Monday, 19 November 2012 09:20

£60 Million Boost For UK Universities

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Business Secretary Vince Cable today announced a £60m investment 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 announcement was made, during Global Entrepreneurship Week, at a visit to the London studios of university spin-out company Space Syntax, an SME which uses advanced urban modelling techniques to design better cities and public spaces such as the redevelopment of Trafalgar Square in London and the replanning of Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.

The funding comes from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the UK’s main funding agency for scientific research. They will award ‘Impact Acceleration Accounts’ ranging from £600,000 to £6m to 31 universities across the UK.

It will help support universities’ best scientists and engineers to deliver greater collaboration with industry, bridge the gap between the lab and the marketplace and help them become better entrepreneurs.

The Business Secretary said: "The UK’s scientists are some of the most innovative and creative people in the world, but they need support to take their best ideas through to market. This could be by establishing a successful, technology-driven SME like Space Syntax which I visited today.

"This investment I’m announcing today will help our leading universities become centres of innovation and entrepreneurship, generating commercial success to fuel growth."

The funding will support the very early stage of turning research outputs into a commercial proposition – the 'Valley of death' between a research idea and developing it to a stage where a company or venture capitalist might be interested. It 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 and the challenges they face.

EPSRC chief executive Professor Dave Delpy said: "The research we support is recognised as outstanding on the international stage. These awards aim to make a step change in the impact that has on society: generating new business opportunities which drive economic growth, creating better, more informed, public policy."

They will help companies to engage with research projects at an earlier stage and benefit from research breakthroughs and the fundamental knowledge they generate. The funding will be used to support partnerships with SMEs and larger companies and take some of the risk out of their investment.

For more information, visit: www.epsrc.ac.uk

Innovative tailor-made seats will be used for the first time by Paralympics GB for the wheelchair basketball events this summer. Using cutting-edge research the seats are individually moulded for each player to provide the best possible support. They will help the athletes to improve their speed, acceleration and manoeuvrability around the court. The seats have been developed with UK Sport funding at Loughborough University’s Sports Technology Institute, which is supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). The new seats are revolutionary because they take the individual’s size, shape and particular disability into account. For example, a player with a spinal cord injury will have a seat that provides additional support around their lower back.

Harnessing a range of cutting-edge design and manufacturing techniques and developed in close consultation with the British men’s and women’s wheelchair basketball teams, these customised seats consist of a foam interior and a plastic shell. They are simply clamped onto the current wheelchair design in which the frames are already made to measure for the players. Team members initially underwent 3D scans to capture their bodies’ biomechanical movements and their positions in their existing wheelchairs. A moulding bag containing small polystyrene balls (similar to a bean bag style seat), was used to capture the shape of the player when seated. The seat was then made up by hand.

Computer-aided design (CAD) capabilities were then used to refine the shape of the outer layer of the seat to suit each individual player and help position the seat onto the frame. Using this prototype the next stage involved quickly producing copies of each individual seat so that they could be further tested and amended if necessary following feedback. For this speedy production an additive manufacturing technique called selective laser sintering (otherwise known as 3D printing) was used to build up each seat layer by layer. This resulted in a final product that exactly replicated what was on the computer screen. This is the first time anywhere in the world that these existing techniques have been harnessed together to produce a sports wheelchair seat.

For more information, visit: www.epsrc.ac.uk

The UK’s aerospace sector is set to benefit from £6 million of government investment in collaborative research and development projects that encourage innovative solutions to some of the higher-risk challenges facing the industry. The projects will develop technology that will grow the sector and give the industry a competitive advantage in the global market.

The Technology Strategy Board is to invest up to £5 million in the projects and up to a further £1m may be available from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council for projects with a significant, high-quality academic research component.

The Highly Innovative Technology Enablers for Aerospace competition for collaborative R&D funding will support and encourage business investment in technology and innovation in high-risk, high-potential approaches that may not be fundable from companies’ own resources.

The UK has the second largest aerospace industry in the world with significant capabilities in key areas such as engines, airframes structures and materials, equipment and air transport system integration. While this position has been achieved through UK businesses bringing leading-edge technologies to market, the industry faces new challenges such as globalisation, new competitors and climate change.

