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School of Chemical Engineering and Analytical Science

Female researcher in white lab coat peering down microscope

Advanced functional materials and analytical science

Our research develops, characterises and analyses a vast array of advanced functional materials.

These materials range from responsive biomaterials for regenerative medicine, crystal growth and characterisation for the pharmaceutical industry, spectroscopic and optical characterisation of materials in the nuclear industry, gas sensing and biomolecular lab-on-a-chip detection and biomedical diagnostics.

The foundation of all our research is to understand and control the molecular behaviour and properties of the advanced functional materials, to design products with new functionality and unravel the chemical pathways underpinning their production.

Experimentation is combined with modelling to tackle the high complexity of the target products and applications. We also develop non-destructive testing, laser and optical fibre measurements, and laser modification of materials for optical and electronic devices and components. Research development and innovation in our group has impacted a vast range of industries and both materials and methodologies are being translated into the clinic.

A few of these areas are given below:

Biomaterials

Our research in this area aims to elucidate the general rules underlying molecular design and self-assembly of polymer, peptide and protein-based materials in both bulk phase and at interfaces. The molecular building block-structure-property-processing relationships revealed in our work are being used to construct advanced materials whose structure and consequent function will be sensitive to desired environmental cues.

Applications include the design of product formulations with targeted and temporal drug delivery performance, the modification of implant surfaces for enhancing cell attachment and proliferation, or three-dimensional scaffolds for hosting or delivering cells for tissue regeneration. We use multidisciplinary approaches and regularly collaborate bioengineers, material scientists, chemists, surgeons and biologists.

Crystal chemistry particle process engineering

Research in this area seeks to connect the fundamentals of molecular and crystal structure with product properties and processing, impacting many central technological processes, such as crystallisation, consumer product formulation and industrial scale-up. This includes studying the importance of molecular interactions and minor impurities, nucleation and growth of molecular crystals from liquid phase, the possibility of controlling crystal structure (polymorphism), and the impact of particle processing methods. Applications are far-reaching, with direct relevance both to process design and product formulation of drugs, agrochemicals and foods.

Medical diagnostics

Our research in this area exploits the latest developments in chemical spectroscopy (mainly infrared and Raman spectroscopy), chemical sensing, and microfluidic lab-on-a-chip technologies. It then applies them to bio and biomedical problems. In particular we're interested in developing automated methods of analysing biopsy samples to aid disease diagnosis.

We work closely with clinical partners at the Christie Hospital and the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute where we focus on the diagnosis of two of the most common forms of cancer: prostate and breast. We are also using vibrational spectroscopy to study drug-cell interactions and we apply microfluidics to new systems for high-throughput analysis, which has applications in drug discovery and stem cell research.

Sensors

Research in sensors covers a range of applications, including sensors for monitoring pH, moisture, turbidity of suspended solids, refractive index and particle scattering. Applications for these systems are varied and include process monitoring for water treatment, optimisation of jet engine design, and biofouling and contamination in water cooling systems.

One other area of sensing technology is the development of wearable and smart floor sensors. These are designed to measure movement, gait, balance, locus and other biometrics that can be used for medical monitoring and diagnosis of diseases and injuries that affect human movement.

Nuclear materials

The main interest in this area is obtaining molecular understanding of radionuclide behaviour in processes that are relevant to the nuclear fuel cycle. This understanding can be used to improve currently established methods or develop novel procedures for the reprocessing, treatment and/or disposal of spent nuclear fuel and residues, and assist in the decommissioning of nuclear sites.