric motors and to charge the batteries, which help meet peak power demands when accelerating under load. The locomotive also features regenerative braking to capture, store and re-use braking energy. The amount of hydrogen produced can haul the wi-fi controlled locomotive and a 400 kilo load to a height of over 2,700 metres, twice that of Ben Nevis; two additional tanks can be easily fitted to extend its range.

Hydrogen provides a clean source of energy and offers a considerable extension in range compared to battery-only operation.

Team leader, Stephen Kent, says: “We are really pleased with the locomotive, particularly as it has already managed to haul 4,000 kilos, well over six times the specified load.”

Over 5,000 litres of hydrogen are stored in a solid state metal hydride tank at relatively low, and safe, pressure. This is achieved

With such a confident debut, only time will tell what the team might come up with, back in the future.

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The multidisciplinary team have pioneered a minimally invasive injection that contains stem cells, growth factors and inhibitors in a package that would be injected directly into the intervertebral discs of patients. The team has secured a commercial partner for its work and is also working with Nottingham-based pharma firm Critical Pharmaceuticals Limited, a company spun-out to commercialise EPSRC-funded research, to develop fresh research which, if tests are successful, has the potential to repair soft tissue in the back. Dr Chris Sammon, co-lead investigator, says: “Although the work is still in its infancy, it has enormous potential, with a market value of tens of millions of pounds.”



Sponsored research in action

Keeping mum The UN estimates that more than 250,000 women die annually from complications during pregnancy or childbirth, almost all of them – 99 per cent – in developing countries. Most of these deaths are avoidable, and a lack of access to equipment is cited as one of the key factors. An ultra-low-cost scanner that can be plugged into any computer to show images of an unborn baby has been developed by EPSRC-sponsored engineers at Newcastle University. The hand-held USB device – which is roughly the size of a computer mouse – works in a similar way to existing ultrasound scanners, using pulses of high frequency sound to build up a picture of the unborn child on the computer screen. However, unlike the technology used in most hospitals across the UK costing

anywhere from £20,000£100,000, the scanner created by Jeff Neasham and Research Associate Dave Graham at Newcastle University can be manufactured for as little as £40. It can also run on any standard computer made in the last 10 years. It is now hoped the device will be used to provide medical teams working in the world’s poorest nations with basic antenatal information that could save the lives of hundreds of thousands of women and children. Mr Neasham, an expert in underwater sonar technology, says: “There is obviously the potential to go beyond obstetrics by using

the device to diagnose conditions such as gallstones, or other conditions that readily show up with ultrasound imaging. For example, vets and farmers are interested in affordable imaging.” The research is funded through an EPSRC Knowledge Transfer Account (KTA) and a Proof of Concept loan from NorthStar Ventures.

Digging it Scientists at the University of York are leading an international team to explore the use of plants to recover precious metals from mine tailings around the world. The researchers are investigating ‘phytomining’ which involves growing plants on mine waste materials to sponge up valuable Platinum Group Metals (PGMs) into their cellular structure. Plants such as willow, corn and mustard have evolved a resistance to specific metals and can accumulate relatively large amounts of these metals. The plant is heated in a controlled way, leading to the metal becoming embedded in a nano-form in the carbonised plant. The metal might then be used in industrial catalysis. PIONEER 09 Winter 2013

Professor James Clark, Director of the Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence at York, says: “Catalysis is being used more and more in industrial processes and particularly for emission control because of the demand for cleaner cars, so phytomining could provide a sustainable supply of catalytically active metals – providing a green method for extracting metals currently uneconomical to recover.” The project is funded in the UK through an EPSRC grant, and is supported by the G8 Research Councils Initiative on Multilateral Research Funding. The team is led by the University of York with support from Yale University, the University of British Columbia and Massey University in New Zealand.



Sponsored research in action

Knees must

Learning curves EPSRC-supported researchers at the University of Salford are working with a firm of architects to investigate the relationship between school building design and the learning rates of children in primary education. The researchers are collecting data from 150 classrooms across 30 primary schools, charting pupils’ progress over a year in maths and English. Expert analysis will be carried out on the physical characteristics of the classrooms such as natural light, noise, air quality, flexibility of space, amount of clutter and colour schemes.

EPSRC-supported researchers have devised a wearable device that harvests energy using the human knee to do all the leg work.

Soldiers may find this device particularly useful, for example on long marches, when carrying up to 10 kilogrammes of power equipment is not uncommon.

By strapping the energy harvester to the knee joint, a user could power body-monitoring devices such as heart rate monitors and pedometers by simply walking, and not have the worry of running out of power and needing to replace batteries.

The energy harvesting device has been developed by scientists from Cranfield University, the University of Liverpool and University of Salford.

Sunshine superstructures A revolutionary pilot manufacturing facility that can turn buildings into power stations by helping them generate, store and release their own energy, has been launched in Baglan, Wales. Production has begun at the facility on ecofriendly functional industrial coatings for integration into the fabric of roofs, walls and ceilings of new and existing buildings. The coatings harness the power of the sun using state-of-the-art conductive steel and glass materials. Experts estimate the technologies being developed at the SPECIFIC Innovation and Knowledge Centre (IKC) have the potential to develop into a £1 billion UK industry, with the potential to create a whole new manufacturing sector, sowing the seeds of up to 10,000 new jobs in the supply chain. The technologies developed through the facility are also expected to help provide an anchor for advanced manufacturing in the UK, leading to global export opportunities.

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The research was co-funded by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL).

The £20 million SPECIFIC (Sustainable Product Engineering Centre for Innovative Functional Coatings) project is led by Swansea University and backed by £10 million funding from EPSRC and the Technology Strategy Board, with a further £2 million investment from the Welsh Government. The unique academic/industry partnership, based at the Baglan Bay Innovation Centre (pictured), involves leading university groups, including Imperial College, Bath, Bangor, Cardiff, Glyndwr and Sheffield, and multinational companies such as Tata Steel, BASF and NSG Pilkington.


briefings Accelerating impact EPSRC is investing £60 million in UK universities to help our most pioneering scientists and engineers create successful businesses from their research, improve industrial collaboration and foster greater entrepreneurship. The three-year initiative will award ‘Impact Acceleration Accounts’ ranging from £600,000 to £6 million to over 30 universities across the UK. The funding will help support the universities’ best scientists and engineers to build even stronger collaborations with industry, bridge the gap between the lab and the marketplace and help them become better entrepreneurs. The funding will help bridge the ‘valley of death’ between a research idea and its development to a stage where a company or venture capitalist might be interested. The initiative will also allow universities to fund secondments for scientists and engineers to spend time in a business environment: improving their knowledge and skills and returning to the lab with a better understanding of the way companies operate as well as the challenges they face.

Sponsored research in action

Billion-dollar drug breakthrough Organic chemists from the University of Bristol have perfected a quicker, cost-effective way to make synthetic prostaglandins, among the most important molecules in biology and medicine. The resulting hormone-based drugs could generate billions of sales for the pharmaceutical industry. Despite huge efforts in industry and academia to synthesise prostaglandins, which regulate a wide range of activities in the body including blood circulation, digestion and reproduction, the process has remained lengthy. Until now.

For example, conventional synthesis of the prostaglandin-based drug Latanoprost requires 20 separate steps, but the Bristol team, led by Professor Varinder Aggarwal, an EPSRC Senior Research Fellow, can complete the process in just seven steps. Professor Aggarwal says: “Being able to make complex pharmaceuticals in a shorter number of steps and therefore more effectively, means that ultimately many more people could be treated for a range of illnesses for the same cost.” The synthetic prostaglandin research was co-funded by EPSRC and the European Research Council.

The funding will be used to support partnerships with SMEs and larger companies, thus taking some of the risk out of their investment. It will also provide tailored approaches for different sectors; reach out to researchers who do not normally engage in exploitation activities; and strengthen the strategic alignment between EPSRC and universities. Impact Acceleration Accounts replace EPSRC’s highly successful Knowledge Transfer Account (KTA) and Knowledge Transfer Secondment (KTS) schemes, which saw a step-change in knowledge exchange and collaboration between universities, business and other parties. The schemes also generated significant material contributions from business, particularly when partnering in follow-on activity, and resulted in many excellent examples of research leading to impact. PIONEER 09 Winter 2013



Sponsored research in action

Newcastle brown in the form of coal during the first phase of the development. The coal is a legacy of the former North Elswick Colliery which occupied the site until the 1940s. Project co-leader Professor David Manning, of Newcastle University (pictured right), says: “Any carbon we release as a result of coal extraction is effectively being cancelled out by the carbon that has been absorbed by the soil on the site.