The continued growth of global air traffic presents an enormous opportunity for the UK through the demand for new aircraft that meet exacting environmental and operational performance standards. Meeting this demand sustainably, affordably, reliably and safely depends on continuous and intense research, innovation and technology application.

The competition opens on February 13th, 2012 and compulsory expressions of interest must be submitted by March 21st, 2012.

For more information, visit: www.innovateuk.org/content/competition/highly-innovative-technology-enablers-for-aerospac.ashx

Monday, 21 November 2011 12:00

Atomic knots may mean stronger materials

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A new generation of lighter, stronger plastics could be produced using an intricate chemical process devised by scientists at the University of Edinburgh.

Funded by a grant from EPSRC, researchers have been working at the nanoscale  - 80,000 times smaller than a hair’s breadth - to weave threads of atoms into complex knots which they say could give materials “exceptional versatility”. Their research was reported in the Nature Chemistry journal and featured widely in the media across Scotland and the UK including the BBC online and the Scotsman and Herald newspapers.

The researchers hope that the new molecules, which have been manipulated into the shape of five-point stars, known as pentafoil knots, will mimic the characteristics of complex knots found in proteins and DNA, which help to make some substances elastic.  In natural rubber, for example, 85 per cent of its elasticity is caused by knot-like entanglements in its molecule chain.

Creating knotted structures in the laboratory should make it easier for scientists to observe and understand exactly how entanglements influence a material's properties.

And being able to produce materials with a specific number of well-defined knots, rather than the random mixture that occurs in today’s plastics and polymers, scientists could exercise greater control when designing materials.

The Edinburgh team, working with researchers from the University of Jyväskylä in Finland, is the first to create a knot with five crossing points.

The pentafoil, also known as a Solomon's seal knot, has symbolic significance in many cultures and is the central emblem on the flags of Morocco and Ethiopia.

Deliberately tying molecules into knots so that its properties can be studied is extremely difficult. Until now, only the simplest type of knot – the trefoil, with three crossing points – has been created.

Remarkably, the thread of atoms that the Edinburgh team has tied into a five-star knot is just 160 atoms in length and measures a 16-millionth of a millimetre.

Using a technique known as self-assembly, the researchers produced a chemical reaction in which atoms were chemically programmed to spontaneously wrap themselves up into the desired knot.

Principal researcher David Leigh, Forbes Professor of Organic Chemistry at the University of Edinburgh, said: “It's very early to say for sure, but the type of mechanical cross-linking we have just carried out could lead to very light but strong materials - something akin to a molecular chain mail.

“It could also produce materials with exceptional elastic or shock-absorbing properties because molecular knots and entanglements are intimately associated with those characteristics. By understanding better how those structures work - and being able to create them to order - we should be able to design materials that exploit those architectures with greater effect.”

For more information, visit: www.epsrc.ac.uk

Tiny aerial vehicles are being developed with innovative flapping wings based on those of real-life insects.

Incorporating micro-cameras, these revolutionary insect-size vehicles will be suitable for many different purposes ranging from helping in emergency situations considered too dangerous for people to enter, to covert military surveillance missions.

Supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, world-leading research at the University of Oxford is playing a key role in the vehicles' development.

Dr Richard Bomphrey, from the Department of Zoology, is leading this research, which is generating new insight into how insect wings have evolved over the last 350 million years. "Nature has solved the problem of how to design miniature flying machines," he says. "By learning those lessons, our findings will make it possible to aerodynamically engineer a new breed of surveillance vehicles that, because they're as small as insects and also fly like them, completely blend into their surroundings."

Currently the smallest of state-of-the-art fixed-wing unmanned surveillance vehicles are around a foot wide. The incorporation of flapping wings is the secret to making the new designs so small. To achieve flight, any object requires a combination of thrust and lift. In manmade aircraft, two separate devices are needed to generate these (i.e. engines provide thrust and wings provide lift), this limits the scope for miniaturising flying machines.

But an insect's flapping wings combine both thrust and lift. If manmade vehicles could emulate this more efficient approach, it would be possible to scale down flying machines to much smaller dimensions than is currently possible.

