Funding and awards

Birmingham’s research spans an impressive range of academic areas – one of the broadest of any UK university. Funding for our fundamental, novel and applied research activities is drawn from an equally wide range of sources, from Research Councils to ‘blue chip’ commercial partners, and accounts for around a third of the University’s annual income (£153million out of £467million).

Highlighted research awards

These projects represent a sample of our most recent funding awards. This list also provides an overview of the scale of Birmingham research, and how it will impact across many different aspects of daily life in the future.

Nature inspired computation and its applications 

Award: £202,677 from April 2011-March 2015

Principal Investigator - Professor Xin Yao

Nature inspired computation and its applications, is a 4 year exchange programme of researchers in the field of computational intelligence across 3 universities in the European Union and 4 universities in China.

The field of nature inspired computation is a relatively new interdisciplinary area of research that is concerned with the computational capabilities of natural systems and their interpretation in a computational framework. Each of the seven participants has dedicated research groups that are amongst the world's best in this highly relevant field of research. The collaboration is expected to share it's research outcomes in the form of publications, seminars and workshops.

Further information on the NICaiA project

Segmentation in 4D visual search

BBSRC £500,000 from July 2009 – Jun 2012

Principal Investigator - Professor Glyn Humphreys
Co-Investigator - Dr H Allen, Dr JJ Braithwaite (LES)

This research provides detailed information about how the brain uses different cues (depth, motion and time) to segment displays and to guide attention to targets. The project comprises: (i) behavioural experiments that examine both attention to targets (that match the goals of our task) and the suppression of unwanted information, and (ii) functional brain imaging studies, which document which brain areas are recruited as targets are selected and/or distractors suppressed.

We will also use trans-cranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to alter brain activity as attention-demanding tasks are performed, in order to gain new information about whether particular brain areas are necessarily involved in the relevant tasks. The TMS will will alsobe linked to model-based analyses of fMRI (through Dynamic Causal Modelling), to provide novel information on how different brain regions interact to guide search through space and time. 

QRGraph (Quasirandomness in graphs and hypergraphs)

Marie Curie grant €165,000. Starting Grant €743,000

Principal Investigator - Daniela Kuhn

Graph Theory is a dynamic field in both theory and applications. Graphs consist of a set of vertices and a set of edges connecting some of these vertices. Many problems of practical importance can be modelled using graphs: for instance a network of cities (which are represented by vertices) and connections between them give rise to a weighted graph. The well known travelling salesman problem then asks for the shortest tour which visits all the cities. Similarly, one can also model scheduling problems in terms of the chromatic number of a graph (which is the smallest number of colours with which one can colour its vertices so that no adjacent vertices receive the same colour).

A graph is called quasi-random if it has a number of properties that one would expect from a random graph with similar parameters. In particular, a graph is quasi-random if its edges are spread evenly over the vertices. This concept has been remarkably useful in many areas, including Number Theory, Graph Theory and the design of algorithms.

One area where I believe that quasirandomness is crucial to further progress is the hypergraph matching problem. As an illustration of this, consider a group of people and construct a graph by drawing an edge if they like each other - a perfect matching splits the people into teams of 2 which can work together. How and when this can be achieved for teams of 2 is well understood, but not for teams of 3 or more people. This can be formulated as a hypergraph matching problem. I believe that quasi-random decompositions can be used to give quite general sufficient conditions which guarantee a perfect hypergraph matching.

INFLAME (Indoor contamination with flame retardant chemicals: Causes and impacts)

Total award - €3,631,300, over 4 years commencing January 2011.