A city centre site earmarked to become the heart of sustainability research in Newcastle is already helping to mitigate the effects of climate change. Research carried out by EPSRC-sponsored researchers at Newcastle and Oxford universities has shown that Science Central

– a 10 hectare brownfield site in the centre of Newcastle – has already ‘captured’ around 38,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and has the potential to remove a further 27,000 tonnes. This is estimated to be the same amount of carbon as will be removed from the site

“Urban soils tend to be rich in waste materials such as concrete or metal slag that contain calcium and magnesium. These minerals capture and store atmospheric carbon through the processes of weathering to form carbonates which are chemically stable and a permanent store of soil carbon. “This means that on sites such as Science Central, we can offset carbon-intensive development through soil engineering.” The project is funded by EPSRC and the Natural Environment Research Council.

Smile menders An EPSRC-sponsored team from Newcastle University, working with industrial partners, have designed a simple, cost-effective prototype device for the detection and monitoring of gum disease.

biotechnology companies OJ-Bio Ltd and Orla Protein Technologies. The hand-held diagnostic device will enable patients and dentists to rapidly and accurately detect and monitor gum disease by identifying tell-tale signs in saliva.

Co-led by Dr John Taylor and Professor Philip Preshaw, the project combines biotechnology processes with electronics manufacturing, and was developed with

EPSRC and the Technology Strategy Board have given the project £1.1 million to help develop the prototype into a commercial product.

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Sponsored research in action

Clean-air clothing

CO2 caught in a bind A porous material with unique carbon dioxide retention properties has been developed by an EPSRC-sponsored research team led by the University of Nottingham. The team’s findings could have an impact on the advancement of new carbon capture products for reducing emissions from fossil fuel processes. The research focuses on a metal organic framework known as NOTT-202a, which has a unique honeycomb-like structural arrangement and can be considered to represent an entirely new class of porous material. The material allows selective adsorption of carbon dioxide, so that gases such as nitrogen, methane and hydrogen can pass through it and then pass back again, but the carbon dioxide remains trapped in the material’s nanopores, even at low temperatures.

Within just two years we could all be wearing clothes that purify the air as we move around in them. The breakthrough comes from a revolutionary liquid laundry additive containing microscopic pollution-eating particles – and plans are in place to commercialise the technology. The new additive, called CatClo, is the result of collaboration between the University of Sheffield and London College of Fashion, with initial support from EPSRC. Items of clothing need to be washed in the additive just once, as the nanoparticles of titanium dioxide grip onto fabrics very tightly. When the particles then come into contact with nitrogen oxides in the air, they react with these pollutants and oxidise them in the fabric. The nitrogen oxides treated in this way are completely odourless and colourless PIONEER 09 Winter 2013

and pose no pollution hazard as they are removed harmlessly when the item of clothing is next washed. The additive itself is also harmless and the nanoparticles are unnoticeable from the wearer’s point of view. One person wearing clothes treated with CatClo would be able to remove around 5g of nitrogen oxides from the air in the course of an average day – roughly equivalent to the amount produced each day by the average family car.

The Nottingham team collaborated with colleagues at the University of Newcastle, Diamond Light Source and the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s Daresbury Laboratory. The study was funded by an EPSRC Programme Grant and a European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant.

Project co-leader Professor Tony Ryan OBE, of the University of Sheffield, says: “It’s the action of daylight on the nanoparticles that makes them function in this way. In the presence of light, the materials in the clothing catalyse chemical reactions… “If thousands of people in a typical town like Sheffield washed their clothes in the additive, there would be no pollution problem caused by nitrogen oxides at all.”


LEADING FROM The UK can be justifiably proud of its international research record in engineering and the physical sciences, but behind every world-leading research breakthrough are the people who made it possible – many of whom are benefiting from EPSRC’s focus on developing the research leaders of tomorrow. EPSRC Associate Director, Dr Neil Viner (pictured), explains how.

Ask anyone in the street about funding for UK science, and they’re likely to know that the Government plays an important part. Indeed, EPSRC is the main UK Government agency for sponsoring research in engineering and the physical sciences, investing over £500 million a year in worldclass research, in partnership with the UK’s leading universities, and with around 2,000 industrial partners. But it may come as a surprise to learn that EPSRC plays an equally important role in developing the research leaders of the future – from PhD students taking their first step on the career ladder to the most experienced of senior professors. Developing leaders is one of EPSRC’s key goals, and is crucial for the UK’s future prosperity and wellbeing. Every year, on average, EPSRC provides support for 10,000 PhD students, investing over £200 million in doctoral training initiatives. In fact, we are by far the largest sponsor of UK PhD students. And while most careers in engineering and the physical sciences begin with the PhD,

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we recognise the profound need to support researchers at every stage of their careers, right the way through to senior professorships – providing leaders who have the skills, acumen and presence with what they need to perform on the world stage. The UK needs strong leadership in research in order to maintain its global competitiveness against the likes of the USA, China and India, and to connect to and influence research activity that happens around the world. In order to remain competitive in an everchanging world, where global research is accelerating at an ever-increasing rate, we are steadily changing the way we support people. This, in part, is in response to a major ‘Balance of People’ exercise in 2009, when, for the first time, EPSRC looked at its entire portfolio from a peoplecentred perspective. In reality, over the last decade we have been steadily transforming the way we develop leaders, but the 2009 Balance of People exercise brought things into clear and sharp

focus – helping us accelerate and refocus our activities. For example, we are now investing more resources around outstanding individuals able to build world-leading research teams, and who can demonstrate research excellence and international standing through programme grants and other major investments in teams across institutions. Our focus is on identifying and investing preferentially in current leaders, in an environment in which they can flourish, while ensuring the UK has the resources and capability to respond to future challenges. We are also investing in longer-term projects, and training students in cohorts, working together within Centres for Doctoral Training. The reason is simple: the realworld problems and research challenges we face are driving new, more networked approaches to doing research, and the way people develop within research careers needs to adapt to reflect this increased complexity. (Continued on next page)


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(Continued from previous page) Personal development A recent Royal Society report, The Scientific Century, noted that fewer than 0.5 per cent of PhD students progress to professorships. Of course, not everyone can, or wishes to, make it to this level, which is one of the reasons why EPSRC works with universities to help develop ‘people skills’ including teamworking, communications, presentation and planning. We believe skills such as these not only make students better, more creative and more productive researchers, it also makes them more employable and more able to make a contribution to society. For many years, the world’s best companies have known that personal development is crucial to competitiveness and to developing future leaders, and they have invested heavily in doing just that.

Two things remain constant in our thinking: all students should be encouraged to think beyond the PhD, and their training should be centred on their development needs in the light of this.

course, has a different style of leadership. Fellowships are particularly valuable in helping talented people move their careers forward, build reputations and strike out in new directions to become the new leaders.

The training programmes we sponsor are articulated in a Statement of Expectations, which brings PhD students, universities and EPSRC together in partnership. By focusing on the totality of the PhD experience, and through recognition of individual and collective roles within these partnerships, with shared aspirations, we are able to raise standards and provide stronger platforms for the future.

We are developing new and more flexible fellowship packages to provide more tailored support for emerging leaders to work in the areas where the need is greatest. The idea is that where the UK needs to grow leadership capacity, people can apply for a package that suits them best, at a time that’s right for them. The support we give them, working in tandem with universities, may be supplemented at various stages, based on performance, and peer assessment.

Needless to say, our partnerships with universities and other academic institutions are crucial, at all career levels, and we often discuss the training environment they provide; the focus is on sharing and disseminating best practice – learning from the best within and outside academia.