"This will require a much more detailed understanding than we currently have of how insect wings have evolved, and specifically of how different types of insect wing have evolved for different purposes," Dr Bomphrey says. "For instance, bees are load-lifters, a predator such as a dragonfly is fast and manoeuvrable, and creatures like locusts have to range over vast distances. Investigating the differences between insect wing designs is a key focus of our work. These ecological differences have led to a variety of wing designs depending on the task needing to be performed. It means that new vehicles could be customised to suit particular uses ranging from exploring hostile terrain, collapsed buildings or chemical spills to providing enhanced TV coverage of sports and other events".

Dr Bomphrey and his team lead the world in their use of both cutting-edge computer modelling capabilities and the latest high-speed, high-resolution camera technology to investigate insect wing design and performance.

Key to the work is the calculation of air flow velocities around insect wings. This is achieved by placing insects in a wind tunnel, seeding the air with a light fog and illuminating the particles with pulsing laser light - using a technique called Particle Image Velocimetry.

The team's groundbreaking 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 3-5 years, leading to the development and widespread deployment of insect-sized flying machines within 20 years.

"This is just one more example of how we can learn important lessons from nature," says Dr Bomphrey. "Tiny flying machines could provide the perfect way of exploring all kinds of dark, dangerous and dirty places."

Dr Bomphrey is using his EPSRC-funded Fellowship to pursue this research. The fundamental aim of the work is to explore how natural selection has impacted on the design of insect wings and how these designs have been affected by the laws of aerodynamics and other physical constraints. "Evolution hasn't settled on a single type of insect wing design," says Dr Bomphrey. "We aim to understand how natural selection led to this situation. But we also want to explore how manmade vehicles could transcend the constraints imposed by nature."

EPSRC is the main UK government agency for funding research and training in engineering and the physical sciences, investing more than £850 million a year in a broad range of subjects - from mathematics to materials science, and from information technology to structural engineering.

For more information, visit: www.epsrc.ac.uk

Manufacturing and retail could get a much- needed boost from a newly- developed 3D chocolate printer.

In the long term the technology could be used by customers to design many different products themselves - tailor-made to their needs and preferences.

Using new digital technology the printer allows you to create your own designs on a computer and reproduce them physically in three dimensional form in chocolate.

The project is funded as part of the Research Council UK Cross-Research Council Programme - Digital Economy and is managed by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) on behalf of ESRC, AHRC and MRC. It is being led by the University of Exeter in collaboration with the University of Brunel and software developer Delcam.

3D printing is a technology where a three dimensional object is created by building up successive layers of material. The technology is already used in industry to produce plastic and metal products but this is the first time the principles have been applied to chocolate.

The research has presented many challenges. Chocolate is not an easy material to work with because it requires accurate heating and cooling cycles. These variables then have to be integrated with the correct flow rates for the 3D printing process. Researchers overcame these difficulties with the development of new temperature and heating control systems.

Research leader Dr Liang Hao, at the University of Exeter, said:

"What makes this technology special is that users will be able to design and make their own products. In the long term it could be developed to help consumers custom- design many products from different materials but we’ve started with chocolate as it is readily available, low cost and non-hazardous. There is also no wastage as any unused or spoiled material can be eaten of course! From reproducing the shape of a child’s favourite toy to a friend’s face, the possibilities are endless and only limited by our creativity".

A consumer- friendly interface to design the chocolate objects is also in development. Researchers hope that an online retail business will host a website for users to upload their chocolate designs for 3D printing and delivery.

Designs need not start from scratch, the web- based utility will also allow users to see designs created by others to modify for their own use.

Dr Hao added:

"In future this kind of technology will allow people to produce and design many other products such as jewellery or household goods. Eventually we may see many mass produced products replaced by unique designs created by the customer".

EPSRC Chief Executive Professor Dave Delpy said:

"This is an imaginative application of two developing technologies and a good example of how creative research can be applied to create new manufacturing and retail ideas.

By combining developments in engineering with the commercial potential of the digital economy we can see a glimpse into the future of new markets – creating new jobs and, in this case, sweet business opportunities."
Notes for Editors

This research is part of The Research Councils UK (RCUK) Digital Economy Programme supporting research to understand how the novel design and use of digital technologies can contribute to an innovative, healthy economy and inclusive society.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the main UK government agency for funding research and training in engineering and the physical sciences, investing more than £800 million a year in a broad range of subjects – from mathematics to materials science, and from information technology to structural engineering.

