Universities can provide horsepower to UK’s growth drive
23 March 2012
Pioneering scientific research and innovative application of discoveries can help add the necessary traction for the UK’s economic recovery according to Professor Eric Thomas, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bristol, the most recent institution to join the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s (EPSRC) group of framework universities.
Professor Thomas, describing the role universities can play in the drive for growth in a short film posted today on EPSRC's website, said: "Technologies are driven out of universities and into the economy. I am absolutely clear that this is a knowledge economy, I am absolutely clear that what is needed is high added value, intellectual, creative skills. We are producing the skilled people that this economy needs."
David Delpy, EPSRC's Chief Executive, said: "EPSRC is working very closely with its framework and strategic partner universities to support research projects and researchers that are innovative, internationally excellent and have impact both scientifically and strategically. There has never been a more pressing imperative for the academic community to stimulate new thinking and new applications."
The new film highlights some of the groundbreaking research projects being carried out at Bristol. They range from, using photonics to develop quantum computers which could increase computing speeds a thousand fold to investigating the complex chemistry of carbohydrates on the surface of cells and their role in diseases such as cancer and cystic fibrosis.
Professor Jeremy O’Brien, who used a £1.5 million EPSRC Challenging Engineering Award to set up the Centre for Quantum Photonics at Bristol several years ago, said: "The EPSRC award has allowed us to establish a research centre that is specifically focused on translating research into real technologies. For example, in collaboration with a mobile phone manufacturer we have patented and prototyped a system that could enable people to use their mobile phones to securely communicate with a bank teller machine, which could generate a secure key to use later to make a purchase.
"The potential of these technologies is extremely far reaching; there have been predictions about a second quantum revolution in this century where these technologies become all pervasive. If we had a secure system in all mobile phones the economic impact of that could be tremendous. At the other end of the scale, in terms of being able to simulate quantum systems, this can lead us to designing new pharmaceuticals, new materials or artificial photosynthesis systems."
The potential for the university to link with business partners is high as well, for instance the EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Composites has been looking into new materials and structures that will respond to their environments and be multifunctional.
Researchers are working with wind turbine manufacturer Vestas to develop blades that are more efficient and the team are also studying examples of complex natural structures such as the skeletons of deep-sea silica sponge which is being used to inspire future aircraft fuselage design.
Professor Paul Weaver, Director of the Advanced Composites Centre for Innovation and Science (ACCIS)’s Centre for Doctoral Training, said: "The work we have been doing in co-operation with sponsors would not have gone ahead had it not been for the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training. The grants from EPSRC have helped us introduce students with a science or mathematics background to core engineering skills. The cohorts go on to work on projects that have direct links to partners as well as blue skies research."
The 12 universities with which EPSRC currently has framework agreements receive over 50 per cent of EPSRC's funding. The next 11 universities in terms of research funding drawn from EPSRC hold a further 30 per cent of the portfolio.
Professor Thomas said: "The strength of being a framework university is that it establishes an environment in which the university can plan investments in engineering and physical sciences on the basis that EPSRC is a strategic partner in this venture."
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK’s main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences. EPSRC invests around £800m a year in research and postgraduate training, to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change. The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone’s health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC works alongside other Research Councils with responsibility for other areas of research. The Research Councils work collectively on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK.