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SOFI eyes the prize – Alex Gresty awarded GOLD in the physics category of STEM for Britain award

Congratulations to Alex Gresty, postgraduate researcher from SOFI CDT Cohort 6 and School of Physics and Astronomy at University of Leeds, who was yesterday awarded Gold in the Physics category at STEM for Britain 2023. The annual poster competition in the Houses of Parliament aims to support and promote Britain’s early-career research scientists and engineers. Alex’s poster on ‘Food Packaging from Nature: Cellulosic Films for the 21st Century’ can be viewed online here. Alex also came second in the Dyson Sustainability Award!

Alex follows in the footsteps of Dr Adele Parry from SOFI CDT Cohort 5 and also from the School of Physics and Astronomy at University of Leeds, who won the Physics Gold medal in 2022 with her poster ‘A better lateral flow test? The design of novel liquid crystal droplet biosensors’. Dr Parry also went on to be awarded the overall Westminster Medal at the STEM for BRITAIN awards 2022.

Alex with Labour MP for Leeds Central, Hilary Benn, at the poster session.

Durham University SOFI CDT alumni start-up named as a finalist in prestigious Earthshot Prize 2022

Durham University start-up, Low Carbon Materials, has recently been announced as one of three international finalists in the Fix Our Climate category in the world’s most prestigious environmental prize, The Earthshot Prize 2022.

We are enormously proud of Durham SOFI CDT alumni Natasha Boulding, Phil Buckley and Scott Bush for being shortlisted for this prestigious award.

Burhan Hussein Awarded SCI Scholarship

We are delighted to announce that Burhan Hussein, Department of Chemistry, has been awarded an SCI scholarship of £5,000 over two years to support his studies at Durham University. Burhan is a member of the McGonigal Group within the EPSRC Soft Matter and Functional Interfaces Centre for Doctorial Training (SOFI CDT) and is a PhD Fellow of the Durham Energy Institute (DEI).

In addition to the scholarship, he will benefit from publishing opportunities, access to a high-calibre network to help launch his career, and opportunities to present his work and raise his profile within the scientific community.

SCI Scholarships are prestigious and well respected by the industry. The SCI Scholars Fund was established in 1920 by the requests of Rudolph Messel and John Gray, both former presidents and founding members of SCI. SCI believes in nurturing the scientists of the future. Each year, SCI provides scholarships and bursaries to early career scientists including opportunities to attend or present at an international conference. Durham University, the SOFI CDT, and DEI are pleased that Burhan Hussein has been offered this Scholarship and that his research into controlling intermolecular interactions at interfaces will benefit from the additional contacts and support he will gain from this valuable opportunity.

“As I am entering the second year of my PhD, I have been very pleased with my time here so far at Durham University. Being a part of the SOFI CDT has been an eye-opening experience for me to the intersection of science in academia and industry. The training has been world-class and has given me ample opportunity to grow as a scientist and a professional. One of these opportunities I have gained is to be a PhD Fellow of the DEI. The DEI takes an interdisciplinary approach to the broad questions surrounding the supply and demand of energy in a developing World. Since I have been involved, I have learned that energy solutions go beyond the technologies and science, which has been inspiring and I am grateful to be a part of it. My research focus at Durham University is the design of artificial molecular devices that interface with the molecular machinery in plant membranes. This multi-interdisciplinary project has allowed me to gain new skills and expertise in supramolecular chemistry, a field that is quite exciting. Ultimately, I hope that the findings of my PhD will allow to for the application of sophisticated molecular devices in broader agricultural practice. The funding and support offered by my SCI Scholarship will provide a valuable resource to help me pursue my studies and my growth as a professional.”

Burhan has also written a blog about his experiences in Durham

Reducing the plastic mountain

Every single minute, a truck load of plastic ends up in our oceans, killing millions of animals every year. This is only going to get worse unless we do something about it.

That’s exactly what Scott, Natasha and Phil decided to do.

As Chemistry PhD students with a passion for saving our planet, they have come up with an idea which could make a real difference to reducing plastic waste.

Recycling plastic

The team has developed a technique which processes plastic waste, in particular tough-to-recycle mixed and low-grade plastic, and turns it into aggregate for concrete. Their novel product can replace traditional aggregates and is light-weight, eco-friendly and thermally insulating.

Recycling plastic waste in this way can stop it from being incinerated or ending up in landfill, which is a major environmental problem.

When plastic waste is sent for incineration, it releases a large amount of CO2 into the atmosphere and the plastic at landfill sites can leach harmful chemicals into the environment, such as into groundwater.

Award-winning enterprise

What started out as a challenge as part of a mini MBA has now turned into a start-up business, called Plastech Innovation, which will spin-out from the University later this year.

With the help of business and enterprise support from within the University, Scott, Natasha and Phil have already managed to secure funding and won a number of awards for their business.

They walked away as winners at the annual BrightSCIdea competition, won the Shell LiveWIRE April Smarter Future Award and the Blueprint StartUp Challenge. They have also got a place on the Durham City Incubator accelerator programme for entrepreneurs.

The young scientists are part of the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Soft Matter and Functional Interfaces (SOFI CDT) at Durham. This centre trains students to become science and enterprise leaders through a programme of industrially integrated postgraduate training.

So, take three brainy PhD students with an idea, a passion for the environment, brilliant chemistry expertise, integrated postgraduate training and out comes a business that could make a significant positive impact on our planet.

Watch this space……..

Find out more

From left: Scott Bush, Natasha Boulding and Phil Buckley