EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Sensor Technologies and Application

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge
Department Name: Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology


Analysis and diagnosis, the core elements of sensing, are highlighted by almost every initiative for health, environment, security and quality of life. Sensors have advanced to an extent that they are sought for many applications in manufacturing and detection segments, and their cost advantages have boosted their utility and demand. The pillars of sensor research are in highly diverse fields and traditional single-discipline research is particularly poor at catalysing sensor innovation and application, as these typically fall in the 'discipline gaps'. Furthermore, the underpinning technology is advancing at a phenomenal pace. These developments are creating exciting opportunities, but also enormous challenges to UK academia and industry: Traditional PhD programmes are centred on individuals and focused on narrowly defined problems and do not produce the skills and leadership qualities required to capitalise on future opportunities. Industry complains that skills are waning and sensors are increasingly being treated as 'black boxes' without an understanding of underlying principles.
We propose to establish the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Sensor Technologies and Measurement to address these problems head on. The CDT will provide a co-ordinated programme of training in research-, team-, and leadership-skills to future generations of sensor champions. The CDT will build on the highly successful CamBridgeSens research network which was previously funded by the EPSRC under its discipline-bridging programme and which has transformed the culture in which sensor research is being carried out at our University, breaking down discipline barriers, and bringing together world-leading expertise, infrastructure and people from more than 20 Departments. The CDT will now extend this culture to the training of future sensor researchers to generate a virtual super department in Cambridge with more than 70 PIs. The programme will be underpinned by a consortium of industrial partners which is strongly integrated into the CDT and through its needs and engagement will inform the direction of the programme. In the first year of their 4 year PhD programme, student cohorts will attend specialised lectures, practicals and research mini-projects, to receive training in a range of topics underpinning sensor research, including physical principles of sensor hardware, acquisition and interpretation of sensory information, and user requirements of sensor applications. Team-building aspects will be strongly emphasised, and through an extended sensor project treated as a team challenge in the first year of their programme, the students will together, as a cohort, face a problem of industrial relevance and learn how to address a research problem as a team rather than individually. The cohorts will be supported by a mix of academic and industrial mentors, and will receive business, presentation and project-management skills. During years 2 to 4 of their PhD course, students will pick a PhD topic offered by the more than 70 PIs participating in the programme. Each topic on offer will be supervised by at least two academics from different departments/disciplines and may include industrial partners in the CDT. Throughout, we will create strong identities for the sensor student cohorts through a number of people-based activities that maximise engagement between researchers, research activities and that bridge gaps across disciplines, Departments and research cultures.

Planned Impact

Outputs from the CDT will include both research outputs and the training of cohorts of highly qualified, interdisciplinary postgraduates, expert in a wide range of sensing activities.
WHO WILL BENEFIT: Immediate beneficiaries of the research outputs will be industrial consortium partners in the CDT (currently Alphasense, Rolls Royce, Shell, Cambridge Display Technologies, Nokia, NPL and others). They will help steer the training and research programmes of the PhD students and CDT outputs will feed directly into their research programmes and future strategy. Other interested UK companies will also be able to benefit via outreach activities of the CDT (workshops etc) and recruitment from the CDT's student pool. It is anticipated that both national and international policy makers and regulators, e.g. in the area of environmental monitoring, medical diagnostics, etc. will also benefit from the research output of the CDT in terms of setting regulations commensurate with state-of-the-art sensor technologies emanating from the CDT consortium. Potential public-sector beneficiaries include the NHS (sensing advances for medical diagnostics, patient monitoring etc), Museums and Galleries (new sensing techniques applied to conservation of artworks), Armed and Security Services (new sensing techniques and approaches for threat detection and mitigation, contraband and drugs-of-abuse detection - direct beneficiaries will be the Home office and other government agencies, with whom discussions are taking place), Transport (sensor networks for traffic management, pollution control). Beneficiaries of the sensor-training aspect of the CDT will be the afore-mentioned companies, both in the UK and abroad (e.g. EU), who will be able to employ the highly-trained, interdisciplinary postgraduates produced by the CDT, who will be skilled and experienced in a wide range of sensing aspects and technologies. It is anticipated that some of this postgraduate cohort will also remain in academia and hence will implant their sensor knowledge and expertise in Universities outside Cambridge, to the overall benefit of the UK higher-education sector.
HOW WILL THEY BENEFIT: Sensing technologies contribute to an estimated £200bn global market. Thus, there is a very significant opportunity for increasing the UK competitiveness and share in this large market as a result of the new technologies and research outputs emanating from the CDT, coupled with the uniquely qualified and trained researchers emerging from the CDT who will be able to develop new products and forge new markets in this area, both via SME and large corporations in the UK. Thus, there is a very considerable potential economic upside to this activity, in terms of wealth generation and employment in this sector. In addition, there are appreciable potential societal health and well-being benefits from this Sensors CDT. Sensing is central to medical diagnostics and patient monitoring. Future developments in personalized healthcare monitoring, e.g. networked home-monitoring of patients with chronic illnesses will improve patient outcomes and quality of life, and concomitant cost savings for the NHS. There is exciting potential in combining health care sensing (and indeed many other types of sensing) with mobile phone and wireless technology improving coverage, cost, and speed of response. Better and novel sensors will reduce downtime of transport infrastructure due to targeted preventive maintenance; novel sensors will be less intrusive, but more robust, in security measures for public places, etc. The postgraduate cohorts emerging from the CDT will have been trained in a wide range of activities in addition to sensor science and engineering. They will have been exposed to courses in entrepreneurship, and so will be equipped to start up new ventures. Students will also have greater awareness and experience at teamwork, both through activities in the CDT itself, and during secondment to industry.


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