EPSRC research fellowships are therefore no longer based around time served. Instead, we have introduced a flexible, streamlined process with no closing dates; enabling people to come in when the time is right for them. The focus Working with universities, we are helping is on excellent candidates having the right the world of academia do the experiences and skills, looking same, creating dynamic research for opportunities to develop environments that foster creativity their career – for example, and co-creation where students are Our goal is to support the best people by spending time at different prepared for the careers they are institutions, or in industry, or with leadership potential throughout their actually going to have. by encouraging creativity in research careers While the details of each support their research. They will be package are different from each supported with a package that other, the overall concept remains more closely matches their the same – focused, tailored to needs than the simple buying One area we are addressing is the transition individual need, within an ecosystem based of an individual’s time to do research that is point between career stages, which can around mutual support and recognition. typical in other fellowships. be particularly unsettling for students Providing the context within which talented Longer-term game approaching the end of their PhD. Will people work is just as important as they have the time and resource to finish Developing leaders is a longer-term game. developing the person. the work they started? Should they aim to Our goal is to support the best people with PhD training go further in their research career or seek leadership potential throughout their research EPSRC is developing an integrated, holistic employment beyond academia? careers, as part of a continuing relationship. and student-centred approach to PhD To aid this transition, we have introduced Make no mistake, while we are happy to training, focused on helping students reach the EPSRC Doctoral Prize, which provides produce the next generation of hedge fund their highest potential while recognising that additional funding for up to two years at the managers who will hopefully be better, and different routes are appropriate to different end of the PhD for the very best EPSRCmore appreciated, than their forebears, we’re people. This is why we support a range of sponsored students – providing tailored mainly here to create a research engine PhD training options: support when they need it most, and that drives growth, and drives the UK to a building a competitive advantage for the • Through cohort-led Centres for position where it generates sufficient wealth brightest and most talented. Doctoral Training focused around a to pay for the kind of society we aspire to. specific research area, where a clear need has been identified that cannot be met otherwise. •

Industrial CASE studentships, where students are sponsored by an industrial partner. The partner frames the project and decides where it will be based. Doctoral Training Grants, awarded to universities based on their research grant income, giving them the freedom to fund students directly.

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We are also reaching out to second-year undergraduates, offering them a chance to do a research project in their summer vacation to test their aptitude for postgraduate research: capturing enthusiasm, nurturing talent, rewarding endeavour. Fellowships The UK needs visionary thinkers who can open up new vistas in research, and inspirational people who can lead research teams to new heights. And everyone, of

Beyond the research arena, we’re equipping people with the wherewithal to become leaders in industry, across society, and in Government, with a deeply held belief in, and understanding of, the crucial role of research. Who knows, one day in the not too distant future, rather than having cut their teeth in politics or economics, the future prime minister will have a science background, having started their career in an EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training.


DEVELOPING LEADERS Key elements of EPSRC’s Developing Leaders goal. We are: •

Identifying and investing preferentially in current leaders, supporting them with flexible packages.

Developing our future leaders, providing them with flexible and tailored resource packages that expose them to broader experiences and environments and allow them to fulfil their potential.

Increasing our focus on developing a cohort of both current and future leaders and encouraging networking and mentoring within that cohort.

Providing tailored support for individuals with leadership potential across all career stages.

Providing an increased proportion of support to individuals, as opposed to projects.

Developing the next generation of scientists and engineers, ensuring that early career researchers with the greatest potential are well supported.

Engineering, Postdoctoral, Career Acceleration and Leadership Fellowships into one overarching framework. Fellows are appointed into areas of strategic priority over several years. The priorities are subject to periodic refresh. EPSRC Doctoral Prize The EPSRC Doctoral Prize helps universities retain and recruit the best PhD students receiving EPSRC support to increase the impact of their PhD, and to improve retention of the very best students in research careers. The Statement of Expectations EPSRC has introduced a Statement of Expectations for all EPSRC-supported students, including students supported through Doctoral Training Grants, Centres for Doctoral Training, Industrial CASE and current Project Students. The statement sets out the expectations for the way in which students should be supported in their doctoral training.

PHD TRAINING EPSRC supports three kinds of PhD training, through Doctoral Training Grants, cohort-led Centres for Doctoral Training, or CASE studentships, where students spend the majority of their time working with an industrial partner. For more information, turn to page 17. TAILORED SUPPORT PACKAGES EPSRC Fellowships Fellowships are central to EPSRC’s commitment to developing the next generation of world-leading scientists and engineers; and are a direct investment in Britain’s most talented individuals to help them develop ground-breaking ideas across a range of fields. Since 2011, EPSRC has operated a single Fellowship scheme, under which three career stages are supported: Postdoctoral, Early Career and Established Career. The new scheme consolidates Challenging

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Movers & shakers From breakthrough inventions to award-winning ideas and successful spin-out companies, EPSRC initiatives to help develop the next generation of leaders are making headlines. Here’s a snapshot of people, projects, publications and prize-winners in the spotlight.

Hot stuff: A survey has revealed that manufacturing is one of the biggest employers of doctoral graduates in engineering and the physical sciences.

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Eye on the prize

Where’s there’s muck… Winning way

Kate Sloyan, an EPSRC Doctoral Prize holder at the University of Southampton, has won the Institute of Physics’ Very Early Career Woman Physicist of the Year Award.

Research by Dr Cynthia Carliell-Marquet, from the University of Birmingham’s School of Civil Engineering, working with Severn Trent Water, has led to remarkable findings from an EPSRC-supported project to understand the company’s anaerobic digesters and bioenergy output.

The Institute of Physics award is made annually to a female scientist within five years of completing her undergraduate degree in physics and who is either working as a physicist or is engaged in postgraduate study. Kate was singled out for her research at the Optoelectronics Research Centre at the University of Southampton into optical crystal engineering using pulsed laser deposition. Her work has already attracted interest from industrial partners, and her EPSRC Doctoral Prize is enabling her to continue her research for two more years.

PhD holders can boost company performance A major independent survey of leading research-intensive employers closely links PhD holders with increased company performance and a host of other benefits. The survey, conducted by DTZ in 2011 on behalf of EPSRC, involved 86 of the UK’s largest research-intensive companies, including Airbus, Rolls-Royce, Unilever and Vodafone. Among its findings, the survey revealed: •

60% of employers say PhD recruits are integral to commercial success

63% of employers actively target PhDs when recruiting

74% say PhD recruits achieve high impact results within two years of joining

EPSRC spends approximately 25 per cent of its budget on doctoral-level training, supporting some 10,000 students at any time and providing over 2,000 highly-trained doctorates per year. Approximately a third of all doctorate holders continue in academia, while nearly half find employment in business and public services. Manufacturing, finance and IT are the biggest employers of doctoral graduates in engineering and physical sciences, representing around 75 per cent of those going into industry and public services. These sectors contribute nearly one third of Gross Value Added to the UK. PIONEER 09 Winter 2013

Anaerobic digesters play an essential role in wastewater treatment, transforming the sludge produced in other parts of the treatment process into methane that can be used to generate electricity or upgraded and injected directly into the gas grid. When investigating a digestion site performing below its energy target, Dr Carliell-Marquet’s team concluded it was likely to be deficient in valuable trace nutrients. After 50 days of supplementing very small amounts of trace elements, the site’s electricity production rose from 23 per cent below target to 28 per cent above target: the highest electricity output recorded from that site. The research was carried out as part of an EPSRC CASE studentship, in partnership with Severn Trent Water, to which the student, Farryad Ishaq, was seconded in November 2011.

Imaging a heartbeat An award-winning heartbeat monitor for premature babies, which has its origin in a series of EPSRC research studentships at the University of Nottingham, beginning in 2003, has been successfully developed by university spin-out company Monica Healthcare Ltd. The company has developed an innovative wearable device that is sufficiently small to be placed on a baby’s forehead to measure heart rate on a continuous basis. The device is also wireless, and hence non-invasive. The heartbeat monitor, which uses wireless technologies to globally access obstetric services in the home and hospital, has been successfully marketed in Japan and the United States, where it is in use in hospitals in Florida, Texas and Colorado. In Autumn 2012, Monica Healthcare Ltd signed an accord that will see its product in use in hospitals in Brazil. The PhD student behind the technology, Mark Grubb, was funded in 2003 by an EPSRC CASE award studentship.

David Beesley, a PhD student at the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Plastic Electronics at Imperial College London, beat off all competition to emerge overall winner of the 2012 annual ICT Pioneers competition. The competition, organised by EPSRC, is open to all second and third year UK postgraduate research students in subjects related to information and communication technology (ICT). Sponsors and supporters include BT, ARM and the BBC. David won £3,000 to fund the next stage of his research, which he hopes could lead to a new generation of electronics, manufactured in an entirely new way.

£14 million for new manufacturing CDTs EPSRC has invested over £14 million in five new Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) to help supply UK industries with the skilled researchers and the next generation of engineers they need to help drive UK growth. The CDTs are part of the EPSRC-funded Manufacturing EngD programme.

Hail fellow EPSRC Early Career Fellowship holder Matthew Powner, a lecturer in the Department of Chemistry at University College London, struck gold in the final of a 2012 science competition, held in the House of Commons, walking away with a £3,000 prize for his research. Matthew presented his chemistry research to dozens of politicians and a panel of expert judges as part of a national competition, SET for Britain. Matthew’s entry, based on research which tries to understand how the processes behind genetics can be initiated in nonorganic material, came out on top from a short-list of 30 researchers. Matthew, a former EPSRC PhD Plus (now Doctoral Prize) winner, says: “The work I undertake is fundamental research and it makes me proud to see something like this come out on top, at a time when there’s such a big drive for research to deliver fast financial rewards.”


