Spotlight on Exhibitor – University of Central Lancashire (UCLan)

What technologies or materials does UCLan specialise in?

UCLan can’t really be said to ‘specialize’ in one particular technology/material as our researchers are creating and assessing materials for applications as diverse as our many departments. Our materials link the disciplines of Anthropology, Biology, Chemistry, Computing, Engineering, Environmental Science, Fire, Forensics, Maths, and Physics. Though we don’t have a ‘specific’ Materials department, our researchers are active in many areas of Materials Science and this crosslinking the disciplines approach was the inspiration for the Centre for Materials Science (CMS). The CMS is an interdisciplinary research centre that provides a focus for the study of materials. Research themes include: Novel, Nano, Porous, Nuclear, Magnetic, Composite, Organic and Polymers materials. The CMS led to a number of specific materials groups springing up. These groups are: The Functional Materials Group, The Nano Materials Group, The Magnetic Materials Group, the Biological Materials Group, the Nano Biological Materials Group. The Nano Physics Research Group and the newly formed Smart Materials Group. Thus, the departments work together (along with the world famous Jeremiah Horrocks Institute) under these overlapping umbrellas. Our recent focus on Innovation (alongside teaching and research) led to the development of the £32 million Engineering Innovation Centre (EIC). The EIC is a state-of-the-art facility that will be operational by September 2019 (and is part of UCLan’s £200 million Masterplan). 

What are the benefits of your technologies or materials?

The benefits are vast and far-reaching. UCLan researchers are creating, developing, assessing and analysing the following materials: porous, organometallic, catalytic, and nuclear/lipid, magnetic superparamagnetic, composite, quantum dot, crystalline, superconducting, patterned graphene, Nano thin film and Nano composite materials. The materials are being used for or are intended for use in: magnetic bio-separation, sensing, drug delivery, catalysis, nuclear waste remediation, volatile organic chemical adsorption, catalytic conversion, Greenhouse gas capture, toxic industrial chemical clean-up, bio decomposition sensing for forensic purposes, photo-antimicrobial wound dressings, chemotherapy, radioactive fluid capture for nuclear waste recovery, molecular imprinting, fire retardation, food bio-sensing, drug design, disease diagnosis and modular electronics. So young/old, sick/healthy, everyone in society will reap the benefits of these materials. 

What will you be showcasing at The Advanced Materials Show?

That is actually quite a difficult question, mainly because of the sheer breath and diversity of our work in the area Advanced Materials. Some of the materials are mentioned below (in response to the questions) but.., just because we haven’t mentioned/showcased a material doesn’t necessarily mean we are not working on it/or wouldn’t be prepared to work on it with the right student or collaborator. Really we’d just be happy to showcase the fact that the lack of a specific Materials department doesn’t mean the lack of materials research. Materials are being created/developed at UCLan for purposes/applications most people would never imagine. We’d like Masters/Ph.D students, or potential collaborators, to approach us with their ideas/suggestions for a course of study or possible collaboration.What has been your organisation’s biggest achievement in 2018/19?We are fast becoming a globally recognised university. That is in part due to the work of Anna Stec and Richard Hull (on the Grenfell Tower fire). What people don’t realise is Anna and Richard (along with Artur Witkowski – a statistician/pyrolysis modeler) are now looking to develop non-toxic, inexpensive, fire retardant materials to prevent such fires reoccurring. Anna Stec is using her polymers/fire chemistry/toxicants knowledge to produce non-toxic flame/fire retardant materials for use as new building materials. Richard Hull is currently investigating the suitability of nanocomposite synthetic fibres for a range of fire retardant plastics and cable sheathing. Also, UCLan’s space and aerospace engineering team sent a graphene-enhanced carbon fibre material into near space, to assess how this material reacts in extreme conditions/determine how graphene can be utilised in space. But remember, these are just 2 of the projects that recently hit the headlines, researchers are constantly working on novel materials and investigating materials for new applications/purposes. 

What would surprise people about your work and applications with advanced materials?

The sheer extent of our research and applications. Just one type of material (if tailored correctly) can have a multitude of applications. For instance: Susan H Jones has patents (granted and pending) for producing channelled, high fluid transport zeolite monoliths that can be used in Greenhouse gas capture/catalytic conversion. But, these materials can also be used for ion exchange, leading to applications such as: heavy/toxic/radioactive metal clean-up of waste waters as well as clean-up of toxic/problem gases. As one version of the material is a biomarker metabolic sieve, Susan approached Lancashire Clinical Research Facility (NIHR) and this led to a NHS/UCLan pilot study to assess these materials in Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis. Karen Syres is currently investigated ionic liquid surfaces and their interaction with gas molecules for carbon capture applications. These materials can also be used for catalysis and as lubricants in batteries and photovoltaic devices. Tim Mercer is developing (with Shane O’Hehir) an ‘in situ’ AC magnetometer to measure hysteresis of superparamagnetic nanoparticles in tumour cell apoptosis. Along with biomedical, other applications of these magnetic nanoparticle materials include decontamination and catalysis. 

What innovations and new product applications are you currently working on?

