Centre for Doctoral Training in Basic Technologies for Molecular-Scale Engineering

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Electronic and Electrical Engineering


The ability to control, manipulate and interrogate complex molecular environments at molecular resolution is an enabling basic technology that can provide powerful new tools to engineer functional integrated organic-inorganic devices. Such devices will enable one to tailor the interfacial interactions that underpin so many applications of everyday relevance from bio-compatibility to catalysis, and of future relevance, such as energy harvesting and personalized healthcare. Our vision is to create the internationally leading centre for doctoral training focussed on the development of groundbreaking basic technologies for nanoscale molecular control that can be adapted to a diverse range of scientific and technological problems. The EPSRC delivery plan highlights the urgent need for highly trained scientists and engineers who can work across disciplinary boundaries. For example, in healthcare technologies there is a critical requirement to advance the engineering and physical sciences knowledge and techniques essential to: pull-through biology (for example, chemical biology, integration of biomarkers and diagnostics, etc); enable earlier and better diagnosis, treatment and management of health conditions (for example, drug design, novel drug delivery, personalized medicine, etc); and, enable future healthcare systems that deliver more efficient personalized and localized care (for example, information-driven healthcare, point-of-care diagnostics and devices, etc). Similarly, in the RCUK energy and digital economy themes, the importance of multi-disciplinarity and collaborative research is clearly stated, and this strategy is reiterated by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) criteria for the protection of national capability and international competitiveness, and to maximise the economic and social benefits of research. These views are echoed, and indeed defined, by research end-user companies, which express their need for doctoral scientists and engineers with the particular cross-disciplinary scientific and transferable skills that will be generated by this programme. Such end-users include: the pharmaceutical industry, which requires PhD scientists with training in biochemistry, surface chemistry, and analytical chemistry; the in vitro diagnostics industry, which is worth approximately Euro16 billion in Europe alone and growing at almost 6% pa (with the UK as a major player), where companies require scientists and engineers with skills in biochemistry, surface chemistry, electronics, and micro-fluidics; the burgeoning biomaterials and tissue engineering fields, where companies use sophisticated nanostructured surfaces to control biological adhesion, biological signalling and biofouling; and the personal care products industry, where problems revolving around biochemistry at interfaces, surface chemistry and biological adhesion underpin products ranging from toothpaste to hair care products. The ability to think and work in cross-disciplinary environments, and to apply solutions from one's core discipline to problems involving another discipline, is a skill that needs to be nurtured throughout the entire PhD training; it is not possible to add this later in the workplace via training courses.
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As such, the need for people with these skills is proven, and the market for them is enormous.

Planned Impact

It is well recognised that university doctoral training in science and engineering underpins the UK's high technology industrial base, providing the UK with necessary highly skilled personnel. However, many companies, even large multi-national enterprises, have difficulty recruiting high calibre PhD scientists and engineers with effective training and experience in multidisciplinary research, and who are capable of managing complex research projects involving many disciplines. This ability to think and work in cross-disciplinary environments, and to apply solutions from one's core discipline to problems involving another discipline is a skill that has to be nurtured throughout the entire PhD training process. This CDT meets these needs, providing each student with the scientific, transferable, and business skills to undertake cutting-edge science and engineering, be trained to think and work in cross-disciplinary environments, and to apply solutions developed in one discipline to problems identified in another. Our graduates will be well qualified for roles in both academia and a wide range of existing industries that not only directly align with the research being undertaken, but also with a much wider industrial landscape. The generic technical, transferable and business skills that our PhD graduates will possess will guarantee that they will be also valuable to industries outside the graduates' core research areas.
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A second economic impact will come from the science and technology that is being developed, and a number of areas that we are pursuing map readily onto the existing interests of major companies identified in the case. In these areas there are two main pathways to impact: (i) collaboration with companies to transfer industrially-relevant expertise into the commercial context thus aiding economic performance; and (ii) patent licensing and outright patent sales. Direct commercial exploitation will also occur through spin-out companies, or through partnership with new, small companies that emerge as new fields grow. The collaborating universities each have formal structures in place to protect and exploit IP, and to engage users and beneficiaries to increase the likelihood of research impact, and all four investigators have patented and licensed their research, and collaborated with industry. For example, at Leeds, the University Research Support and University Knowledge and Innovation Unit underpin establishment of research contracts, knowledge-transfer, patents, and licensing issues, together with the University's venture capital partner (www.ipgroupplc.com). The University has a specialist PR agency and marketing officers retained by the Faculty of Engineering and the University, who will write press releases and articles to engage with the general public. The Faculty of Engineering Keyworth Institute provides an 'Innovation with Business' portal in which staff develop links between the Schools' research and development capabilities and appropriate industry. At Sheffield, all intellectual property and technology transfer arrangements are initially dealt with by the Research and Innovation Services department. The University of Sheffield commercializes its intellectual property via an agreement with Fusion IP (www.fusionip.co.uk) to provide a robust mechanism for commercialising University intellectual property via spin-out companies, licensing deals and patent sales. This CDT will also benefit from the Sheffield Polymer Centre, an outward-facing organisation focused on maximising the academic-industrial interface through research contracts, short-term projects, consultancies and training courses. With a database of over 1,000 UK and international companies, it will maximise the probability of matching any new IP with appropriate third parties, and ensures that technical enquiries from companies, government agencies, and charities etc. are matched with the most appropriate academic resources.


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