EPSRC Capital Award emphasising support for Early Career Researchers

Lead Research Organisation: University of Liverpool
Department Name: Engineering (Level 1)


The development of new healthcare technologies and materials for solar energy conversion would have significant societal benefits and it will directly address EPSRC priorities of enabling a Healthy and Resilient Nation. It is therefore important that the UK's research base in these areas is strengthened. The University of Liverpool will use the capital award to accelerate the activities of a large cohort of high potential early career researchers (ECRs) in these fields. Our aim is to procure fit-for-purpose equipment that leverages existing investment and will enable our ECRs' most ambitious research programmes whose aims include: the development of entirely new classes of photovoltaic devices, realising materials for artificial photosynthesis, the advancement of novel technologies for surface decontamination and the discovery of new antimicrobial materials.

Providing our ECRs with state-of-the-art equipment to address the underpinning mechanisms of these technologies will deliver new capabilities for our team and allow our researchers to develop world-class laboratories that achieve both academic and societal impact. The equipment will be housed in an ECR led laser laboratory and have new capabilities in fast transient spectroscopy, primarily laser induced fluorescence and transient absorption spectroscopy. This will also have wider benefits to the academic community with applications across, catalysis, sensing and advanced manufacturing also being able to gain insight from the equipment. To ensure maximum usage this will be shared equipment, administered through the Universities Shared Facilities Scheme. Equipment sharing and collaborative science is at the core of our proposal as it provides access to a wide user base, leads to the development of novel approaches to existing problems and ultimately will accelerate the career development of our most promising and talented early career researchers.

Planned Impact

People - skills and the people pipeline: The proposal will aid the development and expansion of our ECR's in energy and healthcare materials. Increasing the number of internationally leading laboratories will benefit the pipeline of people through the increased training of PhD and Masters students and the supervision of postdoctoral researchers. These researchers will be highly skilled in laser-based techniques and these skills will be of both benefit to the academic community and industries, particularly those operating in the advanced materials, solar energy and healthcare sectors.

Society - improving health, quality of life and the environment: Our primary academic beneficiaries are working to develop new antimicrobial materials and techniques, improved photovoltaic devices and new materials that can convert abundant and waste molecules such as carbon dioxide and water into useful fuels using solar energy. Breakthroughs by our programmes in healthcare would have global impact and improve life expectancy and quality- in some hospitals there is a 33-50% mortality rate for ventilator-associated pneumonia due to biofilm formation, whilst in the UK healthcare associated infections cost the UK ~£2 billion annually and cause the premature death of >25,000 people in the EU. Our work in energy has similar potential significance. Developing new low cost routes to utilise solar energy offers a route for the UK meet Government targets for energy security of supply, cost and environmental impact. The UK has committed in law to an 80% reduction in carbon emissions from 1990 levels by 2050 and has ambitions to achieve carbon neutrality by this date. This is a very challenging goal and it will require the successful delivery of new solar energy materials. Solar energy is our most abundant renewable resource and advances in higher efficiency low cost photovoltaics or the development of a practical solar to fuels system, which would address the renewable intermittency concerns, would be transformative.

Economy - wealth creation, generating new companies and industries: Our ECRs are already working with industrial partners to develop new products and generate wealth (e.g. partners of the Co-Is include; Johnson Matthey, ITM, Ceres power, NSG, First Solar) and also with public bodies (e.g. Healthcare trusts, Public Health England) to deliver cost savings. The ECRs have indicated that the proposed equipment will further accelerate the technology translation process as improved knowledge of underpinning mechanisms will enable rational design and improve productivity maximising the economic benefit of the investment.

Knowledge - delivering scientific advances: We aim to benefit not just the initially identified 17 ECRs but also a much wider user base working in diverse areas across the university including optoelectronics, sensing and advanced manufacturing. Work from ECRs in healthcare and solar energy will accelerate their respective fields progress whilst the transfer of skills in the laser techniques through the establishment of new collaborations will further the state-of-the-art across a wider range of scientific disciplines.


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