Business matters Each year, EPSRC sponsors tailored training for around 10,000 doctoral students, many of whom spend varying degrees of their time in industry. Here, three students share their experiences of working with an industrial partner. a company I guess I would be at the beginning of my industrial career right now. “However, once I’d heard about PhDs with an industrial partner, in my case Unilever, I didn’t have to think twice, I knew it was the best way for me. Not only could I apply my ideas, I could still be studying and learning new things – the perfect combination.

Karolina Krzemieniewska is a student in the Department of Mathematics & Statistics at Lancaster University, and part of the EPSRC-funded STOR-i Centre for Doctoral Training. She says that taking her academic research into the commercial world has moved her career to a whole new level. Karolina says: “After studying for six years, I thought perhaps I should put my skills to use in industry. If I hadn’t been introduced to the idea of a PhD in collaboration with

Dr Zack Gill, an Energy Solutions Engineer with Willmott Dixon Energy Services Limited, holds an Engineering Doctorate (EngD) from the EPSRCfunded Industrial Doctorate Centre in Systems Engineering at the Universities of Bristol and Bath. A qualification, he says, that suited his outlook on life. Zack says: “I can’t imagine anything worse than slaving away for four years, albeit on remarkably varied and interesting research, only to have your thesis sit on an PIONEER 09 Winter 2013

“Although the start of a PhD can be challenging, once you begin to understand the methodology it becomes an exciting journey. Each little thing I learn makes me feel I’ve accomplished something. By setting myself milestones, I can also track my progress.

“STOR-i offers a unique PhD programme in Statistics and Operational Research, which is co-developed with the industrial partners. “To get the most from the data generated it is important that both parties understand each other’s objectives, so visits to the company and getting to know about its research work is crucial. Such collaboration develops numerous skills, including teamworking and the ability to explain your research to people from other disciplines.

“One of the most important things I’ve learned is to have a good relationship with your supervisors. Although the PhD is centred on independent work, good advice from your supervisors is priceless and can greatly improve the research.

“Collaborating with Unilever is a great experience, both challenging and rewarding, and I would always recommend doing a PhD in collboration with a company. Real-life data can be very challenging as it doesn’t tend to conform to nice assumptions, but there is nothing more rewarding than applying my own work to real industrial problems – and seeing the application of the methodology by the company.”

unreachable shelf gathering dust. The ride might be rewarding but when the destination is deserted what’s the point? So the option of a typical PhD never appealed.

and will always look back on this period fondly, but after four years, the time had come to broaden my horizons in another sector of the industry.

“The Engineering Doctorate process, which was pioneered by EPSRC, gives the best of both industrial and academic worlds; and thanks to the inherent diversity in the field of sustainable engineering, dusty shelves are a distant memory.

“Working now for Willmott Dixon, a large, privately owned construction firm, I am able to put my research into practice on a daily basis and see tangible improvement in their products. I have also expanded rapidly into the refurbishment and retrofit market, the biggest piece of the construction dilemma that remains unresolved.I look forward to many more enjoyable and challenging years working in this field.

“I spent my four years of the EngD, which is a variant of the traditional PhD, living in London, working for engineering design consultants, Buro Happold, in one of their most vibrant, diverse and influential offices, returning to Bristol on the odd occasion to top up on my academics. I worked with some truly inspiring people over those years

“I can’t recommend the Engineering Doctorate strongly enough to anyone either looking to conduct research or for it to be the start of a career in industry.”


with my tutor to discuss departmental opportunities and he guided me to my current supervisor. “On hearing the project details, I immediately decided to apply, particularly as the funding was already in place. “The funding covers my tuition, equipment costs, lab time and personal stipend. As part of the EPSRC funding I am also financed to attend conferences. Peter Woollen is a final year PhD student at Loughborough University’s Wolfson School of Mechanical & Manufacturing Engineering.

“My PhD focuses on the occurrence of gas in diesel engine cooling systems, its effects and how to mitigate them.

His research, into diesel engine cooling system design, is jointly funded by EPSRC, and his industrial sponsor, Caterpillar.

I have presented my work at an Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) conference on engine design and at the Society of Automobile Engineers World Congress in Detroit.

Peter says: “During the fourth year of my undergraduate degree, which was sponsored by Caterpillar, I became interested in undertaking a PhD. I wanted to continue my studies and pursue my education as far as possible. I spoke

“Conference attendance provides a fantastic opportunity to develop my communication skills. It also gives me the opportunity to network with potential employers.

“Presenting also adds weight to my thesis, easing the assessment process. “Perhaps the most off-putting thing with postgraduate study, whatever your subject, is the expense. “You can build up quite a debt as an undergraduate, and I couldn’t have afforded to continue my studies without funding. As it is, I did get funding and I feel my potential employability within my specialist field has really been improved. “My stipend is less than the salary offered on many graduate schemes. So that might deter some people. However, I think my long-term earning potential has increased, and I’m certainly not falling behind the career progression of people who graduated with me and went straight into industry. “Undertaking a PhD has allowed me to specialise in a field I have a keen interest in, while enhancing my career opportunities. It has given me plenty of routes to explore – I’m excited about what my future holds.”

Working with industry EPSRC supports several kinds of PhD training; each involves varying degrees of industrial partnership. EPSRC Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) Since 2008, EPSRC has invested in a portfolio of over 80 Centres for Doctoral Training to ensure the UK has access to the highly talented individuals needed to tackle the biggest challenges facing Britain such as climate change, strengthening industry and combating cyber-crime. CDT students carry out a PhD-level research project together with taught coursework in a supportive and exciting environment. CDTs bring together diverse areas of expertise to train engineers and scientists with the skills, knowledge and confidence to tackle today’s evolving issues and future challenges. They also provide a supportive and exciting environment for students, create new working cultures,

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build relationships between teams in universities and forge lasting links with industry. Students are funded for four years, and the programme includes technical and transferrable skills training, as well as a research element. EPSRC also funds a CDT variant, the Industrial Doctorate Centre (IDC), which provides an alternative to the traditional PhD for students who want a career in industry. A four-year programme combines PhD-level research projects with taught courses, and students spend about 75 per cent of their time working directly with a company.

Doctoral Training Accounts (DTA) Each year EPSRC awards four-year Doctoral Training Grants (DTGs) to academic institutions based on their research grant income. Doctoral Training Awards are replenished annually,

and have the advantage of giving the university the freedom to fund students directly. Universities can also co-fund part of these studentships in collaboration with industry.

CASE studentships Industrial CASE awards are PhD studentships during which the student enhances their training by spending between three and 18 months with their CASE partner, which is usually a business/industry/policy-making workplace. These businesses take the lead in arranging projects with an academic partner of their choice. The aim of CASE awards is to provide PhD students with a first-rate, challenging research training experience within the context of a mutually beneficial research collaboration between academic and partner organisations.


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Photography: Stuart Robinson

Quantum leap EPSRC Leadership Fellow Dr Winfried Hensinger and his team are thinking big. They aim to uncover the mysteries of quantum mechanics, a branch of physics which deals with physical phenomena at microscopic scales. Their mission is to develop new quantum technologies that will revolutionise the world we live in, including a computer with unimaginably greater processing power than current computers. As Dr Hensinger (pictured) explains:

“In the Schrödinger’s cat paradox, quantum theory predicts that a cat can be in two states at exactly the same time: dead and alive, in a seemingly impossible limbo known as superposition. “This quantum spookiness stunned many scientists – most notably Albert Einstein – and is an example of what can occur in the strange realm of quantum mechanics. “Since it was first formulated, in the early 20th century, many experiments have proved the validity of quantum mechanics, and scientists have shown that harnessing its potential could have far-reaching impact on the world as we know it. Putting the ideas behind quantum mechanics into practice, however, is another matter. “Due to the ever-growing need for increased computer processing speeds, computer chips and electrical components are reaching the limit of what is physically possible. Indeed, certain problems will never be solved by even the fastest supercomputer, working non-stop for millions of years. An altogether new technology is required. “At the Ion Quantum Technology Group at the University of Sussex we believe we are well on the way to creating that technology – the ion trap quantum computer. PIONEER PIONEER 09 09 Winter Winter 2013 2012

