Global Challenges ‘Low Carbon Energy Access’ Hub


Project period: July – December 2017

GW4 community leads
University of Bath: Dr Philippe Blondel
University of Bristol: Dr Sam Williamson
Cardiff University: Dr Kersty Hobson
University of Exeter: Dr Philipp Thies

Project overview

The forthcoming RCUK GCRF Collective Fund call will invite applications for large-scale interdisciplinary research hubs. Our objective is to prepare an international team in the field of low-carbon energy and energy access, aligned with the ‘Grand Challenge’ of ‘Secure, Clean and Efficient Energy‘. The proposed hub will be GW4-based and co-produce research with ODA countries, supporting their capacity-building.

This will be achieved through three main activities:

  1. Workshop 1: Shaping the Hub. This workshop will bring together relevant, identified academic staff from GW4 and other invited universities from disciplines, including but not limited to: engineering, physical sciences, economics, law, anthropology, development studies, and human geography. It aims to further develop the Hub’s ambit, action plan, application team, and potential international partners.
  2. Visits to International Partners. These field visits, in 6 targeted ODA countries, will develop and/or build upon extant working relationships with relevant stakeholders.
  3. Workshop 2: Consolidating the Hub. This workshop will feedback from international visits to finalise the focus, aims, size, and work plan of the proposed Hub.

The exact timing of the Collective Fund call is not known, but we aim to have ready a comprehensive and coherent Hub application by the end of this project’s funding period.

Transnational transformations in social protection: concepts, instruments and contexts


Project period: September 2017 – December 2018

GW4 community leads
University of Bath: Dr Rana Jawad
University of Bristol: Dr David Gordon
Cardiff University: Dr Rod Hick
University of Exeter: Dr Paul Cloke

Project overview

Our community aims to conduct world-leading research on social protection in both the Global North and South. We adopt the ILO’s definition of social protection as comprising income security across the life-course and in relation to specific contingencies, such as unemployment, and access to healthcare.

We will advance scholarship and policy learning by harnessing complementary strengths from across the GW4 institutions; and by identifying gaps in the academic literature, which has lagged behind developments in policy and practice over the past decade. Our community has clear relevance for GCRF funding streams and members of our community have been awarded funding under this scheme to-date.

Our aim is for the investment of the Accelerator award to lead to applications for funding totalling £750,000 within one year of the award. While the Accelerator funding is for six months, it is necessary to be selective about appropriate funding streams, and this may require a slightly longer time-frame, and being more flexible in response to particular calls as-and-when they arise.

An Accelerator award would provide a step-change for our community, and will leave a legacy of ongoing collaboration across the GW4 institutions in the area of social protection in the years to come.

GW4 Software-Intensive Research


Project period: September 2017 – December 2018

GW4 community leads
University of Bath: Professor James Davenport
University of Bristol: Professor Simon McIntosh-Smith
Cardiff University: Professor Peter Knowles
University of Exeter: Dr David Acreman

Project overview

GW4 have been awarded £3M of EPSRC capital funding to purchase Isambard, an innovative high-performance computer (HPC) for use by the GW4 universities, the Met Office (where the machine is housed) and the wider UK Community to explore innovative HPC, in particular the use of HPC based on UK-designed ARM processors rather than Intel processors, which power the overwhelming majority of HPCs currently. The EPSRC award funded the capital purchase of Isambard, while the project partners committed a modest level of operating costs to fund electricity costs and staff to support the machine (0.5 FTE for software support and 0.25 FTE for systems administration per GW4 partner).

The aim of this proposal is to fund the development of a GW4 community to leverage the Isambard opportunity, and turn it into a world-class Tier 2 HPC service focused on delivering novel HPC systems.  This grant would fund community building activities around the Isambard system, including networking activities, joint proposal writing workshops, and training for staff, both technical and academic. One expected outcome would be a proposal for a GW4 doctoral training programme for the next generation of HPC researchers and research software engineers.

Photonic Biomimetics


Project period: January 2017 – August 2017

GW4 community leads
University of Bath: Professor Richard Trask
University of Bristol: Dr Heather Whitney, Dr Martin Lopez-Garcia
Cardiff University: Dr Stephen Lynch
University of Exeter: Dr Jacopo Bertololi

Project overview

Photosynthesis is probably the most important photochemical process on the planet. Researchers have long investigated how a plant absorbs light to convert it to useful chemical energy, but this key process is still not fully understood. Some photosynthetic organisms may manipulate light even more efficiently than others, using intracellular photonic structures.

This project will exploit recent results showing that seaweed develop specialised natural “opals”, 3D closely packed oil-droplet clusters, that show a strong blue iridescence. The biosynthesis and function of these opals remains unclear, but we aim to demonstrate that they increase or regulate the light available for photosynthesis, and that the dynamic nature may be controlled chemically. Photonic structures are known to enhance light capture and are therefore of interest directly for more efficient energy generation through solar capture, both through artificial technologies, but also natural ones such as algal farms and enhanced crop production.


