|Universities can produce skilled people to drive the UK economy|
| ||Funding award: it allowed the Centre for Quantum Photonics, Bristol, to translate research into real technologies. Image: Bristol University|
Pioneering scientific research and innovative application of discoveries can help add the necessary impetus for the economic recovery of the United Kingdom.
That is the considered view of Professor Eric Thomas of Bristol University that recently joined the UK's Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council's group of framework universities.
He continued: "Technologies are driven out of universities and into the 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."
The Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is involved in more than 20 areas of expertise at Bristol, western England and has funded six centres for doctoral training.
"The 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," said its chief executive, David Delpy.
"There has never been a more pressing imperative for the academic community to stimulate new thinking and new applications."
Some of the groundbreaking research projects being carried out at Bristol range from using photonics to develop quantum computers that 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 used a challenging engineering award of 1.5 million pounds to set up the Centre for Quantum Photonics at Bristol several years ago. He 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," he added.
"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," said Professor O'Brien.
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; the research team is also studying examples of complex natural structures such as the skeletons of deep-sea silica sponge that is being used to inspire future aircraft fuselage design.
Professor Paul Weaver, director of the Advanced Composites Centre for Innovation & Science's Doctoral Training Centre, said: "The work we have been doing in cooperation with sponsors would not have gone ahead had it not been for the EPSRC Doctoral Training Centre. 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 sky research."
The 12 universities with which EPSRC currently has framework agreements receive more than 50 per cent of the 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 added: "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 & Physical Sciences Research Council is the UK's main agency for funding research in its title's fields, investing about 800m pounds a year
Bristol University is consistently ranked among the leaders in UK higher education. Research-intensive and with an international reputation for quality and innovation, the university has 17,000 students from more than 100 countries, and more than 5,500 staff.
University of Bristol