“Quantum computing technology works by replacing electrical components with atoms. By using the strange principles of quantum mechanics to manipulate these atoms it could become possible to achieve computing speeds much faster than anything we can imagine today. “To operate this new kind of computer, we need a new and very different kind of binary code. Current computers (also called classical computers) use electronic charge to represent information in a computer. The smallest unit of this information or data is called the ‘bit’. These bits can be represented as either zero or one – the socalled binary digits. “Everything that makes up data and information in a computer is made up of these bits, and arithmetical calculations are performed on these bits to process everything on a computer. Quantum computers do things differently. “Instead of electrical charge, quantum computers use a specific property of atoms, called ‘spin’ to represent the binary ones and zeroes. “As Schrödinger’s cat showed, quantum mechanics allows for something to be in two states at the same time. This means that a single atom could be both a one and a zero,

or a one and one, or any other combination for that matter. This new atomic building block is called a quantum bit, or qubit. “By controlling these qubits, it is possible to create the basis of what will make up the fundamental part of a quantum computer. “Because qubits can represent two bits at the same time, this leads to incredibly faster processing speeds. Each time a new atom is added to the computer the overall speed of the system increases. “While a one-atom system can only perform two simultaneous calculations, a twoatom system can process four calculations simultaneously, and just a 20-atom system can run over a million calculations simultaneously. Even as few as 1,000 atoms could process more simultaneous calculations than there are particles in the entire observable universe. “Although it might take a while to get to a 1,000-atom system, we have taken important strides in our quest for a new kind of computer. You could call it a quantum leap.” Dr Hensinger, a Reader in Quantum, Atomic and Optical Physics at the University of Sussex, is funded by EPSRC, the European Commission and the US Army Research Laboratory. Picture courtesy University of Sussex.



Money talks. But what is it actually saying? The

EPSRC-funded UK Centre for Doctoral Training in Financial Computing, based at University College London (UCL), is not only generating understanding that will enable the financial sector to become less vulnerable to risk, its dynamic, distinctive style of learning is helping it get to grips with issues vital to our wider economic wellbeing. Turn the page to find out more. Words: Barry Hague

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(Continued from previous page) “We don’t accept any student who doesn’t want to change the world.” This uncompromising statement sums up the philosophy of Professor Philip Treleaven, who has been Director of the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Financial Computing since its establishment in 2008 by University College London (UCL), the London School of Economics and Political Science and the London Business School. And the CDT certainly isn’t having difficulty attracting talent: around 80 PhD students are currently associated with it, with around 600 applications and enquiries from potential students received each year. Women account for over half of the 2011 intake. Unconventional methods It’s clear that right in the heart of London something really significant is happening, and Professor Treleaven is quick to emphasise the CDT’s uniqueness; in particular, he underlines how its unconventional methods generate the dynamism and imagination vital to success. PIONEER 09 Winter 2013

“We recruit students from computer science, mathematics and statistics as well as disciplines such as psychology and the social sciences.

algorithms. That makes the CDT’s students highly marketable, both in the financial sector and in service organisations where business analytics play a key role.

“Whatever the students’ background, the aim is the same: to help them develop outstanding skills in building and harnessing cutting-edge financial computing models and software that enable banks and other organisations to process data, pinpoint risks, spot opportunities and make better decisions.

“Many students get offered jobs while they’re still with us,” says Professor Treleaven. “We’re very happy for them to accept, providing they carry on with their PhD work.”

“Some students like working solo, but for others we provide opportunities to build teams – almost like mini companies – to tackle projects. “One team, for example, comprises three PhD students working with 10 undergraduates to build a computing platform that trawls social media on the internet and ‘scrapes’ up financially relevant information.” This way of working creates healthy competition among the students. It also means there’s a premium on developing project and people management expertise alongside ‘hard’ skills such as writing

Essentially, the CDT creates a melting pot of people and ideas. Students develop confidence and creativity alongside core technical skills, and a steady stream of alumni also go on to establish their own start-ups, like data mining company Search Base. “EPSRC support has enabled us to foster a vibrant culture that brings out the best in the mature, ultra-dedicated students we select,” Professor Treleaven comments. “There’s a relentless buzz of energy, determination and youthful ambition here. Sometimes it feels like the Wild West.” Numbers count Much of what goes on in the financial sector today is driven by computing systems such as electronic trading platforms that buy and


sell shares. But there’s also huge scope to develop computer models and software that analyse mountains of financial data and generate insights into what’s happening throughout the economy. “Everyone from Government and regulators to investment banks and high-tech companies is desperate to harness leadingedge financial computing capabilities,” explains Professor Treleaven. “It’s the job of this centre to develop PhD students into leaders in their field who’ll take financial computing to a new level.” Two current projects, in particular, give a flavour of this top-line mission. One team of students is building a model of

the UK banking system that will improve understanding of the impact of interventions such as interest rate changes and quantitative easing. Another student is working on a model showing how movements in financial markets are influenced by different kinds of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ news – a crucial aid to predicting market turbulence. “An organisation like the Bank of England will ask us to work on a specific, highly challenging project,” says Professor Treleaven. “We then see which students want to get involved. They can start work immediately and there’s no funding hoop to go through.

With the Financial Services Authority as my industrial partner, I have developed models that can pinpoint systemic risk in the financial sector. I come from a physics and maths background, so I’ve spent a lot of time trying to understand how complex economies can be modelled computationally. That will enable me to combine existing

“Essentially, our students are a low-risk innovation resource – organisations use them to work on new ideas in financial computing with very little financial risk to themselves. Moreover, because the PhDs focus on real-world needs, they deliver tangible benefits. “Every student at the CDT has an academic supervisor and an industry adviser, and spends plenty of time working at their industry partner organisation.” Clearly, this is a Centre for Doctoral Training where ‘business as usual’ – and teaching the same old things in the same old way – will never be an option. And you can take that to the bank.

A force for change The EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Financial Computing acts as a bridge between industry, government and academia, and a catalyst for change across all three. For example: •

Most of the many investment banks that work with the centre have now established formal PhD programmes.

Students from the CDT are collaborating with the Bank of England, the Financial Services Authority and others on issues such as systemic risk.

UCL has now hired a number of new academics who want to work closely with industry.

models with new ones I’ve constructed myself and so produce models that help manage the UK economy.

Annika Wipprecht, second year PhD student

Computer modelling defined Computer models consist of mathematical equations and algorithms that collectively make it possible to create a realistic simulation of the actual or projected operation of a financial system, or other system, providing that accurate data is used to make the assessment.

Left: Around 80 PhD students are associated with the centre, with around 600 applications received each year.

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Mutual attraction A chance meeting, some beer, and a magnet-mushing micro-organism with an amazing party trick set geochemistry Master’s student, Jo Galloway, on a whole new career path. Words: Hayley Birch

Like many good things, Jo Galloway’s PhD project got started in the pub. It was as a geochemistry Master’s student at Leeds University, while tending the bar at one of the regular haunts of the Physics Department, that Jo made the crucial connection that would change the course of her career. No longer a geochemist, she’s now working on a way to make a new generation of magnetic materials for use in data storage devices such as computer hard drives. Jo (pictured) says: “It’s not the most glamorous of stories. But because the pub was near the Physics Department I got to meet lots of physics staff. One of the astrophysics professors introduced me to Dr Sarah Staniland.” Having studied bacteria during her Master’s degree, Jo was intrigued by a multidisciplinary EPSRC-funded research project Sarah and her team were working on. PIONEER 09 Winter 2013

Many electronic data storage devices need magnets to function, and the team were looking to nature to find ways to make smaller, eco-friendly devices. They took their cue from Magnetospirillum magneticum, an aquatic bug that ‘eats’ atom-sized bits of iron and turns them into tiny magnets which it then stores inside itself. In nature, the bugs use this bizarre ability to find food. Jo says: “Other bacteria just tumble and roll, so it’s a random search, whereas the magnetic bacteria can align themselves with magnetic field lines, sense what they’re looking for, and then just swim along the field line towards the food.” Sarah was so impressed by Jo she was later to offer her an EPSRC-funded PhD studentship to conduct further research in this area. Under Sarah’s supervision, Jo went on to co-author a scientific paper about the project – a feat she achieved before gaining her doctorate. The study described how the team persuaded another bacterium, Escherichia coli, to manufacture a Magnetospirillum protein. Then it was just a case of giving the proteins some iron and letting them do all the hard work of making the magnets.