Principal Investigator - Stuart Harrad

INFLAME aims to further understanding of how and to what extent flame retardant chemicals used in every-day consumer goods and construction materials enter humans and of the risk to health that such exposure presents. It is intended that this enhanced understanding will inform assessment of risk associated both with recent and current-use flame retardant chemicals, and of those under development, and ultimately lead to more sustainable approaches to meeting fire safety regulations. INFLAME's principal objectives are to discover:

  • The mechanisms via which flame retardant chemicals migrate from products within which they are incorporated
  • How and to what extent such migration leads to human exposure
  • The effects of such exposure

A range of state-of-the-art techniques associated with analytical chemistry, electron microscopy, mathematical modelling, in vitro toxicology, and “omics" will be used. In total, INFLAME incorporates 12 PhD and 2 postdoctoral projects, hosted at 9 different Universities, public and private sector research organisations in the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden. Birmingham will act as main host to 2 PhD students (in collaboration with Kevin Chipman and Mark Viant in Biosciences, and Ian Jones in Metallurgy and Materials), provide secondments to several other researchers within the network, and will host a short secondment from Prof. Tom Webster from Boston University School of Public Health as a Visiting Researcher.

The International Greek New Testament project: A critical edition of the Gospel of St John

Award: Full economic cost £963,692.40  Research Council contribution £770,953.92 (Funder AHRC -  2010-2015)

Principal Investigator - David Parker

The Gospel of John is one of the most influential texts in the development of western thought. It has survived in two thousand Greek manuscripts and ancient translations into Latin, Syriac, Coptic and Gothic. The International Greek New Testament Project is a network of professional scholars and volunteers spread over Europe and North America, who are using the latest technology to produce the most sophisticated edition of the text ever to have been made. As well as reconstructing the oldest available form of the text, it will describe the way in which readers changed it in the course of the first millenium. The text of the edition will be adopted as the basis for all editions of the text and translations throughout the world. For further details see www.igntp.org 

Metabolic flux analysis and cancer (METAFLUX)

Funding €3,400,000

Principal Investigator - Ulrich Gunther

The post-genomic era has been driven by the development of technologies that allow the function of cells and whole organisms to be explored at a molecular level. Metabolomics is concerned with the measurement of global sets of low-molecular-weight metabolites, which represent important indicators of physiological or pathological states of organisms. Such profiles provide a more comprehensive view of cellular control mechanisms in man and animals, and raise the possibility of identifying surrogate markers of disease. Metabolomic approaches use analytical different techniques to measure populations of low-molecular-weight metabolites in biological samples. To decipher large metabolic data sets advanced statistical and bioinformatic tools are commonly employed.

Although metabolomics has only recently emerged, dynamic profiles generated in Metabolic Flux Analysis (MFA) are becoming increasingly important to analyse biological networks in a quantitative manner and as part of systems biology approaches. MFA allows us to probe hypotheses by incorporating a priori biological knowledge to provide practical descriptions of observed cell behaviours, and to characterise the outcome of network perturbations. Flux analysis is of particular value for the diagnosis, differentiation and elucidation of mechanisms in cancer. This was recognised as early as 1924 by the Nobel Prize winner Otto Warburg who attributed cancer to a change in cellular energy production. This theme has experienced a revival in recent years through research, which has established mitochondrial dysfunction as a major mechanism in cancer.

This proposal seeks funding for a truly interdisciplinary European consortium to train researchers to exploit the gains of new technologies provided by metabolic flux analysis in the context of cancer with a mixed focus on new developments and applied end-points.

Workspace for collaborative editing

Award: Full economic cost £217239 Research Council contribution £173790. Funder AHRC and DFG. Period 2010-2013

Principal Investigator - David Parker

The Institute for Textual Scholarship and Electronic editing and its partners have produced a variety of electronic tools for editing, including automatic collation tools, programs for analysis of texts, editing software and online editions. This project will develop all these together in a coherent manner to produce a set of tools which will be accessible to scholars worldwide in a single framework. The collaboration will be with the Competenzzentrum für elektronische Erschließungs- und Publikationsverfahren in den Geisteswissenschaften at the University of Trier and the Institut für Neutestamentliche Textforschung Münster. The funding provides a post for Zeth Green, the ITSEE technical officer, to continue the software development he has already begun.

Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC)

£130 million private and public sector joint investment over 10 years.

Advantage West Midlands (AWM) and the East Midlands development agency (emda) have committed £40 million in building and equipping the MTC. A further £90 million private and public sector revenue is planned over the next 10 years.

