Science and Engineering: a review of our top stories
2022 was another packed year for news from the Faculty Science and Engineering. From dinosaurs, to robots and amazing students to distant stars, here are some of our highlights:
In January we kicked the year off with a colossal story. The largest ever marine reptile ever found in Britain was uncovered at the Rutland Water Nature Reserve. The giant beast known ‘colloquially’ as a ‘Sea Dragon’ is an astonishing 180 million years old and over 10 metres in length.
February saw new research about a different kind of giant – the Amazonian water lilies. The giant floating leaf structures dominate stretches of the great river and can grow to be so large that they choke the life out of other water plants by stealing their sunlight. Manchester researchers found that the distinctive plants owe their success to engineering with the unique pattern on the underside of the gargantuan leaves being the secret to their success.
In March astronomers observed exciting primordial material that may be giving birth to three planetary systems around a binary star in unprecedented detail. Bringing together three decades of study, the international group of scientists observed a pair of stars orbiting each other, to reveal that these stars are surrounded by disks of gas and dust. The findings showed that the material within the newly discovered disks could be the beginnings of new planet systems which in the future orbit the binary stars.
Closer to home, in April we saw the next phase of work begin at Jodrell Bank’s Square Kilometre Array Observatory (SKAO). The project is set to explore the evolution of the early Universe and delve into the role of some the earliest processes in fashioning galaxies like our own Milky Way, among many other science goals. To do so the University, along with its partners need to build a giant software brain to handle 197 radio telescope dishes located in South Africa and more than 130,000 low-frequency antennas in Western Australia.
This year we also launched the Energy Innovation Agency, bringing together world-leading academic, private sector and public sector expertise to help bridge the energy innovation gap and find solutions to make sure Greater Manchester can reach its carbon-neutral targets. The Agency will focus on four core challenge areas, attracting and supporting energy innovators on their journey to commercialisation.
In June the annual Great Science Share event saw over 275,000 school pupils participate in climate action and contribute to a more sustainable way of living. Now in its seventh year, the campaign has seen exponential growth which saw over 275,000 primary and secondary school pupils signed up to participate this year.
Over the summer, one student, Jesy Luyengi, stood out for his remarkable drive and was honoured for his achievements in mathematics and beyond at The House of Lords. Speaking on his award success, Jesy said: “In terms of how I feel, I feel proud and overjoyed. I am grateful for the recognition of my work and blessed to have the opportunity to attend the House of Lords and connect with fellow change-makers within the social mobility scene.
This year marked yet another unexpected use for graphene too. Scientists showed that graphene can be a kind of philosopher’s stone, allowing gold extraction from waste containing only trace amounts of gold (down to billionth of a percent).This new, seemingly magical application of graphene works quite straightforwardly: add graphene into a solution containing traces of gold and, after a few minutes, pure gold appears on graphene sheets, with no other chemicals or energy input involved. After this you can extract your pure gold by simply burning the graphene off.
September saw our biggest research story of the year, a new method to detect Parkinson’s Disease thanks to an amazing woman’s hypersensitive sense of smell. The study started from the observation of Joy Milne, who discovered that she can distinguish Parkinson’s Disease in individuals from a distinct body odour before clinical symptoms occur. This new breakthrough provides hope for a skin swab diagnosis for patients in as little as three minutes.
This year we also witnessed the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) surge back to life after three years of upgrades and maintenance. The LHC successfully approached a proton collision point for the first time since following the successful implementation of the new Vertex Locator (VELO), which was partly built in Manchester and offers a greater collision rate of protons and efficiency.
Ten brand new Manchester-based biomedical, science and engineering companies have been created over the past year by The University of Manchester Innovation Factory, producing cutting-edge technology and services which will benefit societies around the world. In addition to forming these new IP-rich businesses, the Innovation Factory, which is dedicated to driving the commercialisation of innovations and intellectual property originating from The University of Manchester (UoM), secured an impressive £6.4M of first investment into Manchester-based spinout companies as well as £4.9M in UoM licensing income.
And finally, to round of the year we have the recognised success of an intrepid little root named ‘Lyra’ built here in Manchester. The radioactive robot has been awarded ‘Best Invention’ in 2022 by Time Magazine. The robot is one example of mobile robotic platforms designed for inspecting hazardous environments and is a ground-breaking invention that can change how people live, work, and think about what is possible. Lyra was built by researchers working within the Robotics and Artificial Intelligence for Nuclear (RAIN). This year Lyra traversed an underground ventilation duct in Scotland’s Dounreay nuclear complex that had been sealed for 30 years to map radioactive materials there so humans didn’t have to.
So there we have it! Another impressive year of achievement, impact, scale and scope from the Faculty of Science and Engineering. Thanks to everyone’s hard work and endeavour to make this world-leading work possible and help solve some of the world’s greatest challenges. Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.