New Horizons for research through new adventurous research projects

More than 100 transformative projects have been funded through a ground-breaking new programme designed to support adventurous, high-risk research including at The University of Manchester.

Projects funded through the New Horizons programme include mathematical models to determine the best way to save the Amazon rainforest; the tools that tiny robots need to detect bowel lesions that could be signs of cancer; and systems of electromagnetic mirrors to protect electronic devices such as smartphones from threats.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), has allocated almost £25.5 million of funding to 126 adventurous projects in the mathematical and physical sciences through this pilot programme.

Dr Alexander Golovanov, from the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology and Department of Chemistry, will undertake a unique project to combine Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy applications with sample illumination.

Nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy is one of the most powerful and universal techniques in chemistry, physics and life sciences to study the properties and structure of matter. NMR spectral parameters are sensitive to chemical and 3D structure of molecules present in the samples, as well as their local environment.

NMR is routinely used for confirming the identity of molecular structures, quality and purity analysis, chemical reaction monitoring, as well as monitoring the changes in conformation and molecular dynamics. The project aims at developing tools for combining illumination with NMR experiments, so that the whole power of NMR can be applied to studies of photochemical and photoenzymatic systems.

The projects announced today illustrate the high levels of creativity and inventiveness across the mathematical and physical sciences, and will no doubt stimulate breakthroughs in knowledge that will lead to longer-term innovations with societal impact.
EPSRC Executive Chair, Professor Dame Lynn Gladden

Dr Golovanov, who leads this research, said: “The ability to deliver significant amount of light, at any wavelength, within extremely constrained geometry of the NMR instruments allows us to look in real time at any phototransformations as they happen in front of our eyes in the NMR tube. It can be anything – photoreactions, photoenzymes, photo-controlled conformational switches or nano-machines – anything”.

New Horizons forms part of UKRI’s wider Reforming our Business agenda to simplify and streamline processes and practice across the organisation.

Elsewhere at The University of Manchester, Professor Catherine Powell intends to develop new algorithms for forward uncertainty quantification, which allows us to understand how uncertain inputs in mathematical models affects predictions of outcomes of interest. This could have a transformative effect on a wide range of engineering applications involving physics-based models.

EPSRC’s 2019 Delivery Plan highlighted the desire to continue promoting excellence in research by investing in new approaches to delivery that are optimised to the specific researcher base and research outputs desired.

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.”

EPSRC Executive Chair, Professor Dame Lynn Gladden, said: “New Horizons reflects EPSRC’s commitment to funding creative, transformative and ambitious new ideas across our portfolio. In this pilot, we have funded more than 100 projects in the mathematical and physical sciences.

“The scheme also piloted a new, simplified applications process designed to minimise the administrative burden of submitting grant applications, thereby enabling researchers to focus on developing their research ideas.

“The call for proposals attracted a very positive response in terms of both the number and quality of applications and we look forward to exploring how to include the approaches taken through New Horizons in further areas of our portfolio.”

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