Lancaster University ECR Equipment

Lead Research Organisation: Lancaster University
Department Name: Vice-Chancellor's Office


This funding will be used to support new research equipment for Lancaster University's early career researchers (ECRs) in our Materials Science Institute (MSI), in line with EPSRC's World Class Labs initiative.

Lancaster's MSI is a strategic focus for the University, bringing together all of our academics in the Materials Science space for the first time around a number of common research themes. This funding is centred around the first theme of the MSI recently launched in September 2017 - Active Surfaces and Interfaces, encouraging extensive collaboration between chemistry, engineering and physics, involving 42 academics, of which 40% are ECRs. Many of these ECRs have been attracted to Lancaster through our 50th Anniversary Lectureship scheme, which aims to nurture the research leaders of tomorrow, with significant teaching relief and a fantastic package of support for their career and research development.

This investment from EPSRC, along with preceding institutional investment (totalling £55M over the past 6 years) will enable world-class research into a new class of three-dimensional organic and organometallic structures with tailored porosity and functionality. These new materials will have applications in topics such as energy storage and conversion, heterogeneous catalysis and quantum technologies. It is important to note that these areas of research did not exist at Lancaster prior to appointment of our ECRs and only came together with the formation of the MSI and the interdisciplinary opportunities it afforded.

Understanding the exact nature of the structure and properties of these materials (and of many others) is a key issue in this research area, typified by restrictions in the capabilities available to characterise them. This problem is often a limiting factor in new materials development and thus this bid will provide equipment to enable these characterisations, speeding up the process of new materials development by providing excellent ECRs with world-class facilities. The ECRs that will benefit from this equipment will be strategically positioned to exploit: comprehensive multiscale capabilities in fabricating materials ranging from molecular structure to bulk material; world-leading materials characterisation; and expertise in applying materials science innovations to real world problems.

Planned Impact

This project will furnish new insights into the fabrication and characterisation of 3D materials on 2D substrates that can be applied in a wide range of different technologies. This project is ECR-led and the primary impact will be on the quality and quantity of their research.

Lancaster University (LU) is a research-led university, with 83% of our academic staff involved in internationally leading research. Through the recent 50th Anniversary Lectureship scheme, LU has made significant investment in appointing promising early career researchers (ECRs) to permanent positions in key strategic research themes. These appointments give flexibility, time, mentorship and funds to establish their research interests and grow as researchers, with the prospect that they will become the research leaders of tomorrow. An overarching Institute structure provides our ECRs with access to world-class facilities and mentoring. The expectation for our ECRs associated with the Material Science Institute is that as they establish themselves, they will grow world-leading research groups producing high impact outputs, inform global thinking and change practice. This is the primary impact of extending the quantity and diversity of equipment available to them. A further direct impact will be on the quality and quantity of postgraduate training that we can undertake at LU.

Our ECRs work in areas as diverse as supercapacitors, fuel cells, porous polymers, heterogeneous catalysis and catalyst development, porous metals and alloys, gas separation and storage, low cost, flexible energy generation through passive thermoelectricity generation, and fabrication of novel nanostructured optoelectronic devices. This project focuses on extending their ability to characterise these materials and the feedback this has upon developing existing or novel fabrication techniques. We envisage the new insights afforded by advanced characterisation will significantly aid the design of new structures, tailored for specific applications. This ability will have direct impact on the projects in which our ECRs are engaged, but will have broader impact across the University and beyond. We believe our ECRs peers would be keen to explore the principles of fabrication they establish to a much broader range of 3- and 2D materials for a host of applications we cannot begin to predict.

At LU our ECRs are well positioned to exploit new knowledge for economic and commercial impact directly. LU has a long track record of industry engagement, particularly with the SME sector, and it has invested accordingly, with a number of recent initiatives specifically developed to foster collaboration between academia and businesses such as the £11.4M Collaborative Technology Access Programme (cTAP). cTAP has established multiple collaborations with industry providing pathways, especially for our ECRs, to work with local SMEs, jointly accessing cutting edge materials science equipment and expertise. Similar opportunities avail through the Centre for Global Eco-Innovation (CGE) an award-winning centre for promoting services and products that have environmental benefits and support business-led research in collaboration with LU.

Beyond direct economic impact, advanced materials have the potential to address many of the most pressing problems faced by society that are considered a basic human right - e.g. ready access to clean water and air, reliable green energy, and advances in medicine - yet are still called Global Grand Challenges. New materials directly contribute to technological solutions that meet these challenges. Our ECRs are acutely aware of the potential their research and through the unique training programme Material Social Futures (21 PhDs funded jointly by the Leverhulme Trust and LU), our ECRs are actively developing research programmes that address the ethical and moral, sustainable and environmental concerns over the development and utilisation of advanced materials.


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