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Newsletter

Issue 10. December 2023

Editorial

We were delighted to welcome cohort 5 to our CDT in October. We have a group of 6 students, and we had packed induction week with tower building activities, a meeting with industry partners and academics, as well a very competitive trip to the bowling alley and a quiz and much more.

Cohort 5 are now in the process of formulating their projects in conjunction with academic staff and industry partners.

Cohort 1 are now in the process of finishing off their lab work and are writing up their theses.

Cohorts 2, 3 and 4 are working on their projects and most of Cohorts 1, 2 and 3 have completed or are planning their placements.

Cohort 4 are now starting to think about placements.

We have a number of events planned over the coming weeks – A visit to the York Christmas Market – 12th December, The CDT Christmas Meal 13th December, A Cross CDT Coffee Morning on 15th December.

We would like to wish you all a Very Merry Christmas and a Happy and Prosperous New Year.

Cohort 5 - Our experience - Michelle Willis & Saathana Ambikaibalan

We were apprehensive but excited to start on the CDT molecules to product programme. The CDT staff have honestly made this experience lovely - it is not easy to jump into a new field! The induction was fun and light, we participated in quizzes, bowling, tower building and had a get to know you better chocolate game (which was our favourite).

The thought of doing a traditional PhD was scary, but the CDT helps to get you ready for the project through the initial training programme. Instead of having a predefined project to work on you are taught to develop the skills which allow you to form and develop your own project.

We have been on the programme 3 months now, originally, we joined thinking we knew what we wanted to do, however, we now have realised that there was lots of options that we have never even thought about. We have learned an incredible amount already and we all agree that even though in some parts of the training have been intense, it has been interesting and has given us more to explore and think about. As we have progressed through the programme (even though it has only been a short amount of time), we feel that we have done so much, and developed as researchers.

“I have now been able to develop and expand my knowledge. The CDT enabled me to research further topics which were new to me. Because of this I have begun to shape my PhD project – excited and eager to learn more” - Michelle.

“It was interesting learning about the various aspects of a product. I thought I had a clear idea of what I wanted to do, but soon realised that this programme and the skill sets will learn within it will lend themselves to be transferrable” -Saathana.

Student Profile - Joseph McHale

Background:

I was born in the UK and haven’t yet managed to permanently escape. I completed an MEng in Chemical Engineering at Loughborough University, then worked as a project/continuous improvement manager in industry for five years in the food and recycling industries. It was there that I gained my love of process improvement and delving deep into why problems occur. I knew a PhD would be the perfect way to get into the real science behind this.

Why I chose Molecules to Product CDT:

I’m a keen believer in research being applicable to real-world problems, and the CDT clearly outlines this with its industry partnerships and collaborations. The opportunity to work in an interdisciplinary group, and the novel ideas that this encourages were also a definite plus.

My Project:

I research the ways in which we can apply digital twins and machine learning to improve how we model and control crystallisations. Specifically, predictive models can be used, such as neural networks, trained on both experimental and simulated crystallisation data, to achieve optimal real-time control of a crystallisation through model predictive control. The end goal of the project is to have digital twins at multiple fidelity levels, which continuously learn from the crystallisation as it runs, to achieve an improved response to unexpected perturbations.

Other Interests:

I have way too many hobbies as any of my friends or family would tell you, switching between projects such as fiddling with arduinos, bouldering, painting miniatures or sowing wildflower meadows. The PhD ends up (usually) being a nice distraction from it all.

Publication - Ashley Victoria

I recently had my second article ‘Design of experiments in the optimization of all-cellulose composites’, accepted for publication in Cellulose. The paper explores the use of statistical design of experiments (DoE) to model and predict the effects of processing conditions on the mechanical properties of all-cellulose composites (ACCs) produced using cotton textiles and interleaf cellulosic films.

In this work, the effects of dissolution temperature, pressure and time on ACC mechanical properties were explored initially through a full factorial experimental design. This revealed a strong relationship between Young’s modulus, and processing time and temperature. This relationship was further investigated through a Response Surface Methodology (RSM) that provided further information on the quadratic effects of these key processing factors, identifying a region where Young’s modulus could be optimised, and the combination of time and temperature that would achieve this. This was subsequently validated through the preparation of in-lab test samples, confirming the effectiveness of the predictive model. The optimized samples exhibited excellent mechanical properties and interlaminar bonding, in addition to excellent consolidation within the material microstructure shown through microscopy and density measurements.

This study highlights the benefits of DoE in enhancing our understanding of the ACC process. Furthermore, it has inspired future investigations into various cellulosic textiles, for example, regenerated fibers such as Lyocell. It was also a very enjoyable project!

The paper can be found here: Ashley Victoria

October Webinar

Dimitra Katrantzi presented at the webinar held on 18/10/2023

 

During the webinar, I presented some initial results of my project, "Folded Protein Hydrogel Characterisation".

Bovine serum albumin (BSA) is a globular protein which crosslinks via dityrosine bonding through photochemical crosslinking to form a hydrogel. The folded state of BSA is held together by disulphide bonds, and by controlling protein unfolding during network formation, the design of materials with distinct properties can be enabled. I am using two agents to alter the state of BSA: dithiothreitol (DTT), which unfolds BSA and urea, which partially unfolds BSA.

BSA-based hydrogels have been characterised through small angle scattering techniques, which require fitting models that provide indirect measures. Hence, I am currently using cryo-scanning electron microscopy (cryo-SEM) to directly image the hierarchical architecture of BSA-based networks and rheology to study the mechanics of the systems.