A groundbreaking technology centre, in which the University of Birmingham is a leading partner, is on schedule to open next summer. The Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) at Ansty Park, Coventry, will help put the Midlands at the forefront of global manufacturing research. The MTC will be operated by a partnership of research led universities and major industrial companies. The partnership is comprises the University of Birmingham, University of Nottingham, Loughborough University, TWI Limited, Rolls-Royce, Aero Engine Controls and Airbus UK.

The MTC will support UK manufacturing companies, and their supply chains, to initiating major improvements in their manufacturing competitiveness. Using existing manufacturing related research to address key industry challenges, it will provide resource and a high quality environment for the development and demonstration of new technologies on an industrial scale. 

Economic impact assessments show that investment in the project will return £46 for every £1 invested. In addition, over 10 years, the MTC is expected to create or safeguard 2,100 jobs, support 625 businesses, and generate around £5.5 billion for the UK economy.

Strategic partnership in structural metallic systems for advanced gas turbine applications

Funding: EPSRC £6.8M, industrial partners and Rolls Royce - total £50m

Principal Investigator - Prof Paul Bowen

Rolls-Royce, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, (EPSRC), and Birmingham, Cambridge and Swansea universities are to work together in a new £50 million strategic partnership, which is the first of its kind. The partnership will develop materials skills and knowledge to support the development of future gas turbines which power many applications including aircraft, ships and electricity generation.

At present, almost all aircraft propulsion and over 1/3 of the UK's total generating capacity rely on gas turbines. Their flexibility and efficiency compared with the alternatives mean that their use in power generation is predicted to dramatically increase for the foreseeable future. Achieving drastic reductions in the emissions from gas turbines, without bringing national economic activity to a standstill, requires urgent activity on a very wide number of fronts. This is particularly important for the UK. It has Europe's largest gas turbine industry, second only to the US.

Over the next ten years, the universities will undertake fundamental materials research that will develop materials required to improve the efficiency and environmental sustainability of these gas turbines.

The partnership will include research, fellowships and postgraduate training to help create the next generation of world-class materials scientists and metallurgical engineers over the next 10 years. 

Terahertz micromachined resonator superstructures

EPSRC funded June 2010 – May 2013, £700k. Partners include BAE Systems, QinetiQ, NPL, Chelton Lab and Semelab Ltd.

Principal Investigator - Prof Mike Lancaster

Co-Investigators - Dr P. Gardner and Dr F. Huang

The project will look at three distinct but interrelated research areas for highly efficient communications and radar systems. The first is a new method of designing microwave circuits, the second area is using ultra small micromachined structures for extremely high frequency terahertz devices to exemplify the new design techniques, and the third area is the improvement in the micromachining manufacturing process for the specifically for the terahertz applications.

Conventional machining is done on a milling machining or lathe usually with metal. This project uses silicon and other suitable materials to make extremely small components; much smaller than can be made by conventional machining. The machining is done by selectively dissolving the silicon chemically. This enables new microwave circuits to be constructed which were impossible with traditional milling techniques.

Technology is now allowing systems to be constructed at much higher frequencies; mobile communications at around 2 gigahertz is now commonplace, but car radar systems at 77 gigahertz have only just developed in the last few years, and now applications are beginning to emerge at above 100 gigahertz in the submillimetre wave region. Applications to 1 terahertz (1000 gigahertz) and above are seen as extremely important for future systems. The technologies developed in this programme are for systems in this terahertz region and will be seen in products of the future. 

Analysing security and privacy properties

EPSRC £1M Mar 2010 – Mar 2015

Leadership Fellowship for Prof Mark Ryan

Security systems break because design practices focus too much on mechanisms, at the expense of clearly-defined properties. This research seeks to shift the emphasis to highlight the properties that security systems are expected to provide. This will be achieved by developing methods for the verification of security systems, focusing on a selection of interconnected real-world problems that are of great importance to society, but that are currently in need of greater industry/academe cooperation. The combination of fundamental research and close collaboration with industry, government and users is expected to achieve significant results and impact.

Trusted computing is an industry-led technology that aims to root security in hardware. Since its launch, academics including the PI, have discovered significant issues that threaten to undermine its potential at providing a range of security benefits. This has arisen because industry does not have the expertise to analyse the protocols.