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Newsletter

Issue 11. March 2024

Editorial

We hope that everyone is looking forward to spring and the better weather (hopefully).

Congratulations to Harrison-Johnson Evans who is the first CDT student to pass his viva (see the article below).

Congratulations to Anthony Griffiths who has secured a full-time post with the Civil Service, as a Industrial Carbon Capture Policy Advisor and started his role on 19th February 2024.

We also ran a Molecules to Impact workshop recently in York which everyone enjoyed.

Cohort 1 are busy completing the write up of their theses.

Cohorts 2 are now starting to write up and finish off their research.

Cohorts 3 working on their projects and working on securing placements.

Cohort 4 are working on their projects and are now starting to think about placements.

Cohort 5 have now finished their initial training and are working on their projects full-time

We have a number of events planned over the coming weeks: The next CDT Webinar will be held on Wednesday 20th March at 2pm, and a Cross CDT Coffee Morning on 22nd March.

We would like wish everyone a very happy Easter.

Congratulations

CONGRATULATIONS - Harrison Johnson-Evans on passing your viva with minor corrections on Friday 8th March 2024.

Celebrations took place in the evening!

Harrison's primary supervisor Steve Marsden said - "The examiners were impressed with the breadth of techniques that Harrison had deployed in his work - he really took advantage of the flexibility of the CDT structure to learn new skills, from producing his own enzymes from E coli to flow processing and photochemistry, and he did a really great job."

Molecules to Impact Workshop

A Molecules to Impact workshop, facilitated by Britest, was run recently the Guildhall in York.

Kirk Malone, John Henderson and Emma Maun from Britest ran the workshop for us and all were at the event to host and talk us through the day.

The focus of the workshop was research impact and how your research project can make a bigger impact going forward.

The day was very successful, it was highly interactive, informative and fun! And the venue was simply stunning.

Those who attended were really engaged in the workshop and we hope everyone took something away they found helpful for their research!

Student Profile - Sarah Ferris

Background:

I grew up in Cornwall and moved to Leeds in 2017 to start my studies in Chemical Engineering. During my undergraduate studies I completed a placement in the Advanced Materials and Devices team at QinetiQ before returning to Leeds for the final year of the integrated Masters. Both during my placement and Masters research project I developed an interest in the relationships between particle properties and characterisation, and how these attributes influence their performance in application.

Why I chose Molecules to Product CDT:

Once I had decided to pursue a PhD, Molecules to Product was a great option due to the range of research areas, the transferrable training and the alignment of the research themes with my own interest. I also liked the idea of having a cohort of researchers outside of my immediate research area to share ideas and research updates with.

My Project:

My research is in collaboration with Venator, looking at one of the waste products produced in their manufacture of titanium dioxide. Red gypsum (gypsum with iron oxide impurities) could be a useful and valuable product, but mostly ends up in landfill due to difficulty and inconsistency in dewatering and handling. My project is focused on how particle properties influence performance measures such as rheology and filtration through characterisation of industrial material, confirming these relationships through production of pure gypsum and gypsum/iron oxide composites, and understanding how process conditions control the key particle properties.

Other Interests:

I enjoy music, films and food, and when I can get back to Cornwall I like to spend time walking and swimming in the sea.

Gabrielle Sumanskaite - Summer School

In July 2023, I went to the 18th International Summer School on Crystal Growth (ISSCG18) in Parma, Italy.  We flew to Milan, which gave us a chance to explore Milan before making our way to Parma. We arrived in Italy during the heatwave and the temperatures stayed over 30°C the whole week that we were there.

The Summer School was held at the University of Parma, which thankfully had air conditioning. We were staying at a hotel with other delegates, which was 20-minute bus ride away from the university, so we got to experience the Italian public transport which was very Interesting.

The lecturers came from all over the world including United States, Japan and Spain and the lectures included a wide range of topics from both theoretical and experimental aspects of crystal growth on various crystalline materials. The talks from academics across the world included topics such as thermodynamic and kinetic fundamentals, chemical and mathematical modelling, polymorphism, defect and different techniques for crystal growth.