Where do I start? There are just so many! Joe Smerdon is currently working on organic semiconductors, graphene precursor molecules, made to measure graphene and molecular Schottky diodes for use in photovoltaics and catalysis. Sub Reddy creates molecularly imprinted polymers for biomolecular recognition and is developing smart biomimetic materials for use in disease diagnostics. Monika Gamza specialises in materials for both fundamental research and energy applications. She studies quantum criticality in d-electron systems and investigates electronic correlation effects in narrow gap insulators. Chandrashekhar V. Kulkarni’s interests include self-assembly, lipid nanostructures, hybrid nanomaterials and biomaterials. Brett Patterson is currently developing a temperature sensor for medical diagnostics. Rob Smith works in the areas of biosensors, wound chemotherapy and optical imaging for medical applications and also creates antimicrobial dressings. Serban Lepadatu specializes in thin film magnetism/novel magnetic multilayer devices – that will contribute to understanding magnetism at the nanoscale. He is also establishing materials systems for new spintronic devices. Sergey Zlatogorsky works with organometallic, biomimetic catalysis materials and their applications. Tapas Sen focuses on nanomaterials and their applications in separation science, drug delivery, industrial catalysis and bio-sensors. Jenny Readman works predominately with microporous materials (zeolites, titanium silicates, metal phosphates) for a multitude of catalytic/molecular sieve purposes. Paul Freeman is developing high temperature superconducting materials from quantum magnets and superconductors (zero electrical resistance materials – when cooled). To name but a few! 

What is the most unique application you have seen?

Seriously, I’m not exaggerating when I say there are many! To pick just three: Antonios Keralakis recently obtained a patent for production of nanoparticulate fingerprinting powders. This unique application was born out of his interest in colloids, biomaterials, smart coatings and nanostructured materials for energy and sustainability! Pat Randolphe-Quinney and Phil Houldsworth are working on bio-decomposition sensor materials for use in identifying unmarked graves! A quick ‘what material would be useful to help you with your research?’ comment sparked Rachel Cunliffe’s interest in developing artificial human bone materials (3D printable bone proxy collagen matrices that can be seeded with mineral) for use in trauma analysis. Rachel wishes to use these proxies to help her identify shatter patterns of human remains. 

UCLan are exhibiting at the Advanced Materials Show on stand 1117. What can visitors expect from your stand?

Whilst trying to inform the public about UCLan materials and our specific research in advanced materials we also want to make the stand interactive and fun! To that end we hope to have some interactive exhibits and Virtual Reality headsets along with leaflets and information pertinent to: the University of Central Lancashire as a whole, the £200 million Masterplan, the £32 million Engineering Innovation Centre (EIC) and the specific departments who funded this stand (School of Forensic and Applied Sciences (SFAS) and the School of Computing and Physical Sciences SCPS)). But, most importantly, visitors will find details of our materials, projects, programmes and the brilliant, accomplished and willing academics responsible for the research (who are happy to supervise/support Masters/PhD’s in their area of expertise, and engage/collaborate with industrial/business representatives). 

You (UCLan) have won awards for your partnerships/for working with other global leading organisations and universities. What partnership are you most proud of?

UCLan is going from strength to strength. We are winning awards left, right and centre! We recently won two trophies at the 2019 Educate North Awards. The first for Business/Industry Collaboration – University Sector, the second for the Research Project of the Year. In addition, a UCLan graduate won the 2019 University Entrepreneurs Grant. We strongly believe in establishing collaborative partnerships and as a result we continue to grow. What sets UCLan apart is our strong reputation for applied business research, entrepreneurship, innovation and bringing academic excellence to life to ensure we maintain that competitive edge. As mentioned, the CMS recently expanded into new purpose-built labs that includes a well-equipped analytical instruments suite and our Engineering Innovation Centre (EIC) was recently completed ready for September 2019. Its aim is to exploit the location of the University at the centre of one of the most intense engineering and manufacturing areas in the UK and establish UCLan as a world leader in engineering and research innovation. Other recent collaboration of note are: The City-zen Roadshow (a €22 million EU funded project) that brings internationally celebrated experts in architecture, technology and environmental sustainability together with local residents to explore new living ideas. A collaboration between UCLan and the NGI (University of Manchester’s National Graphene Institute) which resulted in the world’s first public flight of an unmanned aircraft part skinned in graphene. The Civic Drone Centre collaboration with UCLan’s Media Innovation Studio. The Virtek Vision International Inc. (Canada)/UCLan collaborations on projects related to the development of skills, methods and technologies used in real-world manufacturing applications. UCLan will also collaborate/consult on key nuclear issues In partnership with campuses in Preston, Burnley, West Cumbria, and partner institutions in Gloucestershire and the south coast of England to establish a world-leading research capability to support Government and Industry in relation to: Nuclear Regulation, Safety, Security, Safeguards and Materials (including separation science, decontamination and engineering materials) sponsored by the National Nuclear Laboratory and EPSRC. Harry Eccles has projects in this area that revolve around decontamination.Last but not least Lancashire Police, the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Lancashire and UCLan recently established the Forensic Academy Strategic Alliance, aimed at providing opportunities in forensic-related studies i.e. research projects to develop techniques within forensic and criminal investigation. This resulted in the creation of the Lancashire Forensic Science Academy (the first of its kind in the UK). 

What excites you most about the advanced materials industry? What will you be looking out for yourselves at The Advanced Materials Show 2019?

Everything about the advanced materials industry excites us! It is this industry/production of these materials that is the future. Take for instance just one area: Nano and thin films. Not only have they (often) completely different properties to the bulk material but they are also MUCH cheaper to produce. They are often less toxic and better for the environment due to the fact that much less of the toxic precursor chemicals is needed to synthesis them (compared to bulk materials). Add to this that they are becoming increasing useful in environmental, biomedical, disease diagnosis, antimicrobial, engineering and greenhouse gas/toxic industrial chemical capture application and it is these materials that are likely to save lives and the planet! I’m keen to find out what excites others in this field. What new materials they are interested in/working on. I remember being at one of the very first microwave technology and its uses in research presentations (in 2007) and now every lab has a microwave. We’ll be looking out for potential collaborators and/or students – so if that is you? come and find us were are on Stand 1117. You well receive a very warm welcome!