EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Next Generation Synthesis & Reaction Technology

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Dept of Chemistry

Abstract

Chemistry is a key underpinning science for solving many global problems. The ability to make any molecule or material, in any quantity needed in a prescribed timescale, and in a sustainable way, is important for the discovery and supply of new medicines to cure diseases, agrochemicals for better crop yields/protection, as well as new electronic and smart materials to improve our daily lives.

Traditionally, synthetic chemistry is performed manually in conventional glassware. This approach is becoming increasingly inadequate to keep pace with the demand for greater accuracy and reproducibility of reactions, needed to support further discovery and development, including scaling up processes for manufacturing.

The future of synthetic chemistry will require the wider adoption of automated (or autonomous) reaction platforms to perform reactions, with full capture of reaction conditions and outcomes. The data generated will be valuable for the development of better reactions and better predictive tools that will facilitate faster translation to industrial applications.

The chemical and pharmaceutical industry is a significant provider of jobs and creator of wealth for the UK. Data from the Chemical Industries Association (CIA) shows that the chemical industry has a total turnover of £40B, adding £14.4B of value to the UK economy every year, employs 140,000 people directly, and supports a further 0.5M jobs. The sector is highly innovation-intensive: much of its annual spend of £4B on investment in capital and R&D is based on synthetic chemistry with many SME's and CRO's establishing novel markets in Science Parks across the UK regions, particularly in the South East and North West. The demand for graduate recruits by the Chemicals and Pharmaceutical industries for the period 2015-2025 is projected to be between 50,000-77,000, driven by an aging workforce creating significant volumes of replacement jobs, augmented by the need to address skills shortages in key enabg technologies, particularly automation and data skills.

This CDT will provide a new generation of molecular scientists that are conversant with the practical skills, associated data science and digital technology to acquire, analyse and utilise large data sets in their daily work. This will be achieved by incorporating cross-disciplinary skills from engineering, as well as computing, statistics, and informatics into chemistry graduate programs, which are largely lacking from existing doctoral training in synthetic chemistry. Capitalising upon significant strategic infrastructural and capital investment on cutting edge technology at Imperial College London made in recent years, this CDT also attracts very significant inputs from industrial partners, as well as Centres of Excellence in the US and Europe, to deliver a unique multi-faceted training programme to improve the skills, employability and productivity of the graduates for future academic and industrial roles.

Planned Impact

Academic impact:
Recent advances in data science and digital technology have a disruptive effect on the way synthetic chemistry is practiced. Competence in computing and data analysis has become increasingly important in preparing chemistry students for careers in industry and academic research.

The CDT cohort will receive interdisciplinary training in an excellent research environment, supported by state-of-the-art bespoke facilities, in areas that are currently under-represented in UK Chemistry graduate programmes. The CDT assembles a team of 74 Academics across several disciplines (Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Bioengineering, Maths and Computing, and pharmaceutical manufacturing sciences), further supported by 16 industrial stakeholders, to deliver the interdisciplinary training necessary to transform synthetic chemistry into a data-centric science, including: the latest developments in lab automation, the use of new reaction platforms, greater incorporation of in-situ analytics to build an understanding of the fundamental reaction pathways, as well as scaling-up for manufacturing.

All of the research data generated by the CDT will be captured (by the use of a common Electronic Lab Notebook) and made openly accessible after an embargo period. Over time, this will provide a valuable resource for the future development of synthetic chemistry.

Industrial and Economic Impact:
Synthetic chemistry is a critical scientific discipline that underpins the UK's manufacturing industry. The Chemicals and Pharmaceutical industries are projected to generate a demand for up to 77,000 graduate recruits between 2015-2025. As the manufacturing industry becomes more digitised (Industry 4.0), training needs to evolve to deliver a new generation of highly-skilled workers to protect the manufacturing sector in the UK. By expanding the traditional skill sets of a synthetic chemist, we will produce highly-qualified personnel who are more resilient to future challenges. This CDT will produce synthetic chemists with skills in automation and data-management skills that are highly prized by employers, which will maintain the UK's world-leading expertise and competitiveness and encourage inward investment.

This CDT will improve the job-readiness of our graduate students, by embedding industrial partners in our training programme, including the delivery of training material, lecture courses, case studies, and offers of industrial placements. Students will be able to exercise their broadened fundamental knowledge to a wide range of applied and industrial problems and enhance their job prospects.

Societal:
The World's population was estimated to be 7.4 billion in August 2016; the UN estimated that it will further increase to 11.2 billion in the year 2100. This population growth will inevitably place pressure on the world's finite natural resources. Novel molecules with improved effectiveness and safety will supersede current pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals, and fine chemicals used in the fabrication of new materials.

Recent news highlights the need for certain materials (such as plastics) to be manufactured and recycled in a sustainable manner, and yet their commercial viability of next-generation manufacturing processes will depend on their cost-effectiveness and the speed which they can be developed. The CDT graduates will act as ambassadors of the chemical science, engaging directly with the Learned Societies, local council, general public (including educational activities), as well as politicians and policymakers, to champion the importance of the chemical science in solving global challenges.

Publications

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