EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Integrated Functional Nano (i4Nano)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge
Department Name: Physics

Abstract

Topic of Centre:
This i4Nano CDT will accelerate the discovery cycle of functional nanotechnologies and materials, effectively bridging from ground-breaking fundamental science toward industrial device integration, and to drive technological innovation via an interdisciplinary approach. A key overarching theme is understanding and control of the nano-interfaces connecting complex architectures, which is essential for going beyond simple model systems and key to major advances in emerging scientific grand challenges across vital areas of Energy, Health, Manufacturing (particularly considering sustainability), ICT/Internet of things, and Quantum. We focus on the science of nano-interfaces across multiple time scales and material systems (organic-inorganic, bio-nonbio interfaces, gas-liquid-solid, crystalline-amorphous), to control nano-interfaces in a scalable manner across different size scales, and to integrate them into functional systems using engineering approaches, combining interfaces, integration, innovation, and interdisciplinarity (hence 'i4Nano'). The vast range of knowledge, tools and techniques necessary for this underpins the requirement for high-quality broad-based PhD training that effectively links scientific depth and application breadth.

National Need:
Most breakthrough nanoscience as well as successful translation to innovative technology relies on scientists bridging boundaries between disciplines, but this is hindered by the constrained subject focus of undergraduate courses across the UK. Our recent industry-academia nano-roadmapping event attended by numerous industrial partners strongly emphasised the need for broadly-trained interdisciplinary nanoscience acolytes who are highly valuable across their businesses, acting as transformers and integrators of new knowledge, crucial for the UK. They consistently emphasise there is a clear national need to produce this cadre of interdisciplinary nanoscientists to maintain the UK's international academic leadership, to feed entrepreneurial activity, and to capitalise industrially in the UK by driving innovations in health, energy, ICT and Quantum Technologies.

Training Approach:
The vision of this i4Nano CDT is to deliver bespoke training in key areas of nano to translate exploratory nanoscience into impactful technologies, and stimulate new interactions that support this vision. We have already demonstrated an ability to attract world-class postgraduates and build high-calibre cohorts of independent young Nano scientists through a distinctive PhD nursery in our current CDT, with cohorts co-housed and jointly mentored in the initial year of intense interdisciplinary training through formal courses, practicals and project work. This programme encourages young researchers to move outside their core disciplines, and is crucial for them to go beyond fragmented graduate training normally experienced. Interactions between cohorts from different years and different CDTs, as well as interactions with >200 other PhD researchers across Cambridge, widens their horizons, making them suited to breaking disciplinary barriers and building an integrated approach to research.

The 1st year of this CDT course provides high-quality advanced-level training prior to final selection of preferred PhD research projects. Student progression will depend on passing examinable components assessed both by exams and coursework, providing a formal MRes qualification. Components of the first year training include lectures and practicals on key scientific topics, mini/midi projects, science communication and innovation/scale-up training, and also training for understanding societal and ethical dimensions of Nanoscience. Activities in the later years include conferences, pilot projects, further innovation and scale up training, leadership and team-building weekends, and ED&I and Responsible Innovation workshops

Planned Impact

Our main impacts will be:
- a new generation of interdisciplinary nano researchers with expertise across science and innovation, fluent in the combination of approaches and technologies
- strategic developments in the study and control of nano-interfaces connecting complex architectures, for advances in emerging scientific grand challenges across vital areas of energy, health and ICT
- integration of new functional nanotechnologies together by harnessing nano-interfaces within larger application systems, and their translation into innovative products and services through our industry partners and student-led spin-outs
- a paradigm change of collaborative outlook in this science and technology
- a strong interaction with stakeholders including outreach and public engagement with cutting edge nano research
- 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 - NPL, Hitachi, Oxford Nanopore, TWI, ARM, Eight19, Mursla, Britvic, Nokia Bell Labs, IBM, Merck, Oxford Instruments, Aixtron, Cambridge Display Technologies, Fluidic Analytics, Emberion, Schlumberger, Applied Materials and others. Such partnerships are crucial for the UK to revive high value manufacturing as the key pillar to lead for future technologies. We evidence this via the large number of CDT projects resulting in patents, with their exploitation supported by Cambridge Enterprise and our Industry Partners, and direct economic impact has also resulted from the large proportion of our students/alumni joining industry (a key outcome), or founding startups including: Echion Technologies (battery materials), Inkling Cambridge (Graphene inks and composites), HexagonFab (2D materials), Simprints (low-cost biometrics), Cortirio (rapid diagnosis of brain injury).

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 study and control of nano-interfaces connecting complex architectures. Our track record for CDT student-led publications is already strong, including 4 Nature/Science, 6 Nature Chem/Nano/Mat, 13 Nat. Comm., with student publications receiving >6000 citations in total, including 16 papers with >100 citations each and high altmetric scores. Students have also given talks and posters at international conferences and won numerous awards/fellowships for research excellence.

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 directly encourage 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 and Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition, and also art-science collaborations to reach new audiences. We also run public policy and global challenges workshops, and will further develop this aspect with external partners. Our efforts to bring societal challenges to students' awareness frames their view of what a successful career looks like. Longer term societal impact comes directly from our engagement with partner companies creating jobs and know-how in the UK.

Organisations

Publications

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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/S022953/1 01/10/2019 31/03/2028
2276482 Studentship EP/S022953/1 01/10/2019 30/09/2023 Simone Eizagirre Barker
2276911 Studentship EP/S022953/1 01/10/2019 30/09/2023 Sultaan Murtaza Yousaf
2275880 Studentship EP/S022953/1 01/10/2019 30/09/2023 Felix-Ekkehard Ritter Von Horstig
2276596 Studentship EP/S022953/1 01/10/2019 30/09/2023 Ji Zhang
2276487 Studentship EP/S022953/1 01/10/2019 30/09/2023 Sebastian Gorgon
2276916 Studentship EP/S022953/1 01/10/2019 30/09/2023 Hwee Jien Tan
2276498 Studentship EP/S022953/1 01/10/2019 30/09/2023 Tarig Babiker Mustafa
2275879 Studentship EP/S022953/1 01/10/2019 30/09/2023 Moritz Leander Muller
2276506 Studentship EP/S022953/1 01/10/2019 30/09/2023 Sarah Elizabeth Sandler