Research Working Group on Brain Injury (RWGBI)


Project period: January 2017 – February 2018

GW4 community leads
University of Bath: Professor Keith Stokes
University of Bristol: Dr Martin Bunnage
Cardiff University: Professor Derek Jones
University of Exeter: Professor Huw Williams

Project overview

The ‘Research Working Group on Brain Injury’ (RWGBI) draws together a multidisciplinary team of highly complementary expertise, from four universities, to investigate the impact of concussive /sub-concussive blows on brain structure and function. Such research is pressing, given the ubiquity of collision sports at all levels (amateur to professional) and recent high profile cases. Most players recover from concussion in days, but some develop long-lasting symptoms with emerging evidence of long-term changes in brain structure. However, despite much focus on this topic, there have yet been no prospective studies published.

Detailed neuroimaging and cognitive testing will be completed of professional rugby players, and non-contact sports professionals, at two time points; pre- and post-season. Exposure data (medically-diagnosed concussions, tackles/collisions involved in) will be correlated with pre- and post-season MRI/cognitive data, to identify whether training and match play have any neurological or cognitive impact, and if so whether these point to risk-mitigation recommendations.

Athletes, parents, schools, coaches, and sporting governing bodies of all contact sports worldwide are concerned that repeated exposure to sports-related concussion (SRC) may reduce quality of health/life in current and retired athletes. Given the popularity of collisions sports worldwide, this is a substantial community facing issues requiring considerable attention. Concern regarding SRC has been expressed through media and government bodies, e.g. poor management of SRC in the world’s biggest sport – football – has led The Telegraph (31/05/16) to ask football authorities to commission independent research on, ‘Does playing football increase your risk of dementia and other degenerative brain diseases?’ Discussing American Football, President Barrack Obama, at a Summit on concussion, said he was unsure if he would allow his children to play given the risks. In rugby, the case of Ben Robinson, a schoolboy who died after suffering repeated SRC, led to guidelines being adopted across the regions and nations of UK & NI for improving detection and management of SRC.

Meanwhile the UK government has asked schools to “team up” with sports clubs to improve fitness of pupils – which has met a backlash from public health physicians warning of the dangers of rugby. At the professional level, regulators are responding to concerns by making changes to rules to mitigate such risk. However, there are numerous unanswered questions that require quality empirical research. The funding support through the GW4 will enable pilot data to be collected to examine our initial research question: does a single season of exposure to rugby training and match play result in any detectable MRI or cognitive change? If this is the case then multiple-seasons of exposure could lead to greater neurohealth burden and possibly poorer outcome in some individuals, but this is yet to be determined.

Towards a rapid, hand-held, biosensor-based detector for Clostridium difficile


Project period: July 2016 – March 2017

GW4 community leads
University of Bath: Dr Pedro Estrela
University of Bristol: Professor Martin Cryan, Dr Andrei Sarua
Cardiff University: Professor Adrian Porch, Professor Les Baillie, Dr Niek Buurma, Dr Simon Pope
University of Exeter:
 William Leslie Barnes
Mr Tracy Wotherspoon, Microsemi Ltd. (industrial partner)

 Initiator project – GW4 Biosensor Network 

Project overview

The main impact of our project will be in healthcare, where we propose to tackle the major societal problem of antibiotic resistance by developing a rapid detector for bacterial infection (in our case for Clostridium difficile) that will lead to its appropriate treatment. The Chief Medical Officer of England, Professor Dame Sally Davies, has stated that “Antimicrobial resistance poses a catastrophic threat. If we don’t act now, any one of us could go into hospital in 20 years for minor surgery and die because of an ordinary infection that can’t be treated by antibiotics.”

Clostridium difficile infection usually presents itself as diarrhoea and is commonly associated with previous antibiotic use, mainly affecting the elderly and debilitated. In 2012 alone there were 1,646 CDI deaths in England and Wales (0.8% of all hospital deaths). Public Health England (PHE) has stated that, “In order to continue to tackle Clostridium difficile infections, additional interventions in the community, primary care and acute Trusts will need to be identified and actioned.”

This is what our detector hopes to realise – a diagnostic bedside test with a turnaround time of 10 minutes would not delay the appropriate management of patients for both antibiotic treatment and implementation of infection control procedures.

GW4 Network on Advanced Molecular Platforms for Plastic Photonic Technologies (AMPHOTECH)


Project period: July 2016 – March 2017

GW4 community leads
University of Bath: G. Dan Pantos
University of Bristol: Sara Nunez-Sanchez, Ruth Oulton, Martin James Cryan
Cardiff University: Stephen A Lynch
University of Exeter: William Leslie Barnes

Project overview

Plastics have been explored in photonics for lighting devices and waveguides, but their use for nanophotonics is completely new. Our approach is towards a special type of plastic that could be used as a substitute for the metals used in plasmonics, the ‘traditional’ way to confine light at the nanoscale. This is achieved by doping plastics with molecules that induce metal-like properties, enabling confinement and processing of light at the nanoscale. Understanding these materials will require a multidisciplinary approach from fundamental concepts in molecular photophysics to intermolecular interactions and optical properties, all the way to a more engineering-based approach for creating new building blocks involving photonic designs that span from nanoscale to microscale

We will address the development of photonic applications for these molecular materials by combining multidisciplinary expertise and perspective from the four South West Universities (Exeter, Bristol, Cardiff and Bath) including plasmonics, nanophotonics, quantum photonics, ultrafast spectroscopy or supramolecular chemistry.