Jo says: “Making nano magnets in this way means it can be done at low temperatures and without using harsh chemicals – providing a cheaper, greener alternative to current technologies.” Based on the success of this early work, Jo, now Dr Galloway, was recently awarded further EPSRC funding in the form of a two-year Doctoral Prize to investigate harder magnetic materials for a range of advanced data storage applications. The award includes funding for outreach activities, such as attending conferences.

EPSRC Doctoral Prize EPSRC Doctoral Prizes help universities retain and recruit the best EPSRCsupported PhD students to increase the impact of their PhD. Under the terms of the prize, universities may allocate 10 per cent of their EPSRC Doctoral Training Grant budget to support the most promising students for a further two years at the end of their PhD course. Students are selected on academic merit and research potential.


Making nano magnets in this way means it can be done at low temperatures and without using harsh chemicals – providing a cheaper, greener alternative to current technologies.

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Printers Progress University of Nottingham scientists and colleagues from AstraZeneca have pioneered 3D inkjet printing technology that could lead to ‘printed’ drugs exactly tailored to individual patients’ needs. But the significance of this breakthrough lies as much with the EPSRC initiatives that inspired and nurtured it as the research itself. Words: Mark Mallett

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he story revolves around the EPSRC Doctoral Training Centre in Targeted Therapeutics at Nottingham, set up in 2006 as a joint venture with pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca. Professor Cameron Alexander, who joined Nottingham’s School of Pharmacy in 2005, has been running the centre, and its latest 2012 incarnation, since its launch. He says the timing couldn’t have been better: “Cohort-based training – bringing PhD students together in one centre, focused on a specific area of research – was relatively new at the time. What made it doubly exciting for me was the partnership with AstraZeneca – the first of its kind. We were pioneering a new kind of training initiative, with strong commercial focus. “It was the perfect opportunity to introduce new ways of thinking. I was particularly keen to bring in ideas inspired by a new EPSRC problem-solving initiative, the IDEAS Factory, particularly its ‘sandpit’ process. I had attended one of the very first sandpits, in 2004, which was a revelation.” The sandpit is an intensive problem-solving workshop, tackling specific and hypothetical PIONEER 09 Winter 2013

research challenges. The emphasis is on thinking the unthinkable; not just outside the sandpit, but way beyond the playground. Through expert moderation and with real-time peer review, the very best ideas become funded research projects, usually with a high risk element. Professor Alexander says: “What makes a sandpit so special is the process itself: no egos, no pulling rank, all preconceptions left at the door. Positive collective energy, focused on getting results. “In fact, the influence of the EPSRC sandpit was so strong we devised our very own sandpit process for the Doctoral Training Centre.” True to its founding spirit, the centre’s first sandpit had a suitably speculative theme: ‘What would pharmaceuticals look like in 2050?’ From the opening speed dating-style session to the final day’s conclusions, the process was very different from what many participants had experienced before. The results, however, speak for themselves. For example, the 3D inkjet drug printing project emerged almost fully formed after the very first session.

The inkjet printing project was co-led by scientists from Nottingham and AstraZeneca, including Professor Clive Roberts and AstraZeneca’s Dr Paul Gellert. Other CDT projects included academics from a range of departments at the university as well as a total of 25 full-time PhD students – in every sense a multidisciplinary undertaking. Despite the CDT’s focus on developing pharmaceuticals for a world 50 years into the future, the subjects it addressed, such as the UK’s ageing population and patients’ increasing reliance on multi-combinations of medicines, were very much focused on the here and now, and had a solid, pragmatic base. Professor Roberts says: “We wanted to identify novel manufacturing methods capable of producing individualised medicines tailored to a patient’s needs and, if possible, simple enough to be done at the point of care or even at home. “Inkjet printing seemed to fit the bill, as it had already shown potential in other areas such as printed electronics and bespoke 3D printing of objects.” (Continued on next page)


The EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training provided me with a unique atmosphere in which to flourish. I gained vast experience in working collaboratively, actively creating interdisciplinary partnerships to gain expertise and achieve better results. Essential skills I obtained include quick and effective decision making, to enable project completion in limited time, and the ability to adapt to both academic and industrial settings with ease and diversity. The centre also provided me with experience in working successfully within areas outside of my discipline. Dr Helen Angell, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Cordeliers Research Center, Paris, France

(Continued from previous page) After early teething problems – which were hardly surprising, as the project was the first academic/industrial partnership of its kind – the team got into their stride, and the results began to come together. The printer itself used a piezo-electric inkjet head, similar to the kind found on desktop paper printers. Ultimately, the team succeeded in devising a way to ‘print’ micron-sized dried polymer droplets containing the drug felodipine onto a water-resistant material, and then more complex formulations with two drugs and a controlled release layer. To confirm the accuracy and consistency of the micro-

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spot formulations, the team used ultrahigh-power atomic force microscopes and confocal Raman spectroscopy, a relatively new technique that allows chemical imaging without specific sample preparation. Everything checked out. As inkjet printing is an inherently scalable technology – something with the potential to go from lab desk to commercial reality – the team had been able to prove in principle the viability of their research, although they acknowledge it is a long way from practical application. If successful, however, the consequences could be far-reaching. The team suggest that the ‘formulation printer’ of the future could use cartridges supplied by the pharmaceutical industry to print out the patient’s specific dosage – mixing and matching the drug combinations with accuracy to the nearest nano-drop as the inkjet printer builds the prescription layer-by-layer.

The printer could be linked via the internet to the appropriate healthcare provider, as well as to the patient’s medical records, enabling individualised dosages to be printed, monitored, and modified remotely. Naturally, each dosage would use controlled-release technology, so that it would hit the spot in the right amount at the right time. Controlled release (targeted therapeutics) is, after all, one of the reasons why the Nottingham EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training was set up in the first place. Cameron Alexander (pictured left) says: “One can see how this kind of targeted therapy technology might appeal to the major companies, especially as it marks a move away from large-scale, high-cost drug manufacture. “Academic pharmaceutical research in the UK can rarely compete with the big US groups on money. But what we can beat them on is ideas like this.


“At Nottingham we have bright, inventive students and a group of academics who want to work across divisions and who are willing to take on risky projects. This, I think, gives us an edge, and is helping us develop independent, creative leaders who enjoy working in teams.” Andrew Megarry, a PhD student at the centre, says: “As a new researcher, having a built-in network of people working in related areas was invaluable. “The interdisciplinary nature of the CDT training projects provided hands-on experience with techniques from a range of disciplines. This experience proved to be incredibly useful and allowed me to make a more informed choice of PhD topic.” Cameron Alexander says: “We’ve been able to create a model that works for everyone, giving us the freedom to work on long-

term projects, as well as the mechanism to exploit these opportunities. “In the past, a university department would revolve around the ‘Big Professor’, attended by their subordinates. That whole approach has changed – thanks, in part, to initiatives introduced by EPSRC. It’s now more about bringing people together collaboratively; working on large-scale ventures that aren’t driven just by one big name. “Leadership, lateral thinking and entrepreneurship are built into the training. This can be challenging, as our CDT students have got good ideas, and they know it – many of them very entrepreneurial. To be honest, this approach isn’t always easy to manage as a student will start off doing one project but, as their group progresses, they might go off in directions we don’t want them to go in; so it’s far

removed from the traditional single-project PhD. But it’s challenges like this that keep us on our toes and constantly open to new ideas. So the process is not only developing the leadership potential of a new generation, it’s enhancing the leadership skills of senior team members. “It’s a different way of defining leadership from what we might have done in the past, and all the better for it. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Targeted Therapeutics The centre was established in 2006 as a joint venture with pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. The centre focuses on transforming the brightest PhD students into leaders in targeted therapeutics – the science of designing, making and delivering drugs to where they are most needed in the body – a research field that could revolutionise medicine.

To date, all students completing the fouryear course have taken up positions in the pharmaceutical-related industries or academia and research roles. In March 2012 the centre received a new tranche of funding from EPSRC and a consortium of industrial partners, including AstraZeneca, that will ensure it continues to train the stars of the future until at least 2017.

EPSRC Leadership Fellowships – a professor’s experience EPSRC Fellowships are a direct investment in Britain’s most talented individuals to help them develop ground-breaking ideas across a range of fields.

of the first EPSRC sandpits in 2004. In fact, our research collaboration is based on ideas we first came up with then.

Cameron Alexander was awarded an EPSRC Leadership Fellowship in personalised medicine in 2011.

“I try to balance my ‘blue-skies’ work with the pragmatic research we’re doing at the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Targeted Therapeutics at Nottingham.

Cameron says: “My fellowship involves some pretty radical research, in areas including synthetic biology, which I’m working on with scientists I first met at one

“So, although my work, by its nature, goes from applied research to completely blue skies thinking, my ethos for each of these projects is that they draw from each other.”

