EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Sustainable and Functional Nano

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge
Department Name: Physics


Topic of centre:
Assembly of Functional NanoMaterials and NanoDevices, the focus of this training centre, aims to make significant progress in developing new functional NanoScience and NanoTechnologies for impact in four major areas: Energy Materials, Sustainable NanoMaterials, Nano-Bio Technologies, and NanoElectronics/Photonics. Each of these connects to strong societal challenges, which can be unlocked by critical advances in nano-assembly. The synergistic overlap of the underlying nano-assembly knots all these areas together so they act to pull early-stage overarching developments in clear application directions. Harnessing a massive existing collaboration of >150 interdisciplinary academics and promoting new interactions across the University of Cambridge, we can translate nascent science into real innovation, through the endeavour and focus of the cohorts within this CDT.

National Need:
Most breakthrough nanoscience relies on scientists bridging disciplinary boundaries. In the UK approach to science training, most graduates selecting PhDs never leave the comfort of their original discipline. Producing a cadre of interdisciplinary nanoscientists is crucial for the UK to develop both the new academic directions and the industrial capabilities to capitalise on the ideas emerging from the fertile ground of Nanoscience. This CDT opens the way to achieve this so that PhD students move into new departments. Our numerous industrial partners strongly emphasise that such broadly-trained interdisciplinary acolytes are highly valuable across their businesses, acting as transformers and integrators of new knowledge, crucial for the UK. These will be trained people in high demand.

The aim of this CDT in Nano is to attract a world-class team of postgraduates and build a high-calibre cohort of self-supporting young Nano scientists bridging our themed areas. The Nano CDT will operate as a distinct PhD nursery, with the entry co-housed and jointly mentored in the initial year of formal courses and project work. It is crucial to develop a programme that encourages young researchers to move outside their core disciplines, and that goes well beyond the fragmented graduate training normally experienced.
The 1st year provides high-quality advanced-level training prior to final selection of preferred research projects. Four components are important:
- learning additional skills in disciplines outside their 1st degree, including over 30 hands-on practicals in small groups, directly making and characterising nanomaterials and devices.
- understanding the Enterprise landscape relating to Nano-Innovation, gaining confidence and know-how for spin-outs, partnering, and what is critical in building high-tech spin-off companies,
- gaining specific knowledge of the nanoscience and application of self-assembly to NanoDevices and NanoMaterials, including nano-forces, nano-wetting, commercial nano processing, etc.
- miniprojects spanning different disciplines to broaden students' experience and peer networks, aiding final PhD project selection. Three 2-3 month-long interdisciplinary mini-projects within different departments will be undertaken by each student.
This coursework is examined leading to an MRes. Students will develop their own PhD topics during interactions with academics across the University and industrial mentors. Students express interest in a ranked list of top 3 projects, and are allocated approval to start building a case around a topic with the two supervisors involved. They are examined in a written proposal, and then a formal viva on the aims, methodologies and technical issues.
To prevent the subsequent pressures of research draining the cohort dynamics, a range of joint activities are programmed in later years. Additional exposure includes industrial research reviews, a series of mandatory internal (student-led) conferences, leadership and team-building weekends, and research seminars.

Planned Impact

Our main impacts will be:
- a new generation of interdisciplinary nano researchers with expertise across science and innovation
- development of new nanotechnologies, and their translation into companies
- strategic developments in four key areas: Energy Materials, Sustainable NanoMaterials, Nano-Bio Technologies, and NanoElectronics/Photonics
- a paradigm change of collaborative outlook
- a strong interaction with stakeholders including outreach for the public, and a platform of industrial partners
- improved use of interdisciplinary working tools including management, discipline bridging and IT

Economic impact of the new CDT is focused through our industrial engagement programme, as well as our innovation training. Our partner companies include Nokia, Unilever, Dyson, BP, Hitachi, IBM, Microsoft, Sharp, Toshiba, Sumitomo, Nanoco, Renishaw, Aixtron, Thales, De La Rue, TWI, and local nano-SMEs including Cambridge Display Technology, Plastic Logic, Eight19, Base4, Sphere Fluidics, Mesophotonics, Cavendish Kinetics, Owlstone, and CCMOS. Such partnerships are crucial for the UK to revive high value manufacturing as the key pillar to lead for future technologies. To develop this strategy we link to the Manufacturing Catapult centre (CPI) and the new Cambridge Centre for Manufacturing in Large-Area Electronics.

Training impact emerges through not just the vast array of Nano techniques and ideas that our cohorts and associated students are exposed to, but also the interdisciplinary experience that accrues to all the academics. In particular the younger researchers coming into the University are plugged into a thriving programme that connects their work to many other sciences, applications, and societal challenges. Interactions with external partners, including companies, are also strong and our intern programme will greatly strengthen training outcomes.

Academic impact is fostered by ensuring strong coherent plans for research in the early years, and also the strong focus of the whole CDT on nanoassembly of functional nanomaterials and nanodevices. Our themed areas provide a strong goal-based rationale for the research directions, and also ensure high impact research will emerge. Our track record is already strong (even though our first students have not yet finished), including 1 Nature Chem., 1 Nature Mat., 4 ACS Nano, 2 Adv.Mat., 2 Ang.Chem., 5 Appl.Phys.Letts., 1 Chem.Comm., 2 JACS, 2 Nano Lett., as well as others, plus 5 patents in process. Our cohorts have given 32 talks at international conferences, and many posters. As well as our new patents, the CDT students have already directly spun-off one company (CamIn) and several more are being discussed.

Societal impacts arise from both the progression of our cohorts into their careers as well as their interaction with the media, public, and sponsors. We have a strong careers programme and industrial + academic breadth ensure researchers are well aware of their options, and constantly discussing with their peers. Our efforts to bring societal challenges to students' awareness frames their view of what a successful career looks like. We directly encouraged a wide variety of engagement, including interaction with >5000 members of the public each year (mostly pre-university) through Nano exhibits during public events such as the Cambridge Science Festival. We also run several public policy workshops, and will further develop this aspect through the Cambridge Centre for Science Policy. Longer term societal impact comes directly from our engagement with partner companies creating jobs and know-how within the UK.


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