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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/L023652/1
Title: Programmable 'Digital' Synthesis for Discovery & Scale-up of Molecules, Clusters & Nanomaterials
Principal Investigator: Cronin, Professor L
Other Investigators:
Symes, Dr MD Miras, Dr H Padgett, Professor M
Cumming, Professor DRS
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
ACAL Energy Ltd Future Technology Devices Intl. Ltd. GlaxoSmithKline plc (GSK)
IP Group Plc Rovira i Virgili University Scottish Enterprise
Texas Instruments Ltd Unilever University of Strathclyde
Department: School of Chemistry
Organisation: University of Glasgow
Scheme: Programme Grants
Starts: 31 October 2014 Ends: 29 February 2020 Value (£): 3,693,477
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Chemical Synthetic Methodology Instrumentation Eng. & Dev.
Robotics & Autonomy
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Manufacturing Chemicals
Energy Healthcare
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
23 Apr 2014 Programme Grant Interviews - 23 April 2014 (Physical Sciences & Engineering) Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
During the last three hundred years chemical synthesis has come a long way, from the time of Alchemy to the complete synthesis of complex natural products like Taxol, to the assembly of complex nanomolecular particles and devices for dye sensitised solar cells. Today, the availability of fast computers, ubiquitous sensors, imaging techniques, and algorithms are transforming science from electrical engineering to synthetic biology but chemists are yet to embrace the revolution due to the difficulties of integrating chemistry, sensors, software, and material handling. Very recently we have started to explore the development of configurable chemical-robotic platforms for the discovery, optimisation, scale-up and control of syntheses using a range of approaches including flow systems, 3D printing and hybrid robotic platforms. While a number of leading groups internationally and in the UK are aiming to develop new approaches to the optimisation of chemical synthesis, we wish to take the idea a stage further and develop an integrated platform for the discovery of molecular entities (initially focussing on inorganics) and then assess their 'fitness' according to user needs to construct a new library of programmable chemical building blocks leading to new systems that can be rapidly manufactured and tested in a range of application areas. The development of a platform for molecular discovery is unprecedented; this step-change will place the UK as the world leader allowing us to link fundamental discovery with faster, smarter and cleaner manufacturing of new chemical entities with user-driven properties and functions.

Therefore we aim to develop a new synthetic chemistry and engineering platform for the discovery of molecules, clusters and nanomaterials using an integrated hybrid chemo-robotic system integrating wetware (chemical reagents), hardware (reactors and sensors) and software (intelligent algorithms). By 'digital' programming it will be possible to optimise / change the course of the wetware as a function of the properties measured using algorithms controlled using a software system utilising the expertise of a team of chemists, electrical engineers and physicists, who share the vision of integration and advanced software control of matter. The chemical inputs will be based upon the assembly of molecular metal oxides (polyoxometalates) with well-defined physical properties using a computer controlled reaction system enabling closed loop chemical synthesis and discovery for the first time. The overall system will target new types of catalytically and electronically active materials with radically new properties via the chemical platform choosing from a Universal Building Block Library (UBBL) approach that links properties of the building blocks with emergent properties of the resulting clusters and materials. The hardware will be built from affordable customisable liquid handling robots, 3D printed reactionware, programmable milli-fluidics as well as linear, networked, and arrayed flow systems with a range of bespoke (CMOS based redox camera / ion sensitive arrays) and off the shelf sensor systems (pH, UV, Raman, mass spectrometry). Targeted properties include photochemical, electrochemical, and catalytically active molecules and materials defined by end-users that will allow us to develop algorithms for the discovery and scale-up of new clusters etc.

This programme is supported by a number of partners with support of around £1.9 M in cash, £0.9 M in kind with support from GSK, Unilever, FTDICHIP, ACAL Energy, CMAC, and also with support from the University of Glasgow who will invest ca. £0.5 M equipment funds and 4 PhD students demonstrating a very strong commitment adding value to the EPSRC investment.
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