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Sean Rigby
Dr Sean Rigby
Alexei Lapkin
Dr Alexei Lapkin

Press Release - 04 April 2005

New initiative to bring chemists and engineers together

A new initiative to bring chemists and chemical engineers together has led to grants of over £150,000 being awarded to staff at the University of Bath. Four chemists and chemical engineers took part in an innovative national scheme to bring together the two disciplines, which are traditionally separate in UK universities, though not in the rest of the world nor in UK industry.

The four were part of a group of 34 young academics and industrialists from the two disciplines who met at a hotel in November last year in order to get to know each other’s research areas and formulate new ideas and research proposals in teams that mixed the two disciplines. The project was organised and funded by the EPSRC.

As a result of their proposals, the teams involving the University of Bath staff won grants worth £154,176 in the following areas:

Under this scheme the Bath academics will have an opportunity to take several breaks from their usual duties over the next two years to work closely with the colleagues from their neighbouring scientific disciplines in other universities. In return, Bath will play host to eight academics from UK universities which are taking part in the partner projects.

Dr Sean Rigby of the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Bath, will spend three months working with two chemists at the University of East Anglia and another chemical engineer from the University of Sheffield.

His project focuses on aziridines, small reactive molecules which are very useful building blocks for making a wide variety of important compounds, such as medicines and functional materials. Aziridines cannot be synthesised on a large scale as this process needs expensive, toxic or uncontrollable materials.

Dr Rigby will work on methods of making the process of aziridination cheap and non-toxic by using chemicals known as heterogeneous organocatalysts.

Dr Alexei Lapkin, of the Department of Chemical Engineering, will spend six months working with a chemist at the University of Glasgow and a chemical engineer at the University of Leeds.

His project is to develop a new ‘smart’ technology for manufacturing chemicals. He is looking at using very sensitive materials that can tell when chemical reactions are not proceeding efficiently in small reactors.

Dr Chris Frost, of the Department of Chemistry, will be involved in two separate projects working with chemical engineers at the Universities of Birmingham and Nottingham. One project will focus on developing a reactor that will be able to quickly identify the best conditions for performing a desired chemical reaction. The other project will explore the use of water at or near a “super critical” state (where it is under high pressure and temperature) as an alternative to solvents for organic synthesis. Both projects should provide new, efficient ways of making molecules for medicinal applications.

Apart from these projects, there is also growing collaboration between Bath chemists and engineers. Dr Pawel Plucinski (Chemical Engineering) and Dr Gareth Price and Dr Chris Frost (Chemistry) recently won a grant on developing magnetic nanoparticles. Dr Rigby is working with chemists Dr Andy Burrows and Dr Mary McMahon on novel, metal-organic framework materials, and with Dr Karen Edler on templated porous solids, and Professor Matthew Davidson (Chemistry) and Dr Alexei Lapkin (Chemical Engineering) are working together on an industrial project to develop a new polymer recycling process.

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