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Research in Engineering and Physical Sciences has a real impact on the world. Here are just 10 examples of how our pioneering work in 2016 is helping to change the world we live in.


An autonomous robot, named Betty, joined The Transport Systems Catapult office for a two month trial period. Betty’s tasks included; patrolling the offices, assessing how many staff members are in the office outside working hours, monitoring the environment by collating data on clutter, office temperature, humidity and noise, as well as checking fire doors are closed and desks are clear. This £7.2 million EU-funded STRANDS project develops intelligence in robots like Betty, enabling them to act intelligently and independently in real-world environments while understanding 3D space and how this changes over time from milliseconds to months.


Solid oxide fuel cells (SOFC) use natural gas rather than hydrogen to produce electrical energy. But, as with polymer fuel cells, SOFCs are not without their drawbacks. One of the main problems is that they operate at very high temperatures – typically 700 degrees C and above – which causes sealing problems and requires expensive specialist alloys. Professor Peter Slater from the School of Chemistry is one of several Birmingham scientists working to overcome some of the obstacles which remain in translating a clean energy source into mainstream use by developing alternative materials that work as efficiently at slightly lower temperatures.


It has been an exciting year for gravitational-wave astronomy research, with the direct detection of gravitational waves and the discovery of binary black holes.  The University has now invested £6 million in a new Institute of Gravitational Wave Astronomy, recognising the great opportunities in this exciting new field of science. Gravitational waves are distortions in space and time that are produced by violent events in our Universe. By measuring these waves we can learn about these events and the Universe as a whole: we can do astronomy but in a transformative new way.


In the fight against drug-resistant infections, preventing and controlling bacteria growth is crucial. Biomaterials experts Professor Liam Grover, Dr Sophie Cox and PhD student Thomas Hall, are leading a team in the School of Chemical Engineering to tackle antibiotic resistance. They are collaborating with Matoke Holdings Ltd, inventors of Reactive Oxygen® technology, to develop innovative antimicrobial products. Reactive Oxygen® is a novel solution for controlling bacteria growth – both preventing and treating infection - that has already reached early clinical use. The development of these new materials could make a real difference in the global fight against drug-resistant infections.


With infertility affecting about one in six people, a team of mathematicians, bioengineers, computer engineers and clinicians are working on a system that could identify which sperm are able to successfully deliver their cargo of DNA to the egg. The impact of the work could have a wide range of important implications, from allowing for better analysis of sperm to reducing the distress caused by infertility issues, and improving the advice that can be offered to couples trying to conceive.


Thermal energy, both hot and cold, is one of the major energy challenges. The provision of cold, or cooling, is integral to modern society; without it, the supply of food, medicine and data would simply break down. Yet cooling currently consumes large amounts of energy and causes a great deal of pollution. The Birmingham Centre for Energy Storage is looking at the challenges for meeting the future demands of providing thermal energy in both an environmentally and economically sustainable way, from the pure science to the logistics around scale and policy implications.


Academics at the Net Shaping Centre in the School of Metallurgy and Materials are currently developing equipment to explore the possibilities of 3D printing metal components in space within the ESA funded PhotAM research project. The current space platform, the International Space Station (ISS), replaces parts by launching them from Earth. However, it is becoming less and less feasible to send ‘spares’ from home. The development of 3D printing in space will allow astronauts to solve this problem by efficiently manufacturing replacements; the current research could also mean that some equipment could be produced entirely in space. 


Experts in the School of Engineering have developed a unique device that could save lives around the globe by quickly and simply testing whether water supplies are safe to drink – particularly in refugee camps and disaster zones.


Conventional antennas cannot be located immediately next to each other because of signal interference which leads to reduced performance. This is a problem which Dr Sampson Hu, founder of SAT, and his team are overcoming with the development of an integrated MIMO antenna system. In this new technology, the antennas are combined together as one single system which improves both data download rates and battery life. The antenna system structure is a world first as it means all the antenna functionality is wrapped into one simple assembly, reducing the cost and size.


Technologies are being researched and developed at the Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education to help put the British railway industry at the forefront of future global railway innovation. Technologies such as condition monitoring and modern data integration will enable faults to be detected and diagnosed prior to failures that impact on service; reduce complexity whilst also making available a much improved stream of information to passengers; and will allow trains to run closer together, thereby radically improve capacity.

Our research spans nearly every aspect of modern day life. For example:

  • Did you know your broadband connection relies on accurate clocks? Our work to develop quantum clocks could have a significant impact on your broadband speed.
  • Did you know your phone has many rare materials in it? We are working to recycle these effectively, reducing costs and environmental impact.

Find out more about our work in Gravity Sensors, Healthcare Technologies, Critical Materials and Quantum Clocks by visiting the #ThisMatters page.