We went out every evening with other delegates and explored the town and ate lots of delicious Italian food.

We also took part in an excursion provided by the organisers of the summer school, to the small city of Colorno, where we had a guided tour around the palace. The evening was concluded with an Emilian dinner.

The next day we made our way back to Milan, where we took our very delayed flight back to much cooler UK.

I would like to thank EPSRC CDT in Molecules to Product for this great opportunity.

Emily Wynne - My experience in finding a placement

I first started thinking about what career I wanted to go into after completing the third year of my PhD, and whilst searching and planning came across the UKRI Policy Internship which immediately piqued my interest. The scheme offers students the chance to undertake a 3 month placement at one of a selected group of influential policy organisations, for example a government department or another organisation such as The Royal Society.

Mid July 2023, the applications opened, so after checking that my supervisors were happy for me to complete the internship, I started on my application. The application involved answering standard questions such as why you wished to complete the internship etc. The hardest part about answering these questions was making sure my answers fit in the (sometimes very) limited character limit. I also had to produce my own summary policy briefing in the style of a POSTnote. This could be about any topic as long as it was not directly relevant to my research topic, and had to be relevant to current issues so I chose the topic of “The Chemical Industry Movement to Net Zero”. I had been inspired by the CDT course on industry approaches to the sustainable development goals, where companies had talked about their own approaches to reaching net zero, and was interested in how the government was also tackling this problem.

When submitting the application you have to make a first and second choice for the host partner, I chose the Government Office for Science (GO-Science) as my first choice because of their ethos of ensuring government policy is backed by the best scientific evidence. Thinking of the real world applications of research is something that has always driven and interested me.

After submitting my application at the start of October, I received a call for an interview at GO-Science in mid-November. This was a 30 minute panel interview with three team leads from GO-Science and involved 6 questions, expanding on my policy briefing and seeing what motivations I had for undertaking the internship.

After roughly a week of waiting, I was delighted to receive an email saying I had been successful at the interview stage and would be placed into a team by December. I met with my new team leader just before Christmas to discuss my new role and have since agreed a start date of mid-February (all going well!). This internship is very flexible and the start date can be organised to reflect what best suits both parties, so can be easily incorporated into a PhD project timeline.

I would recommend applying and if anyone wanted help with their application then I would be happy to help!

February Webinar

Joseph McHale presented at the webinar held on 21/02/2024

 

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I described my project to improve the model predictive control optimisation of batch crystallisations, using predictive models trained using machine learning from historical and real-time data for said crystallisations. The methodology aims to use population balance crystallisation simulations to train a backbone for the machine learning, which can then be fine-tuned to include inferences from past crystallisation runs, or current iterative learning, to achieve improved crystal properties such as a desired size distribution.

I mainly described my methodology for building a controllable crystallisation which can take use Python scripts to achieve real-time control via ATR UV-VIS, temperature and FBRM measurements. I also described a method of improving crystallisation kinetics through parameter estimation using CrySiV, as one option for tuning a crystallisation based on empirical data, whilst retaining mechanistic understanding instead of a black box. I am currently working on calibrating the ATR UV-VIS, confirming a suitable crystallisation system to first test the method, and will begin developing predictive models and the subsequent model predictive control once achieved.

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Gerda Luht presented at the webinar held on 21/02/2024

Asphaltenes are a group of heavy, polar molecules found in marine fuels. They have a tendency to form deposits when destabilised, causing engine damage and inefficiency.

In this webinar, I introduced the concept of interfacially active and residual asphaltene sub-fractions obtained by the e-SARA method and showed their differing aggregation behaviour using DLS. A comparison of elemental analysis and FTIR data was used to highlight compositional differences between the asphaltene sub-fractions.

Nanoparticle additives can be used to stabilise asphaltenes and prevent their aggregation and deposition. Initial results for the use of CaCO₃ (calcite) nanoparticles as additives was presented in the form of an adsorption isotherm, showing that asphaltenes have a high affinity for the calcium carbonate surface.

