Green light to tackle science and engineering challenges

Seven new research programmes that aim to tackle some of the UK’s major science and engineering challenges have been given the green light by the Universities and Science Minister, Jo Johnson.

Academics, industrialists and policy makers will address issues such as:

  • how new ways of using robotics and autonomous systems can restore the balance between engineered and natural systems in the cities of the future
  • how to understand the nature of new meta-materials and advanced materials for use in electronic systems and the manufacture of new devices
  • how to understand the complexity and interconnectedness of systems, identify critical and vulnerable dependencies, prevent their failure and improve their resilience and reliability.

Funded by £21 million from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the research consortia will involve nineteen UK universities and eighty partners. They will begin work in December and are supported by an additional £11 million investment from industry to bring the total level of support to £32 million.

Synthesising 3D Metamaterials

The University of Oxford’s Department of Engineering Science is part of the ‘SYnthesizing 3D METAmaterials for Radio Frequency, microwave and THz applications’ (SYMETA) research collaboration, which will be led by Loughborough University and also includes the Universities of Exeter, Oxford, Sheffield, and Queen Mary University London.

The projects were developed in response to a call, Towards Engineering Grand Challenges: Network and Multidisciplinary Research Consortia, from EPSRC in early 2015 which listed four Engineering Grand Challenges. These were developed at a special two-day event in 2014 involving academics from many disciplines, representatives from industry and government.

Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson said: "As a One Nation Government we are investing in world-class science and engineering across our country. We want the UK to be the best place in Europe to innovate and this £21 million investment will bring together the nation’s researchers to address some of the most pressing engineering challenges we face. From ground-breaking work with robotics to advanced air-flow simulators, this investment will help tackle our aging water infrastructure and air pollution in cities to improve the lives of millions of people around the world."

Professor Philip Nelson, EPSRC's Chief Executive, said: "Economic and political forces will shape the world of the future but these are often led and influenced by advances in science and engineering. The projects announced today will help us plan and maintain our cities, reduce our energy consumption and develop new materials, innovative devices and technology. The UK has world-leading academic talent to enlist in the challenges we face as a country and as a species. Investing in research is investing in the UK's future."

The SYMETA consortium aims to radically evolve the development of high frequency circuits for systems and how these are manufactured. Using advanced materials research to understand how meta-materials behave and can be used for future electronic engineering purposes. Understanding the behaviour of the materials at the atomic scale will allow the creation of new types of circuits or transmission lines which are the bedrock of our technology driven economy. A more rationale and sustainable use of materials will reduce waste, timescales and most importantly cost of the manufacturing processes involved.

Professor Chris Stevens from Oxford University’s Department of Engineering Science said: “Metamaterials are a really exciting area for electromagnetic research and offer lots of potential for new devices and techniques. Our project will develop advanced RF systems that will enable lower power operation and greater bandwidth for mobile communications (more battery life for your mobile phone) and new type of medical diagnostics exploiting electromagnetic signals in the near field."

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