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Focus on the

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future Risk-taking, adventure and creativity aren’t always associated with scientific research, but a new EPSRC initiative, Student Futures, focuses on helping researchers at the early stages of their careers do just that. Lisa Sargeant, a PhD student at the University of Bath, took part in one of the first Student Futures events. Lisa (pictured), who studies at Bath’s EPSRC-funded Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Sustainable Chemical Technologies, took part in a four-day EPSRC workshop focused on developing PhD students’ creativity. Lisa says: “Focusing on a specific research topic, Sustainability at the Chemistry and Chemical Engineering Interface, the workshop gave us the chance to experience a range of tools and techniques for individual and group working designed to enhance our creative thinking, problemsolving and idea-generation skills. “It was only the second time EPSRC had run such an event, and I was fortunate to be part of it. It was fantastic to work with PhD students from all over the UK. “I’ve always loved a challenge and you can’t get one bigger than sustainability; it’s part of everything we do. That’s how I ended up being part of the CDT at Bath. “All the research in the centre is linked to sustainability, with my PhD specifically exploring how we can produce renewable biofuels from microorganisms such as yeast PIONEER 09 Winter 2013

and algae grown on waste products, rather than from crude oil or land-based crops. “My research has made me realise that we need to stop looking at waste as something to be disposed of but as a potential source of future fuels and chemicals. This is an area I hope to explore further in the future. “Wherever my future career lies, I plan to make sure that this and other green principles lie at the heart of it, be it in science and technology, journalism, policy, academia or further afield.” Inspired by the Student Futures workshop, Lisa is planning a similar event with other members of the Bath CDT. Lisa says: “I learned some fantastic skills and techniques at the workshop which I have been able to apply to my PhD research. “Within the CDT we have a vast array of different skills and interests which means we can work together and apply a different perspective to problems. The plan is to run the event in the New Year, incorporating some of the skills I learned at the event to directly link our research with Government policy.”


SPIN DOCTOR Revolutionary insect-size surveillance vehicles are being developed that could one day find use in a host of hazardous situations – from covert military surveillance missions to natural disasters. The vehicles, which feature innovative flapping wings based on those of real-life insects and incorporate micro-cameras, are the brainchild of EPSRC Career Acceleration Fellow, Dr Richard Bomphrey.

Dr Bomphrey, who is based at the University of Oxford’s Department of Zoology, and his team, are using cutting-edge computer modelling and the latest high-speed, high-resolution camera technology to investigate insect wing design and performance. The team’s ground-breaking work has attracted the attention of NATO, the US Air Force and the European Office of Aerospace Research and Development. The research is expected to produce findings that can be utilised by the defence industry within three to five years, leading to the development and widespread deployment of insect-sized flying machines within 20 years. Dr Bomphrey says: “My field is at the interface between biology and Dragonfly photograph: Mark Mallett PIONEER 09 Winter 2013

engineering. I use biomechanics as a tool to investigate evolutionary biology and, specifically, to learn how the physical environment determines the morphology of flying insects. “The flexibility that comes with an EPSRC Career Acceleration Fellowship has allowed me to exploit some exciting new opportunities, including a collaborative effort with an industrial partner, the imaging and sensing specialist LaVision. “Together we have capitalised on emergent technologies to explore the science of flight in unprecedented detail, while simultaneously developing exciting new ways to measure insect aerodynamics. The first part of this work was published in the Journal of the Royal Society earlier this year. “I’m now taking the work a step closer towards practical implementation thanks to an EPSRC New Directions grant. “My group is testing hypotheses emerging from our live insect flight experiments using a unique mechanical device, originally designed at Cranfield University, that closely mimics insect wingbeat patterns.”

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Legacy of light

PIONEER 09 Winter 2013

Imagine a world without the internet, DVDs or barcodes. Professor Alf Adams at the University of Surrey made a key contribution to the technology that made these inventions so widely available, or indeed possible. His ground-breaking research into strainedlayer quantum well lasers at the University of Surrey in the 1980s not only helped shape the modern world as we know it, his legacy continues to this day, under the stewardship of his colleague and former PhD student, Professor Stephen Sweeney. Two men, one vision, one common denominator – light. The story begins with a revolutionary idea, the strained quantum well laser, which, like many good ideas, Alf Adams came up with while on holiday, in 1985. At the time, Alf and his team in the University of Surrey’s Physics Department were looking at ways to improve the efficiency of infrared semiconductor lasers, which are used to convert electrical signals into pulses of light. These pulses of photons become ultra high speed units of

PIONEER 09 Winter 2013

information. Because they travel at the speed of light, they move much faster and more efficiently than if the information were to be carried along electric cable, for example. What made Alf’s breakthrough so important was that, at a stroke, his new strained quantum well lasers could provide higher data capacity than conventional laser devices while using less electrical energy. (Continued on next page)


Enter Professor Stephen Sweeney, who started his research career as a PhD student working with Alf Adams and who now leads the Photonics Group at Surrey. Building on the legacy Stephen, an EPSRC Leadership Fellow, says: “Alf’s story is a perfect example of how work by universities on groundbreaking practical elements of technology can be taken for granted because they become so ubiquitous.”

(Continued from previous page) The research was supported by funding from EPSRC’s predecessor, SERC. At first there were no takers in the UK – Alf’s idea was simply too radical. Alf eventually turned to Dutch manufacturer, Philips, which saw its potential. The rest is history that’s still in the making. The technology pioneered by Alf Adams paved the way for a host of low-cost and low-power commercial and industrial products without which the modern world could not function – from mass market CD players, to information-rich DVD and Blu-ray devices and supermarket barcode scanners. Professor Stephen Sweeney is heir to Alf’s legacy at Surrey. He says: “Alf is an inspirational role model, driven by scientific passion, whose main interests are in how his ideas can be used to develop things beneficial to society.” Alf Adams was made a Fellow of the Royal Society for his achievement, and he has received several other major awards. Rather than seek his fortune in industry, however, Alf remained in academia, steering the Surrey team’s photonics activities into the 21st century by playing a large role in setting up its Advanced Technology Institute where he is now an Emeritus Professor of Physics.

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Research in the Surrey Photonics Group has broadened considerably in recent years, and now, under Stephen’s stewardship, includes spintronics, ultrafast processes, photovoltaics photonic crystals and quantum computing.

light more efficiently than producing heat and, at the same time, to be much less sensitive to the surrounding temperature. “If this proves to be correct, then most of the temperature control electronics required by internet lasers could be removed – leading to a substantial reduction in their energy demand. “I aim to take this work further to develop lasers operating in the so-called midinfrared region. The mid-infrared is important as most gases absorb strongly at these wavelengths, and are hence potentially more ‘visible’. The research could lead to the development of light-based sensors to measure environmental pollutants or to diagnose illnesses based on trace gases in the breath. Perhaps in the future we might see tiny sensors such as these being incorporated into smartphones, the potential of which would be huge.” EPSRC Leadership Fellowships were designed to give inspirational researchers the time and resources they need to pursue adventurous research projects. They also enable the Fellow to build a team around them and forge new partnerships – something Stephen is keen to acknowledge.

New advances

Stephen says: “One of the pleasures of being an academic is working closely with students and postdoctoral researchers, all of whom bring along their own ideas and passion for research. Over the years, I have also come to realise the key importance and pleasure of of teamwork and strong collaborations with other groups.

Stephen and his team are applying new advances in infrared laser technology to tackle the emerging challenges of a new era. One such challenge is the success of the internet, which also relies on Alf’s strained layer laser, but which has an insatiable and ever-growing hunger for power.

“My work is inherently collaborative; my EPSRC Fellowship project alone includes partners in America, Europe and Asia in both academia and industry. The work we’re doing is increasingly crossing disciplinary boundaries, so sharing expertise in such a way is a key to success.”

Stephen says: “Conservative estimates suggest that the internet accounts for around three per cent of the world’s total energy consumption. This staggering figure will rise exponentially alongside demand for internet services.

A bright future

Stephen says: “A key focus of the group’s activity is the development and exploitation of new materials for applications in real devices including semiconductor lasers, so we’re carrying on the work that Alf started.”

