EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Inorganic Chemistry for Future Manufacturing (OxICFM)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Oxford Chemistry

Abstract

The OxICFM CDT, centred in Oxford University's Department of Chemistry, and involving eight key industrial stakeholders, two STFC national facilities, and faculty from Oxford Materials, Physics and Engineering seeks to address a UK-wide need for the training of doctoral scientists in the synthesis of inorganic materials relevant to the future prosperity of the manufacturing sector. Chemical synthesis is a key enabling scientific discipline that allows humanity to maintain and improve its quality of life. Within the UK, the EPSRC's own data show that the chemical/chemistry-using sectors contributed a total of £258B in value-added in 2007 (21% of UK GDP), and supported over 6 million UK jobs. Manufacturing processes and future materials are highlighted as key technologies in the recent UK Industrial Strategy green paper, and the long-term skills demand for scientists to develop new materials and nanotechnology was highlighted in the UK Government's 2013 Foresight report. The EPSRC's prioritisation in the area is highlighted by (among other things) the recent Future Manufacturing Hubs call.

Future advances in societally critical areas such as petrochemical utilisation, battery technologies, semiconductors, smart materials, catalysts for chemical manufacturing, carbon capture, solar conversion and water supply/agro-chemicals are all underpinned by the ability to design and make chemical compounds and materials - to order - with custom designed properties. As an example, many technological developments in the last 30 years would not have been possible without Goodenough's fundamental work (carried out in Oxford) leading to the development of cathode materials for rechargeable lithium batteries - and ultimately to a $30B global industry currently growing at 10% per annum. We will exploit the uniquely broad range of excellence, innovation and multi-disciplinarity offered at Oxford by a critical mass of world-class researchers in this area (40+ faculty), to deliver a rigrous, challenging and relevant CDT programme in what is an under-represented area of graduate training. We believe that such a programme is not only timely and complementary to existing EPSRC CDT provision, but will address the national need for resilience, growth and innovation in key manufacturing sectors.

The 'art and craft' of inorganic synthesis as applied to manufacturing is necessarily extremely diverse. OxICFM will exploit a cohort model allied to training incorporating faculty-, industry- and peer-led components, to deliver scientists (i) with a broad spectrum training across the interface between inorganic synthesis and manufacturing, and (ii) with in-depth expertise in one specific stream (molecular, nano-scale or extended materials). This model is driven by a strong end-user pull, including a desire expressed on numerous occasions by industrial partners, to recruit doctoral graduates who not only have depth of expertise in one area, but who can also apply themselves to a broad spectrum of inter-disciplinary challenges in manufacturing related synthesis with greater effectiveness than 'standard' doctoral graduates. As expressed by our SME partners and highlighted in Econic's letter of support:

'(we do) not need lots more chemistry (post)graduates, we needed better prepared ones who could understand and adapt to working in industry more readily. I see a clear connection with the CDT intent and our own, and other scaling chemical businesses, needs.'

With this clear vision in mind, a central component of our approach is the integration of industry-led training from both larger partner companies and SMEs in order to promote a holistic understanding of cross-scale issues relating to different business models. We stress that our aim is not to add significantly to total post-graduate numbers in Oxford Chemistry, but rather to provide a different training package to those currently available.

Planned Impact

The primary impact of the OxICFM CDT will be the highly-trained world-class scientists that it delivers. This impact will encompass both the short term (during their doctoral studies), the medium term (subsequent employment) and ultimately the longer timescale defined by their future careers and consequent impact on science, engineering and policy in the UK.

The impact of OxICFM students during their doctoral studies will be measured by the culture change in graduate training that the Centre brings about - in working at the interface between inorganic synthesis and manufacturing, and fostering cross-sector industry/academia working practices. By embedding not only from larger companies, but also SMEs, we have developed a training regime that has broader relevance across the sector, and the potential for building bridges by fostering new collaborations spanning enormous diversity in scientific focus and scale. Moreover, at a broader level, OxICFM offers to play a unique role as a major focus (and advocate) for manufacturing engagement with academic inorganic synthetic science in the UK.

From a scientific perspective, OxICFM will be uniquely able to offer a broad training programme incorporating innovative and challenging collaborative projects spanning all aspects of fundamental and applied inorganic synthesis, both molecular and materials based (40+ faculty). These will address key challenges in areas such as energy provision/storage, catalysis, and resource provision/renewal necessary to enhance the capability and durability of UK plc in the medium term. To give some idea of perspective, the output from previous CDTs in Oxford's MPLS Division include two start-up companies and in excess of 30 patents.

It is not only in the industrial and scientific realms that students will have impact during their timeframe of their doctorate. Part of the training programme will be in public engagement: team-based challenges in resource development/training and outreach exercises/implementation will form part of the annual summer school. These in turn will constitute a key part of the impact derived from the CDT by its engagement with the public - both face-to-face and through electronic/web-based media. As the centre matures, our aspiration is that our students - from diverse backgrounds - will act as ambassadors for the programme and promote even higher levels of inclusion from all parts of society.

For our partners, and businesses both large and small in the manufacturing sector, it will be our students who are considered the ultimate output of the OxICFM CDT. Our programme has been shaped by the need of such companies (frequently expressed in preliminary discussions) to recruit doctoral graduates who can apply themselves to a broad spectrum of multi-disciplinary challenges in manufacturing-related synthesis. OxICFM's cohort-based training programme integrates significant industry-led training components and has been designed to deliver a much broader skill set than standard PhD schemes. The current lack of CDT training at the interface of inorganic chemistry and manufacturing (and the relevance of inorganic molecules/materials to numerous industrial sectors) heightens the need for - and the potential impact of - the OxICFM CDT. Our students will represent a tangible and valuable asset to meet the long-term skills demand for scientists to develop new materials and nanotechnology identified in the UK Government's 2013 Foresight report.

In the longer term, the broad and relevant training delivered by OxICFM, and the uniquely wide perspective of the manufacturing sector it will deliver, will allow our graduates to obtain (and thrive in) positions of significant responsibility in industry and in research facilities/institutes. Ultimately we believe that many will go on to be future research leaders, driving innovation and changing research culture, and thereby making a lasting contribution to the UK economy.

Publications

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