A transforming microrobot, powered by solute self-diffusiophoresis, in translator mode showing surface solute concentration and flow streamlines
A transforming microrobot

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has enlisted the support of researchers at the University of Birmingham to help deliver an ambitious £6.6 million programme of transformative engineering research, in an announcement made last week (15 January) to mark the Year of Engineering.

The EPSRC chose to fund two Birmingham research projects. The first project, Born Slippy: A Tribological Discourse on Hysterosalpingography as a Therapeutic Treatment for Infertile Women, is led by Dr Karl Dearn at the Department of Mechanical Engineering and will focus on improving the treatment of infertility in women. Specifically, the research will examine the therapeutic effect of oil-based dyes used to detect blockages in fallopian tubes.  

The second project, Artificial Transforming Swimmers for Precision Microfluidics Tasks, is led by Dr Tom Montenegro-Johnson at the School of Mathematics and will focus on the development of prototype ‘swimming micromachines’. These are tiny objects with the potential to allow doctors to perform medical tasks from inside the human body.    

The projects form part of Engineering for a Prosperous Nation funding call to support projects with potentially transformative impact in fields ranging from autonomous vehicles to energy storage and healthcare technology.

Applicants submitted anonymous outline proposals before pitching their ideas to the EPSRC in a Dragon’s Den-style interview process. A total of 28 research projects from 17 different Universities have been funded.  

Dr Karl Dearn, Principal Investigator for the infertility research project, said: 'I was delighted to receive funding from the EPSRC to support my research.  The ‘Dragon’s Den’ style approach to assessing my application was an exhilarating but tough experience. 

'Based on the findings of Professor Ben Mol at the University of Adelaide, my project will hopefully be the beginning of an exciting journey that could see the application tribological principles lead eventually to the transformation of female infertility treatment'. 

Dr Tom Montenegro-Johnson, Principal Investigator for the micromachines research project said: 'My project aims to remove a fundamental limitation of swimming micromachines, namely that individual machines within a swarm cannot be controlled independently.

'The funding from EPSRC will allow me to translate a theoretical solution into a working prototype that can be used as a blueprint for new, more complex complex biomedical applications.' 

The announcement was made to mark the start of the Year of Engineering. Throughout 2018, hundreds of organisations across the UK will showcase the world of engineering and look to inspire the next generation of engineers by bringing young people face-to-face with engineering experiences and role models. 

Full details of all 28 funded research projects can be found by following the link below:

Dozens of projects announced as EPSRC welcomes Year of Engineering