“A key element of my EPSRC Leadership Fellowship is to find ways to reduce the internet’s demand for energy by reengineering the basic crystalline materials from which the lasers are made. “In particular, we have shown that introducing a particular concentration of Bismuth atoms into the crystal should cause the electrons injected into the laser to emit

Looking ahead, Stephen’s work continues to push the boundaries for photonic materials and devices. New areas of research include devising new types of photovoltaic cell to harness solar energy from space, and developing photonicsbased solutions to assess water quality in the developing world – using light to detect waterborne toxins and parasites. Stephen says: “It’s no accident that much of our work is focused on solving practical challenges. It’s a philosophy championed by Alf Adams: using hard physics in the quest to provide solutions to some of the world’s major challenges.”


The strained quantum well laser Professor Alf Adams’ ground-breaking development of strained quantum well technology, first published in 1986, was inspired while he was on holiday in Bournemouth. All the semiconductor laser research of the time focused on achieving a perfect ‘lattice-matched’ crystal to make a high-quality laser. In a quantum well laser there is an extremely thin layer of semiconductors

in which the laser light is generated. Alf (pictured left) realised that if the crystal lattice of this layer was grown in a way which put it deliberately under strain, it could produce a more concentrated beam of light but with less electricity. Strained-layer quantum well lasers are today used in everything from computers and optical phone lines to scanners and readers at supermarket check-outs.

Professor Stephen Sweeney Professor Stephen Sweeney leads the Photonics Group in the Advanced Technology Institute and Department of Physics at the University of Surrey. His work aims to develop new photonic devices such as lasers, light-emitting diodes and photovoltaics to target a large number of applications with a strong focus on improving energy efficiency or functionality.

Powering the internet In addition to the most obvious drains on the world’s energy resources, such as that consumed by PCs, smartphones and smart TVs, the internet itself requires enormous quantities of power to function. The internet is physically connected by hugely complex fibre-optic technology underneath the world’s oceans, which it uses to send light from one continent to another. The data carried by fibre-optic networks is not stored in ‘clouds’ as we might think, but in huge data centres in strategic sites across the globe, the largest of which require the power it takes to light a small city to keep their hard drives spinning and, crucially, keep them cool. According to a 2010 Greenpeace report, two per cent of the world’s electricity usage can now be traced to these data centres alone.

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Stephen was awarded a five-year EPSRC Leadership Fellowship in 2010 to develop new semiconductor materials for high efficiency near- and mid-infrared lasers and to integrate photonics with electronics. The applications of such lasers are farreaching and include a more energy-efficient internet, embedded sensors for pollution monitoring and optical-based computing.

SIZE MATTERS A new web-based system that takes detailed measurements of the body via a personal web-cam could revolutionise online clothes shopping. Whether shoppers are pear, apple or hourglass-shaped the new software makes it easier for them to order the correct size. To use the system the shopper downloads and activates the software, stands in their underwear in front of their webcam or smartphone, takes a photograph, types in their height and lets the software do the rest. The photograph remains confidential and is not transmitted over the internet. The software works like a virtual tape measure, taking accurate measurements and advising the user on which size garment to buy on a participating retailer’s website. It also takes into account retailers’ sizing of clothes when recommending an item. Of all clothes currently bought online, 30 to 60 per cent are estimated to be returned to the retailer. The new software will

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help eliminate the hassle of returning clothes of the wrong size or fit – and potentially save retailers and shoppers millions of pounds a year in return postage costs. Body scanning is already starting to make a mark in the clothing retail sector, but the new system offers greater precision than anything else available in-store or online. Most online shoppers buy clothes on the basis of waist size, small/medium/large categorisation, or label size. Shoppers may have inaccurate perceptions of their own size and this, together with variations in manufacturers’ label sizes, makes choosing the correct size difficult. The new system avoids these problems. The software is being co-developed by computer vision experts at the University of Surrey, led by Professor Adrian Hilton, and London College of Fashion, in collaboration with body-mapping specialists Bodymetrics and digital creative agency Guided. A launch of the system is anticipated within two years, and the potential benefits for the fashion industry and for shoppers are huge. For example, it’s common for online shoppers to order two or three different sizes of the same item at the same time, as they’re unsure which one will fit best. The body scanner research builds on previous work by Professor Hilton in developing 3D body-shape templates from single-view images. This work has been used commercially in creating animated representations of people for games such as The Sims.


In profile

Professor Rachel O’Reilly Rachel, an EPSRC Career Acceleration Fellow in the Chemistry Department at the University of Warwick and a member of EPSRC’s Strategic Advisory Network, describes her inspirations and aspirations. What has influenced your career path? Starting grammar school in Northern Ireland I quickly realised I had a talent for science. This was offset by a complete lack of ability in humanties. French I recall was a particular weakness! I found science enjoyable at school in part because I was good at it. More generally, day-to-day I focus on doing things I like as I tend to be good at them and can concentrate on improving rather than worrying too much about my weaknesses. I am very focused and have a goal-orientated personality which is something that has helped me in my career as a research scientist. Overall, I consider myself incredibly lucky that I have found a career that combines my passion and talent. Who are your greatest influences? My father has undoubtedly influenced me enormously. He always encouraged me to do my best and work hard. While growing up, this meant I never considered that I could not do something – I only had to ask ‘did I want to do it?’. This ‘can do’ attitude has influenced my career enormously and I think has opened up a lot of doors. In recent years my husband has been a great influence, he is also an academic and has tremendous faith in my abilities, even when I do not. What do you consider your greatest professional achievement? There are two. The first is the acknowledgement and awards from my peers, which is testament to the outstanding postdoctoral and graduate students I have worked with over my career. The second is watching these students develop as scientists and embark on their own careers. How would you describe your work? As chemists and materials scientists my team are interested in making and designing new materials with advanced properties that can be used for a variety of applications, such as healthcare, in the oil industry or in personal care products.  We’re interested in how we can take existing materials and make them better, more efficient and more economical. For example, we’re working with a personal care company on products that wash clothes more effectively at low temperatures.

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What does your EPSRC Fellowship mean to you? It was a real turning point for me and my career. It gave me the confidence and the resource to develop as a scientist, including the opportunity to build a research team – my laboratory now has 20 people. This opened up new research directions and empowered me to be more adventurous and ambitious in our scientific targets, particularly as the EPSRC Fellowship is a five-year programme. Through my fellowship, I was able to gain support from companies, which in turn support students and postdocs in my group. If you hadn’t become an academic, what would you be doing now? I would be trying to be an academic. I know striving for my goals as an academic has shaped my personality and I think if I had chosen another path I would be a very different person, and frankly this makes it very hard to imagine what else I would have done. What have been your best and worst decisions – personally and professionally? There is one decision that answers all these questions, and it was my move back to the UK after two years as a post-doctoral researcher in the US to take up a position at the University of Cambridge. This position meant I was separated from my husband (who was an academic in Warwick) but it gave me the opportunity to challenge myself both scientifically and personally, and I feel I developed into a better scientist through this experience. Do you have any ‘eureka’ moments in your career? I don’t know if I have eureka moments but I have moments of great satisfaction and also achievement when our research comes together in an exciting and unexpected way. I guess there are ‘woo-hoo’ moments rather than eureka moments. What’s the best job you’ve ever had? Without doubt it was my postdoctoral position. I was living in the US and working for two inspirational and supportive academics who helped shape both my scientific outlook and research direction.

At the time I was keen to get started on an independent academic career but looking back it was a period that really shaped me professionally and personally. What is the most important tool you use to do your work? It might sound simple but it is a list. I always have a series of them on the go. This really helps me plan my day/week/ year and provides a sense of achievement when I complete tasks. I think this is really important when you are setting your own goals and managing your own time, and I certainly feel it keeps me productive. What are your main interests outside science? I am a keen geologist and enjoy travelling to explore geological phenomena, especially volcanoes. I also enjoy reading non-fiction and gardening. Who would be your ideal dinner guests? All the academics I have worked with have been great mentors in different ways and have inspired me to pursue my love of science. Even now having left their groups many years ago they are still great mentors. So I would like to invite them for dinner to thank them and also hopefully get some more good advice from them. One regret: I regret all the energy I have wasted getting upset about rejected papers or unsuccessful grants. I have learned it is just an inevitable part of academic life.

In short Described by Andrew Marr as “a chemist who does strange things with plastics”, when she was his guest on the Radio 4 programme Start the Week in 2012, Professor Rachel O’Reilly is an EPSRC Career Acceleration Fellow. Rachel’s research is highly interdisciplinary and orientated towards bridging creative synthetic chemistry with polymer and catalysis chemistry. Among her goals, she hopes to use this research to develop materials of significant importance in medical, materials and nanoscience applications.


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Pioneer 9  

The ninth edition of our quarterly magazine turns the spotlight on how we are developing the research leaders of tomorrow – supporting over...