For more information, visit: www.epsrc.ac.uk

A £51m investment to ensure the UK stays at the leading edge of manufacturing research was unveiled today by Universities and Science Minister David Willetts.

The package forms part of the Advanced Manufacturing strand of the Government's Growth Review and will help stimulate growth in the most promising areas of manufacturing research including pharmaceuticals, aerospace and the automotive industry.

£45m will fund nine Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Centres for Innovative Manufacturing and a further £6m will support the manufacturing pioneers of the future.

The national centres, run by universities including Nottingham, Cranfield and Strathclyde, will focus on emerging science including biological pharmaceuticals, novel composite technologies, and intelligent automation, helping generate the new ideas that will fuel growth.

David Willetts said:

"Partnerships between higher education and industry are increasingly essential drivers of innovation, opportunity and national prosperity. These new centres will combine inventive research and business acumen to develop the high-tech manufacturing industries we need to secure sustainable growth."

The EPSRC centres will work closely with businesses on tackling major research challenges, and are backed by leading industry partners including GSK, Rolls-Royce, IBM and a range of high-tech small and medium sized enterprises.

Minister for Business and Enterprise Mark Prisk said:

"Manufacturing generates £140 billion a year for the economy and accounts for 55 per cent of total UK exports. And increasingly, it is high tech, advanced manufacturing that leads the way.

"But we need to do more to rebalance our economy. These exciting new partnerships between our universities and businesses will play a vital role in keeping UK manufacturing ahead of the game internationally."

The nine new EPSRC Centres for Innovative Manufacturing are:

EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Ultra Precision will create ultra high precision manufacturing tools that can make product with nanoscale precision. Led by Cranfield University. The EPSRC grant value will total £5.2m, with an additional £1.2m from industry partners.

EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing for Industrial Sustainability will rapidly reduce the resource and energy-intensity of the production of existing goods, and investigate options for a radical redesign of the industrial system. Led by Cranfield University. The Grant will total £4.5m, with an additional £1.3m from industry partners.

EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Through-life Engineering Services will design high value systems such as aircraft engines that require less engineering service, and incur less whole life cost. Led by Cranfield University. The grant will total £4.8m, with an additional £3.5m from industry partners.

EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Composites will develop the next generation of composite manufacturing processes based on low cost, short cycle times, efficiency and sustainability. Led by University of Nottingham. The grant will total £4.9m, with an additional £1.8m from industry partners.

EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Intelligent Automation will capture and advance human skills and develop automated processes. Led by Loughborough University. The grant will total £4.8m, with an additional £334,000 from industry partners.

EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Additive Manufacturing will combine multi-material, multifunctional devices with amalgamated electrical, optical and structural properties in a single manufacturing process using additive manufacturing. Led by Loughborough University. The grant will total £4.9m, with an additional £3.2m from industry partners.

EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Continuous Manufacturing and Crystallisation will take forward the move from batch manufacturing to fully continuous manufacturing processes for high value chemical products. This will lead to higher levels of quality, lower cost and more sustainable production. Led by University of Strathclyde.The grant will total £4.9m, with an additional £1.8m from industry partners.

EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Advanced Metrology will create and developing a ‘factory on the machine' linking measurement and production to minimise cost and allow ever increasing complexity and quality in manufacturing. Led by University of Huddersfield. The grant will total £4m, with an additional £3.2m from industry partners.

EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Emergent Macromolecular Therapies will create the capabilities by which UK companies will be able to select drug candidates for clinical trials, both on the basis of clinical efficacy manufacturing feasibility, resulting in greatly reduced costs. Led by University College London. The grant will total £4.9m, with an additional £3.9m from industry partners.

The £6m programme of new EPSRC Manufacturing Fellowships aims to forge more effective links between business and research. The five year Fellowships will provide support for at least six exceptional engineers and technology specialists from business who are able to bridge university and industrial cultures and who have the potential to transform UK research and manufacturing. Each Fellow will lead a £1 million programme of research.

A High-Value Manufacturing Technology and Innovation Centre (TIC), also announced today, will play a key role in taking the research from the EPSRC Centres to the next stage of the innovation chain.

All manufacturing policies proposals from the Growth Review will be announced by Budget 2011.

For more information visit: www.epsrc.ac.uk

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