Based on the results I presented, cryo-SEM is a promising technique that provides clear images of the hierarchical structure of the gels, revealing two porosities in the systems. Also, cryo-SEM showed that protein and crosslinking manipulation alters the structure of the systems. Finally, initial results indicate that protein (un)folding is significant for the network formation of the systems, which translates to the gel's mechanics.

Daniel Mathwin also presented at the CDT Webinar held on 18/10/2023.

In this webinar, I introduced my project to develop chemoenzymatic cascades as telescoped continuous flow processes. My initial goal involves resolving a racemic amine using the enzyme CALB, which will be followed by a Buchwald-Hartwig arylation to give a chiral arylamine. Recently I have been focused on finding conditions to perform the Buchwald-Hartwig arylation in continuous flow. This is not trivial since many of the bases commonly used for this reaction have limited solubility which may cause reactor fouling, and soluble organic bases have narrow scope for the amine coupling partner. Building on some conditions from a recent publication (ACS Catal. 2022, 12, 1, 560-567), I have been able to get the C-N coupling to work on my desired substrate in flow, however fouling is still an issue that needs to be overcome. I am currently working on developing this reaction by tweaking the chemistry and engineering of the flow setup so that it can be run continuously.

Ashmita Kadam also presented at the CDT Webinar held on 18/10/2023.

In the CDT webinar, I delivered a short presentation on my research project focussed on developing a microfluidic platform for high-throughput screening and optimisation of Nucleation and Growth kinetics of crystals. Crystallisation is a key unit operation in diverse sectors and finds applications in industrial formulations, purification of compounds, stabilization of active pharmaceutical ingredients and many others. The optimisation of crystallisation processes is a key challenge as it is dependent on factors such as temperature, supersaturation, hydrodynamics and real-time monitoring and control of the nucleation rates requires multiple experiments to be performed to generate relevant data.

The key areas of focus within this project will be developing a static droplet based microfluidic platform for high throughput screening of key crystallisation properties including nucleation rates, induction times and growth rates. During the initial months of my project, I have used a microfluidic platform to generate static array of aqueous droplets using Fluorinert oil FC-40 as a continuous phase. High resolution images of the droplets were collected at regular time intervals and characterized using optical microscopy to track real time droplet behaviour. Images were then processed using MATLAB to determine the change in droplet volume over time for analysing the rate of evaporation of droplets. It was observed that the larger droplets remained stable due to a lower rate of evaporation and the set-up also demonstrated the effectiveness of the device for achieving high throughput screening of different compounds and process conditions.

Future work will involve using novel industrial compounds for droplet formulation to understand the crystallisation kinetics and phase behaviour by incorporating analytical and image analysis techniques. Surface interactions of these droplets on a leaf wax surface will also be investigated at a later stage.

Student Profile – Deborah Oliveira

Background:

I have a BSc in Chemical Engineering from USF Tampa, where I focused on process modelling and simulation and life cycle assessment. Following that, I completed a MSc funded by a national agency, working with modelling of ethanol fuel cells. During my MSc I became very interested in exploring the combination of experimental and modelling research, particularly applying models to optimise and accelerate product development. This then drove me to pursue a PhD with both modelling and experimental approaches.

Why I chose the Molecules to Product CDT:

One of the reasons that I chose the Molecules to Product CDT was its industry connections and transferrable skills training. Another reason was that the CDT’s vision was very aligned with my research interests. I was also attracted to the CDT’s project selection process, which meant I could take an active role in choosing my PhD research topic.

My project:

My research explores the development of pH-responsive polymer-RNA biopesticides, focusing on achieving controlled release of RNA at targeted conditions. I’m also interested in using machine learning to map property-performance correlations and accelerate prediction and discovery of optimal polymer designs for the desired performance.

Other interests:

Outside of research, I enjoy trying out clubs and societies at the University, such as, hiking, ballroom dancing and martial arts.

Jerry Nayar - CPI Visit

Cohort 5 visited CPI on 29th of November and Professor Daniel Read joined us for the visit. We left Leeds at 07:15 and we arrived at CPI (Centre for Process Innovation), at 09:00. We met some first-year students from the Soft Matter and Formulation CDT (who had started on their programme at the same time as us). We found out about the way their CDT was structured, as well as the research projects they are working on over a coffee or two which we needed after the early start!

The day covered subjects such as what CPI's role is and where it fits with research, where the CPI sites are, and what function the different sites perform. One of the talks also covered the equipment CPI uses for automation , which was very interesting. During that last talk of the day we were told that one of CPI's clients built a robot and let it loose in a lab for 8 days. The robot carried out a PhDs worth of experiments within the 8 days, I found this very interesting.

We also had a tour of some of the labs, although we were not allowed into all of the labs which was a little disappointing (but understandable). We were not allowed to visit the robotics lab, but we were told that all the robots were in cages to prevent them causing any damage! We were also told that there are some instances where scientists (overseas) had been killed by robots, where the robots had not been put into cages!

After a big lunch, we attended a poster session, where we got to look at some of the posters produced by the CPI scientists and had the opportunity to ask questions. One of the most interesting posters (in my opinion) was one that involved using DoE for developing ink with desirable properties. At the end of the day we attended talks given by some of the staff about their careers, their academic backgrounds (chemical engineer, physicist, and a chemist), and how their career path.

Dates for your diary

CDT webinars:

21/02/2024 - 14:00 to 15:00

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

Annual Conference 

10/07/2024 & 11/07/2024

Contact Us

EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Molecules to Product

Visit our website here

Email us: moleculestoproduct@leeds.ac.uk