EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Topological Design

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: School of Physics and Astronomy

Abstract

Topology is a particular study of the spatial structure of objects, based on counting discrete properties, such as the number of holes and bridges in a sponge. Whichever way the sponge is stretched or squeezed, these numbers stay the same. In fact, the elastic properties of the sponge depend on this structure. It turns out that topological properties like this play a role in the physical properties of certain materials, such as the way they conduct electricity or how light propagates through them. This has led to an explosion of research and development into new kinds of materials with unprecedented properties, designed using fundamental physical and mathematical principles which can be fabricated and, in the future, manufactured on a large scale.


We will train the first cohort of doctoral topological scientists, who will have a broad expertise in topological science and design, focused towards the development of new topological materials that address the needs of industry. Drawn from mathematically-informed backgrounds including physics, engineering and materials science, they will develop a broad technical appreciation of topological design within all of these disciplines, and gain research experience in mini-projects in theoretical and experimental groups. Their main PhD research project can be with supervisors drawn from all academic Schools in the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences at the University of Birmingham, in partnership with our wide range of partners from industry. This technical education will be entwined with a programme of transferable skills developing the critical skills of innovation, entrepreneurship and responsible innovation.

The academic leadership of this CDT has co-created the training programme in collaboration with a range of industrial partners who will contribute to the directions of the research projects, provide internships and help the students and academic supervisors focus on the needs of end users in their research. These partners will not only be drawn from relevant industries, such as communications, manufacturing and defence sectors, but more widely from knowledge industries including software developers and commercialisation lawyers.

The resulting CDT will be a beacon for cross-disciplinary research across the physical sciences and spearheading academic-industrial partnership over the coming decades as topological design becomes a crucial principle for the development of future technologies, underpinning the future prosperity of the UK.

Planned Impact

1. Our primary impact will be by supplying the UK knowledge economy with skilled multidisciplinary researchers, equipped with the technical and transferable skills to establish the UK as pre-eminent in topology-based future technologies. The training they receive will make them proficient in the demands of the translation of academic science (with a broad background in condensed matter physics, materials science and applied electromagnetics) to industry, with direct experience from internship and industry engagement days. With their exposure to both theoretical research (including modelling and big data-driven problems) and experimental practice, our graduates will be ideally equipped to tackle research challenges of the future and communicate to a broad audience, ready to lead teams made up of diverse specialised components. The potential impact of our researchers will be enhanced by a broad programme of transferable skills, focusing on innovation, entrepreneurship and responsible research. Beneficiaries here will include the students themselves as they embark on future careers intertwining academic research and industry, as well as the other sectors listed below.

2. The research undertaken by students in the CDT will have impact on the future direction of topological science. Related disciplines, including physics, materials science, mathematics, and information technology will benefit from the cross-disciplinary fertilisation it will enable. The CDT will not only provide an interface between research in physical sciences and engineering, but also provide a route for academia to interact effectively with industry. This will help organise researchers from different disciplines to collaborate around the needs of future technology to design materials based on topological properties.

3. Our research will enable industries to set the direction of topological research around the needs of commercial research and development, leading to wealth generation for the UK, and to influence the mindset of the next generation of future technologists. Specifically, topological design has the promise to revolutionise devices and materials relevant to communications, microwave and terahertz technologies, optical information processing, manufacturing, and cybersecurity. Through partnership with organisations from the wider knowledge sector, we will deepen the relationship between academic research and disciplines including IP law and scientific software development.

4. Our CDT will also have impact on the wider academic community. New specialist courses and training in transferable skills will be developed utilising cutting-edge multimedia technologies. Our international research collaborators, including prominent global laboratories, will benefit from placements and research visits of the CDT students. Our interdisciplinary research, combining the needs of academia and industry will be an exemplar of the effectiveness of the CDT model on an international stage.

5. The wider community will benefit from our organised public engagement activities. These will include direct interaction activities, such as demonstrating at the Birmingham Thinktank Science Centre, the Royal Society Summer Exhibition, local schools and community centres.

Publications

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