New Horizons awards image shows a city at night connected by a digital network

December 18, 2020, by Rob Ounsworth

New Horizons awards for seven transformative research projects

Seven research teams led by University of Nottingham academics have been awarded prestigious New Horizons grants by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

The grants support exciting, transformative research ideas focused on advancing knowledge and securing the pipeline of next-generation innovations.

Of the 126 projects awarded funding in the highly competitive national scheme, seven are from our University. The £25.5m awards allocate up to £200,000 per project over two years.

Professor Dame Jessica Corner, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Knowledge Exchange, said:  “This is a stunning result for all the research teams involved.

“Thanks to the creativity and diligence of colleagues in schools, faculties and Research and Innovation, we have done exceptionally well in securing new funding during the pandemic. In this case, I am delighted to thank and congratulate Research Development Manager Maria Arruda and her Research and Innovation colleagues including Joe Shearring for coordinating this outstanding achievement.”

Science Minister Amanda Solloway said: “It is critical we give the UK’s best researchers the resources to drive forward their revolutionary ideas so they can focus on identifying solutions to some of the world’s greatest challenges, such as climate change.

“This government funding will allow some of our brightest mathematicians and physicists to channel all their creative ingenuity into achieving potentially life-changing scientific breakthroughs – from mathematics informing how we save our rainforests to robotics that will help track cancer faster.”

The seven successful projects from Nottingham are:

Integrated quantum and electron microscopy for imaging and sensing at the nanoscale, led by Professor Melissa Mather of the Faculty of Engineering

Professor Melissa Mather and the School of Chemistry’s Professor Andrei Khlobystov will pioneer a new form of microscopy. Quantum effects in diamond sensors linked up with experimental platforms of electron microscopy will enable correlation of nanoscale structure and chemical composition with magnetic and electronic states of matter, directly at the single-particle level. Integration of two local probes –  spin-active sites in diamond and an electron beam – is at the core of this method.

This new measurement tool will tackle characterisation challenges at the frontier of materials science, opening the door for rational design of complex materials and enable the targeted design of quantum, spintronic, magnetic, and electronic materials and devices. Time-resolved measurements will enable the study of chemical reactions at the single-molecule level, and discovery new ways of breaking and making chemical bonds.

Object Illusion in Complex Electromagnetic Wave Environments (OBLICUE) led by Dr Gabriele Gradoni of the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering and School of Mathematical Sciences

We intend to design a system of electromagnetic mirrors that can be used to protect electronic devices from threats such as attack by electromagnetic pulse or data theft.

Cloaking technologies, which wrap wireless sensors, smartphones, or computers with a metamaterial mantle, are unreliable in closed environments, where multiple electromagnetic waves are trapped and by interacting with the object unveil its presence and exact location.

Our transformative idea is to use illusion mirrors. By manipulating electromagnetic waves interacting with an object, a system of these mirrors creates the illusion of object displacement – a reflection mask.

Our research will soon form the basis of radically new protection technology for wireless communications, with the telecommunications and defence industries.

Making way for 5G and beyond – discover more about Dr Gradoni’s research

A New Spin on Atomic Logic, led by Professor Philip Moriarty of the School of Physics and Astronomy 

Our New Horizons project will exploit the remarkable advances recently made worldwide in developing circuitry at the single electron limit. We will develop strategies to turn silicon, a non-magnetic material, into a magnet, by trapping and tuning individual electrons. This has the potential to make power-hungry ‘classical’ information processing significantly more energy efficient and sustainable.

This funding will enhance our collaboration with King’s College London, where Professor Lev Kantorovich’s group is providing the theoretical analysis to inform and guide our experimental work at Nottingham. We will also strenghten ties with Professor Bob Wolkow’s world-leading spintronics team at the University of Alberta, whose work on atomic logic gates inspired our project.

Expanding the Horizons of Imaging: Real-time Tracking of Drugs in the Brain, led by Anne McLaren Fellow Dr Rian Griffiths of the School of Pharmacy

Many drugs showing promise in preclinical analysis fail in clinical trials, due to the challenge of measuring whether it is reaching the right tissue at the correct time and for the required duration.

We will use a known brain tumour targeting drug and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) for real-time imaging of drug distributions in mice, supported by optical imaging via microscopy and validated via mass spectrometry imaging of tissue samples from the same animal. Combining these techniques will, for the first time, comprehensively showcase drug distribution in real time.

This approach will potentially improve drug analysis options for a diverse array of diseases.

As an Anne McLaren Fellow and early career researcher, I am especially delighted to be recognised by such a prestigious scheme as New Horizons, and it is also a great reflection on the University’s fellowship schemes, as my co-investigator Dr Pete Harvey is a Nottingham Research Fellow based within the Precision Imaging Beacon, while another member of our team, Dr Ruman Rahman is a former Nottingham fellow and now Associate Professor of Molecular Neuro-Oncology.

Organic Magnet Mediated Spintronic Heat-Energy Exchange led  by Professor Simon Woodward of the School of Chemistry

At least 20% of all the power used globally is wasted. The heat generated by buildings, industrial processes and the environment is dissipated and recovery of even 1% of this unused energy could be provide the equivalent of all energy used in the UK over a year.

Thermoelectric (TE) devices, which allow the direct conversion of heat into electrical power without any moving parts, have the potential to transform how this waste heat is harvested and recovered. As global temperatures rise, the reverse application of this technology also offers more efficient cooling systems, further reducing energy usage and CO2 emissions.

Thermoelectric devices, however, traditionally, have poor efficiencies and are made from rare elements, which are both expensive and unsustainable.  Our multi-discipline Chemistry-Physics team proposes a new approach to extracting waste heat energy using sustainable materials, which will support real-world, commercially viable applications of thermoelectric technologies.

A New Class Of Hybrid Polyoxometalate Catalysts For C-H Functionalisation, led by Professor Hon Lam of the School of Chemistry.

A major goal of chemical synthesis is to manipulate the carbon-hydrogen bonds in organic compounds to make more complex products. However, this is a highly challenging. The goal of this research, with co-investigator Dr Graham Newton of the School of Chemistry, is to develop new types of hybrid inorganic-organic catalysts to promote chemical reactions more efficiently and precisely.

This could provide new tools to streamline the synthesis of important molecules required by society, such as new pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals and new functional materials.

White Matter Networks, led by Professor Stephen Coombes of the School of Mathematical Sciences

Myelin is a fatty substance that protects nerve fibres in the brain, optic nerves and spinal cord. When it is damaged is causes neurological problems and is associated with diseases such as multiple sclerosis and more recently with psychiatric disorders including depression and schizophrenia. Yet this white matter, which comprises half of the human brain, has receive little attention in theoretical models of neural network function. Applied mathematics, and specifically the combination of nonlinear dynamics, network science, and computational learning theory, is a powerful tool that will be used to redress this imbalance.

The application of this mathematical work to the human brain will be accelerated by the use of white matter data direct from the Human Connectome Project.  In combination with the formulation of myelin plasticity rules, it will allow in silico network studies for the design of new transcranial magnetic stimulation protocols for the treatment of mental health conditions.

This funding will bring together researchers from Mathematical Sciences (Stephen Coombes, Professor of Applied Mathematics), the Sir Peter Mansfield Imaging Centre (Stamatios Sotiropoulos, Associate Professor of Computational Neuroimaging), and Psychology (Stephen Jackson, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience) to work with a post-doctoral fellow in a highly interdisciplinary setting to advance knowledge in the fields of network brain science and computational psychiatry.


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