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Sowmya Narispur also presented at the webinar held on 21/02/2024

At the CDT webinar in February, I presented the progress of my PhD work and my plans for the upcoming months. My presentation was titled: Understanding microstructure & physicochemical properties of yeast biomass-stabilised Pickering emulsions.

I am culturing and using three different food-approved yeast strains to understand their physicochemical characteristics and ability to function as a Pickering stabiliser in oil-in-water emulsions. This will allow them to act as a nutrient source and a functional ingredient in food formulations.

Based on experimental work, I presented findings about the microstructure of the biomass analysed using SEM and CLSM and the stability of the emulsions made using the biomass. I will be comparing the ability of the biomass to stabilise emulsions with those of extracted protein from the biomass to understand its role in emulsion stabilisation. Further studies will also look into their sensory behaviour to help us better understand how their taste, texture and mouthfeel can be improved.

This work will mainly impact the achievement of sustainability and food security with applications beyond just the food industry.

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Student Profile – James Brocklehurst

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Background

I am a Leeds native (near enough) but have travelled far and wide to places such as South Africa and the Middle East. I left school without any qualifications of note and followed my father’s footsteps into pipefitting in the construction industry. After 15 years of this I decided I needed a change to fulfil my potential and took a course with The Open University. This led me to a Foundation Year at Leeds in 2016. Following on from this I moved to the School of Physics to do my BSc Physics and then during lockdown completed my MSc Physics as well. I knew about halfway through all this that I wanted to ultimately move on to a PhD.

Why I chose Molecules to Product CDT

I had been aware of the program for a few years during my time at Leeds through university communications and always thought it appealed to me. My first thought when deciding on a PhD was of which modules I most enjoyed during my degrees. My choices were quantum physics and bionanophysics. I have a particular interest in medical physics and saw an opportunity to pursue bionano with a view to working on medical research of drug delivery systems for therapeutic treatments. The M2P program seemed to tick a lot of boxes in this respect, allowing me to work on a blue-sky project at the molecular level that could have an impact on the pharmaceutical industry. As my background is in physics, the chance to collaborate with students from other backgrounds also helps to ‘fill-in the gaps,’ particularly with chemistry and chemical engineering. The program has also given me the opportunity to attend the AFM Biomed Summer School in France last summer, which was a fantastic experience and very useful for this aspect of my research. I have also been able to work at the Diamond Light Source synchrotron for a week where I performed my own experiments and brought back lots of interesting results that will be analysed and written-up in the first chapter of my thesis – hopefully leading to my first publication.

My Project

I work primarily with lipids in self-assemblies such as multi-lamellar vesicles, and understanding the physical and mechanical processes that occur. In such systems, lipid bilayers are separated by a water layer, and the interplay between molecules in these respective layers has an impact on how each layer behaves. To further understand this behaviour, I change various parameters such as temperature, level of hydration, cholesterol content, and ionic structure amongst others and then use techniques such as small-angle x-ray scattering and atomic force microscopy to determine structural and mechanical changes under these conditions. With biological vesicles becoming more prevalent in therapeutic delivery systems for conditions such as cancer, I hope that the results of my experiments may help in the design of these systems, making them more efficient and effective forms of treatment.

Other Interests

Outside of research life my main interests are in sports and music. I am an avid Liverpool FC fan (due to family influence at an early age – I realise I should probably support Leeds but that never really happened). I like to play snooker and can make breaks in the 60s and 70s, which is not bad for a hobbyist. If I could make a hundred one day, I can die happy! I play the guitar quite well, and I am steadily growing my pedal board, adding a new one each month or so. I also love to DJ – although besides weddings and birthday parties, this tends to be in the comfort of my bedroom. I love to mix techno and trance but rarely get away with this at weddings. Depends on the crowd!

 

 

Dates for your diary

EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Molecules to Product Annual Conference 2024:

10 & 11/07/2024

CDT webinar:

20/03/2024 - 14:00 to 15:00

Dates University will be closed:

28/03/2024 to 02/04/2024 inclusive for the Easter break.

Contact Us

EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Molecules to Product

Visit our website here

Email us: moleculestoproduct@leeds.ac.uk