EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Aerosol Science

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Chemistry

Abstract

An aerosol consists of solid particles or liquid droplets dispersed in a gas phase with sizes spanning from clusters of molecules (nanometres) to rain droplets (millimetres). Aerosol science is a term used to describe our understanding of the collective underlying physical science governing the properties and transformation of aerosols in a broad range of contexts, extending from drug delivery to the lungs to disease transmission, combustion and energy generation, materials processing, environmental science, and the delivery of agricultural and consumer products. Despite the commonality in the physical science core to all of these sectors, doctoral training in aerosol science has been focussed in specific contexts such as inhalation, the environment and materials. Representatives from these diverse sectors have reported that over 90% of their organisations experience difficulty in recruiting to research and technical roles requiring core expertise in aerosol science. Many of these will act as CDT partners and have co-created this bid.

We will establish a CDT in Aerosol Science that, for the first time on a global stage, will provide foundational and comprehensive training for doctoral scientists in the core physical science. Not only will this bring coherence to training in aerosol science in the UK, but it will catalyse new collaborations between researchers in different disciplines. Inverting the existing training paradigm will ensure that practitioners of the future have the technical agility and confidence to move between different application contexts, leading to exciting and innovative approaches to address the technological, societal and health challenges in aerosol science.

We will assemble a multidisciplinary team of supervisors from the Universities of Bristol, Bath, Cambridge, Hertfordshire, Imperial, Leeds and Manchester, with expertise spanning chemistry, physics, biological sciences, chemical and mechanical engineering, life and medical sciences, pharmacy and pharmacology, and earth and environmental sciences. Such breadth is crucial to provide the broad perspective on aerosol science central to developing researchers able to address the challenges that fall at the boundaries between these disciplines. We will engage with partners from across the industrial, governmental and public sectors, and with the Aerosol Society of the UK and Ireland, to deliver a legacy of training packages and an online training portal for future practitioners. With partners, we have defined the key research competencies in aerosol science necessary for their employees. Partners will provide support through skills-training placements, co-sponsored studentships, and contribution to taught elements.

5 cohorts of 16 doctoral students will follow a period of intensive training in the core concepts of aerosol science with training placements in complementary application areas and with partners. In subsequent years we will continue to build the activity of the cohort through summer schools, workshops and conferences hosted by the Aerosol Society, virtual training and enhanced training activities, and student-led initiatives. The students will acquire a perspective of aerosol science that stretches beyond the artificial boundaries of traditional disciplines, seeing the commonalities in core physical science. A cohort-based approach will provide a national focal point for training, acting as a catalyst to assemble a multi-disciplinary team with the breadth of research activity to provide opportunities for students to undertake research in complementary areas of aerosol science, and a mechanism for delivering the broad academic ingredients necessary for core training in aerosol science. A network of highly-skilled doctoral practitioners in aerosol science will result, capable of addressing the biggest problems and ethical dilemmas of our age, such as healthy ageing, sustainable and safe consumer products, and climate geoengineering.

Planned Impact

Aerosol science has a significant impact on a broad range of disciplines, extending from inhaled drug delivery, to combustion science and its health impacts, aerosol assisted routes to materials, climate change, and the delivery of agricultural and consumer products. Estimates of the global aerosol market size suggest it will reach $84 billion/year by 2024 with products in the personal care, household, automotive, food, paints and medical sectors. Air pollution leads to an estimated 30-40,000 premature deaths each year in the UK, and aerosols transmit human and animal infections. More than 12 million people in the UK live with lung disease such as asthma, and the NHS spends ~£5 billion/year on respiratory therapies. Many of the technological, societal and health challenges central to these areas rely on core skills and knowledge of aerosol science. Despite this, an Industrial Workshop and online survey (held in preparation for this bid) highlighted the current doctoral skills gap in aerosol science in the UK. Participating industries reported that only 15% of their employees working with aerosol science at doctoral-level having received any formal training. A CDT in aerosol science, CAS, will fill this skills gap, impacting on all areas of science where core training in aerosol science is crucial.

Impact on the UK aerosol community: Aerosol scientists work across governmental policy, industrial research and innovation, and in academia. Despite the considerable overlap in training needs for researchers working in these diverse sectors, current doctoral training in aerosol science is fragmentary and ad hoc (e.g. the annual Fundamentals of Aerosol Science course delivered by the Aerosol Society). In addition, training occurs within the context of individual disciplines, reinforcing artificial subject boundaries. CAS will bring coherence to training in the core physical and engineering science of aerosols, catalysing new synergies in research, and providing a focal pont for training a multidisciplinary community of researchers. Working with the Aerosol Society, we will establish a legacy by providing training resources for future researchers through an online training portal.

Impact on industry and public-sector partners: 45 organisations have indicated they will act as CAS partners with interests in respiratory therapies, public health, materials manufacturing, consumer and agricultural products, instrumentation, emissions and environment. Establishing CAS will deliver researchers with the necessary skills to ensure the UK establishes and sustains a scientific and technical lead in their sectors. Further, it will provide an ideal mechanism for delivering Continuing Professional Development for the existing workforce practitioners. The activity of CAS is aligned to the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (e.g. through developing new healthcare technologies and new materials) and the EPSRC Prosperity Outcomes of a productive, healthy (e.g. novel treatments for respiratory disease) and resilient (e.g. adaptations to climate change, air quality) nation, with both the skilled researchers and their science naturally translating to long-lasting impact. Additionally, rigorous training in responsible innovation and ethical standards will lead to aerosol researchers able to contribute to developing: regulatory standards for medicines; policy on air quality and climate geoengineering; and regulations on manufactured nano-materials.

Public engagement: CAS will provide a focal point for engaging the public on topics in aerosol science that affect our daily lives (consumer products, materials) through to our health (inhalation therapeutics, disease transmission and impacts of pollution) and the future of our planet (geoengineering). Supported by a rigorous doctoral level training in aerosol science, this next generation of researchers will be ideally positioned to lead debates on all of these societal and technological challenges.

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