EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Sensor Technologies for a Healthy and Sustainable Future

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge
Department Name: Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology

Abstract

We propose to build the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Sensor Technologies for a Healthy and Sustainable Future (Sensor CDT) on the foundations we have established with our current CDT (EPSRC CDT for Sensor Technologies and Applications, see http://cdt.sensors.cam.ac.uk). The bid falls squarely into EPSRC's strategic priority theme of New Science and Technology for Sensing, Imaging and Analysis.

The sensor market already contributes an annual £6bn in exports to the UK economy, underpinning 73000 jobs and markets estimated at £120bn (source: KTN UK). Major growth is expected in this sector but at the same time there is a growing problem in recruiting suitably qualified candidates with the necessary breadth of skills and leadership qualities to address identified needs from UK industry and to drive sustainable innovation. We have created an integrated programme for high quality research students that treats sensing as an academic discipline in its own right and provides comprehensive training in sensor technologies all the way from the fundamental science of sensing, the networking and interpretation of sensory data, to end user application.

In the new, evolved CDT, we will provide training for our CDT students on themes that are of direct relevance to a sustainable and healthy future society, whilst retaining a focus that delivers value to the UK economy and academia. The 4-year programme is strongly cross disciplinary and focuses on sustainable development goals and emphasises training in Responsible Innovation. One example of the latter is our objective to 'democratise sensor technologies': Our students will learn how to engage with the public during research, how to play a valuable part in public debate, and how to innovate technology that benefits society.

Technical aspects will be taught in a bespoke training programme for the course, that includes lectures, practicals, lab rotations, industry secondments, and skills training on key underpinng technologies. To support this effort, we have created dedicated, state-of-the-art infrastructure for the CDT that includes laboratory, office, teaching, and social spaces, and we connect to the world leading infrastructure available in the participating departments and partner industries.

The programme is designed to create strong identities both within and across CDT cohorts (horizontal and vertical integration) to maximise opportunities for peer-to-peer learning and leadership training through activities such as our unique sensor team challenges and the monthly Sensor Cafés, attended by representatives from academia, industry, government agencies, and the public. We will create a diverse and inclusive atmosphere where students feel confident and empowered to offer different opinions and experiences and which maximises creativity and innovation.

We have attracted substantial interest and support (>£2.5M) from established industrial partners, but our new programme emphasises engagement also with UK start-ups and SMEs, who are particularly vulnerable in the current economic climate and who have expressed a need for researchers with the breadth and depth of skills the CDT provides (see letters of support). We recruit outstanding, prizewinning students from a diverse range of disciplines and the training programme connects more than 90 PIs across 15 departments and 40 industrial partners working together to address future societal needs with novel sensor technologies.

Technology developers will benefit through connection with experts in middleware (e.g. sensor distribution and networking, data processing) and applications experts (e.g. life scientists, atmospheric scientists, etc.) and vice versa. This integrative character of the CDT will inspire innovations that transform capability in many disciplines of science and industries.

Planned Impact

The primary outputs from the CDT will be cohorts of highly qualified, interdisciplinary postgraduates who are experts in a wide range of sensing activities. They will benefit from a world leading training experience that recognises sensor research as an academic discipline in its own right. The students will be taught in all aspects of Sensor Technologies, ranging from the physical and chemical principles of sensing, to sensor design, data capture and processing, all the way to applications and opportunities for commercialisation, with a strong focus in entrepreneurship, technology translation and responsible leadership. Students will learn in extensive team and cohort engaging activities, and have access to cutting-edge expertise and infrastructure. 90 academics from 15 different departments participate in the programme and more than 40 industrial partners are actively involved in delivering research and business leadership training, offering perspectives for impact and translation and opportunities for internships and secondments. End users associated with the CDT will benefit from the availability of outstanding, highly qualified and motivated PhD students, access to shared infrastructure, and a huge range of academic and industrial contacts.

Immediate beneficiaries of our CDT will be our core industrial consortium partners (MedImmune, Alphasense, Fluidic Analytics, ioLight, NokiaBell, Cambridge Display Technologies, Teraview, Zimmer and Peacock, Panaxium, Silicon Microgravity, etc., see various LoS) who incorporate our cross-leverage funding model into their corporate research strategies. Small companies and start-ups particularly benefit from the flexibility of the partnerships we can offer. We will engage through weekly industry seminars and monthly Sensor Cafés, where SME employees can interact directly with the CDT students and PIs, provide training in topical areas, and, in turn, gain themselves access to CDT infrastructure and training. Ideas can berapidly tested through industrially focused miniprojects and promising leads developed into funded PhD programmes, for which leveraged funding is available through the CDT.

Government departments and large research initiatives are formally connected to the CDT, including the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA); the Cambridge Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction (CSIC); the Centre for Global Equality (CGE); the National Physics Laboratory (NPL); the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), who all push our CDT to generate impacts that are in the public interest and relevant for a healthy and sustainable future society. With their input, we will tackle projects on assisted living technologies for the ageing population, diagnostics of environmental toxins in the developing world, and sensor technologies that help replace the use of animals in research. Developing countries will benefit through our emphasis on open technologies / open innovation and our exploration of responsible, ethical, and transparent business models. In the UK, our CDT will engage directly with the public sector and national policy makers and regulators (DEFRA, and the National Health Service - NHS) and, with their input, students are trained on impact and technology translation, ethics, and regulatory frameworks.

Publications

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