The aim of this project is to develop and study a variety of molecular materials,   exploring self-assembly techniques to fabricate novel molecular architectures. The inclusion of these architectures into photonic structures and the testing of their functionality will provide a breeding ground for new scientific directions to develop a novel cheap organic molecular platform for a low cost fully-plastic nanophotonics technology.

GW4 Network on Family, Regulation and Society

Accelerator Fund

Project period: February – August 2016

GW4 Community Leads
University of Bath: James Davenport, Ian Butler
University of Bristol: Emma Hitchings
Cardiff University:
Gillian Douglas, Leanne Smith
University of Exeter: Anne Barlow

Project overview

The GW4 Network on Family, Regulation and Society aims to find appropriate methods to investigate the new and unexplored ‘delegalised space’ in which disputes on relationship breakdown are now attempted in England and Wales following the withdrawal of legal aid and the encouragement of private settlement.

Following radical changes to the Family Justice System, the majority of couples now take a ‘DIY’ approach to managing family breakdown. Around 90% of separating parents do not use the courts to formalise child arrangements, and over two-thirds of couples who divorce each year do not pursue any financial legal remedies through the courts (MoJ, 2015). They are acting within a newly created ‘delegalised space’ of informal negotiations, mediation and online advice and support forums. Unanchored by family law principles or judicial processes, there is potential for injustice, generational conflict of interest and gender inequalities.

Understanding what is being decided and how online advice is used, presents a critical gap in the knowledge and scholarship on the resolution of family disputes. As ‘DIYers’ are a hard to access group, little is known about how they attempt to resolve immediate and vital issues.

By scoping and piloting the best methodological approach to capture the scale and nature of ‘delegalised’ activity and devise a means of monitoring and evaluating the outcomes, our network aims to develop an application for a large grant.

Developing a Novel Biological Imaging Technology for Biomedical Applications

Initiator Fund

Project period: February – May 2016

GW4 Community Leads
University of Bath: Christopher R Pudney, Ventsi Valev
University of Bristol: Dafydd Jones
University of Exeter: Christian Soeller

Project overview

We aim to tackle the most fundamental challenge in modern protein science by developing a way to see changes in protein structure and flexibility inside cells.

It is now common to be able to determine the structure of proteins. However, proteins are highly dynamic and flexible. This flexibility defines much of what they can do and is important for disease states.

There has been some progress in understanding protein flexibility, but these studies are made on the lab bench rather than on proteins inside cells. There is evidence that the environment inside cells influences the structure and flexibility of proteins. This means that the biomedical relevance of such lab bench studies are questionable as they likely do not represent the natural situation in the body.

We want to be able to see changes in protein flexibility and structure inside cells. To do this we will build on recently developed microscopy approaches and advances in optical physics to deliver a truly unique technology.

Once we have demonstrated the technology we will be able to use it to identify new drug targets and to develop more effective pharmaceuticals.

South West Quantum Technologies Project

Accelerator Fund

Project period: September 2015 – April 2016

This project has been developed from the Initiator funded Southwest Quantum Technologies Group (SWQT) community.

GW4 community leads
University of Bath:
Dr Peter Moseley
University of Bristol: Dr Ruth Oulton
Cardiff University: Professor Wolfgang Langbein
University of Exeter: Dr Janet Anders

Project overview

Quantum dots (QD) are solid-state quantum emitters, often known as “artificial atoms”. This solid-state technology has much to offer to Quantum Technologies, which aim to use quantum properties of particles to perform information processing. In order to address and control these QDs, they are embedded in micron-sized photonic circuits, which make use of the established semiconductor fabrication technology, and optical fibre interconnects offer a viable route to long-range scalable technologies.

We aim to establish a focused research group on the theme of QD quantum technologies, using the expertise of the GW4 institutions to explore enabling solutions. As a short term goal within the present project lifetime we will focus on practical solutions for QD technology.

Single photons from QD can be used to send absolutely secure messages and therefore may form the basis of future internet security. The physics we will learn from advancing the understanding of these semiconductor materials on the nanoscale will pave the way for future semiconductor devices using advanced materials technology.

We will run four separate but related work packages, two in experimental work and two in theoretical work. The final goal will be to present a blueprint of QD quantum information technology, including practical photonic designs for efficient QD photonic structures, and improved, QD-specific theoretical protocols that will allow efficient and scalable quantum information processing.