Research Round-up Summer 2017

A run-down of our recent success stories and look ahead to forthcoming projects

Dr. Rob Barker has been awarded a £1.5 million grant following the EPSRCs New Industrial Systems workshop in May. The initial proof-of-concept project, “Optimising Me Manufacturing Systems”, will deliver a multidisciplinary approach to develop a revolutionary new healthcare therapeutic microfactory platform.

Lead by Kent, in collaboration with UCL, Cambridge, Imperial, UWE and Bath, the focus will be on the manufacture of T-cell immunotherapies on the body, and over the longer term will form the platform for a wide range of on-the-body manufacturing of therapeutics, delivered on demand. The current manufacture of T-cells – which if genetically modified could present a CURE for some of the most aggressive forms of cancer – can take up to 21 days and is a long, complex and expensive process.

The development of a continuous manufacturing capability will address some of these shortcomings and allow the continuous manufacture and delivery of the therapy to the patient, and enable advanced therapies to be developed which are patient-specific with sufficient precision and quality for personalised medicine.

Dr Paul Saines has been awarded a First Grant of £126,429 – 80% of which is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) – to develop novel lead-free ferroelectric materials over the course of a two-year project. This research project aims to take advantage of exciting recent developments in ferroelectric electronic properties in materials that combine inorganic and organic components into a single structure. The details of how relaxor-like properties occur in such materials is still unclear and alongside making improved materials, this project will develop an understanding of how this occurs in order to optimise their ferroelectricity for future applications.

Dr Christopher Serpell received £147,000 of funding from the Leverhulme Trust to look into what happens when self-assembly peptide and DNA systems are combined. Two PhD students funded by the grant and starting in 2017 are going to uncover new ways of using these methods in concert to obtain fine control at the nanometre scale.

Dr Anna Corrias has been awarded a British Council UK-Gulf Institutional Links award for £210,000. The project – “Developing New CeO2 based materials to address challenges in energy and the environment” – is in collaboration with the group of Professor Andrea Falqui at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology. The research is aimed at fully exploiting the benefits of the extraordinary properties exhibited by ceria-based nanomaterials, since ceria acts as an oxygen buffer. Dr Corrias will look into optimizing this oxygen storage capacity and stabilising the nanoparticles by embedding them in aerogel matrices.

Theorists from the Functional Materials Group (Dr Jorge Quintanilla, Dr Sudeep Ghosh and Phil Whittlesea) are heavily involved with the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL). The three members of the group have just came back from a two-day meeting at RAL with experimentalists from the ISIS Muons Group and the University of Warwick and other theorists from Bristol. This first collaborative experiment-theory meeting is part of the £844k EPSRC-funded project “Unconventional Superconductors: New Paradigms for New Materials” which Dr Quintanilla coordinates with Dr Adrian Hillier, who leads the ISIS Muons Group, as official project partner.

Dr Gavin Mountjoy and his PhD student Laura Swansbury were involved in a research project with principal investigators at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL).  The project involved developing a very fast dissolving ‘bioactive’ glass which to put in toothpaste to repair decayed teeth. The team’s research in The Journal of Physical Chemistry B has shown the potential of a glass that uses chlorine instead of fluorine and their work contributed to the launch of a new toothpaste called Biomin C.

Richard Dixey, a SPS postgrad student, has been awarded two prizes for his presentation of his work at the UK Neutron and Muon Science User Meeting (NMSUM) and the Royal Society of Chemistry’s international conference on Materials Chemistry 13 (MC13) – which are significant focusing points for experts in neutron and muon science. Richard’s award-winning work focuses on magnetocaloric frameworks, which are compounds that, in the presence of a magnetic field, change in temperature. Working with Dr Paul Saines, Richard has been working to create magnetocalorics that work efficiently at temperatures from 4 to 20 Kelvin (-269 to -253°C), which is vital to science and medical applications where superconducting magnets are used, such as MRI machines. This has normally been achieved through cooling with liquid helium – which is an extremely scarce and non-renewable resource. Without new methods for cooling to these temperatures, the superconducting magnets cease to work, making this research potentially extremely valuable.

Richard has developed a new material, DyOH(CO3), which outperforms benchmark magnetocalorics in low applied fields and furthermore moves the optimised operating temperature for the material to above 4 K.  In order to optimize such materials further, it is important to also understand the magnetic interactions within them; Richard has been using advanced structural techniques involving the analysis of neutron scattering to directly probe these magnetic interactions.

Along with Dr Saines, Richard has also recently completed two experiments at ISIS examining local magnetic interactions in magnetocaloric cooling materials.

Reeya Oogarah, Chemistry PhD, has already had two first-author papers published from her thesis.Crystal field excitations and magnons: Their roles in oxyselenides” in Physical Review B and “Magnetic order and phase transition in the iron oxysulfide” in ScienceDirect. A couple more are planned, so watch this space.


FMG researchers are looking forward to a number of exciting experiments this autumn at the ISIS Neutron and Muon Source a world-leading centre for rese​arch in the physical and life sciences- and Diamond Light Source, both based at the Rutherford Appleton Lab.

Dr Emma McCabe will be participating in two experiments and working with collaborators from QMUL and from the US regarding new ferroic materials.

The Energy Materials Block Allocation Group (coordinated from SPS by Professor Alan Chadwick (Principal Investigator), Dr Silvia Ramos and Dr Dave Pickup, and containing members from leading UK and European laboratories in the field) will also have one day of beamtime every two months at the Diamond Light Source. Here, they aim to provide rapid access for teams with urgent samples of compounds that are novel energy materials, i.e. materials with applications in batteries, fuel cells, photovoltaics, thermoelectrics, etc. In a typical day of beamtime samples are measured for about five teams and has been used by several SPS members (Dr Maria Alfredsson, Dr Donna Arnold, Dr Anna Corrias, Professor Mark Green and Dr Emma McCabe). To date, work from teams in the group has led to some high impact publications, including in Nature Chemistry, Nature Energy and JACS.

Dr Donna Arnold also has two experiments at ISIS – one in collaboration with the scientists at ISIS investigating multiferroic materials and one in collaboration with Dr Vera Stimpson here at Kent investigating frustrated magnetic materials.