Yesterday (4 February), the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) announced it would be funding a new multimillion pound centre in Topological Design.

Topology is a particular study of the spatial structure of objects, based on counting discrete properties, such as the number of holes and bridges in a sponge. In fact, the elastic properties of the sponge depend on this structure.

Topological properties play a role in the physical properties of certain materials, such as the way they conduct electricity or how light propagates through them. This has led to an explosion of research and development into new kinds of materials with unprecedented properties, designed using fundamental physical and mathematical principles which can be fabricated and, in the future, manufactured on a large scale.

Led by Professor Mark Dennis, The EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Topological Design will train postgraduate students in transferable skills involving applications of topology to new kinds of materials and devices, while equipping them with transferable skills to work effectively with theorists, experimentalists, engineers and corporate partners.

The centre takes a multidisciplinary approach to the topological design of materials, drawing on the expertise of a pool of supervisors from across 10 Schools in science, engineering and medicine.

Professor Mark Dennis, Professor of Theoretical Physics at the University of Birmingham, said: "It's fantastic that the EPSRC has made a major investment in topological design. By taking ideas from fundamental research on topological physics of materials, we will be able to both transform the performance of existing processes and develop new solutions to the major global challenges we are facing.

"Building out from a core of expertise in physics, materials science, and electromagnetics engineering, our doctoral students will work in research projects ranging from computer science and mathematics to chemical engineering and medicine."

The University of Birmingham has a strong tradition of topological research. The 2016 Nobel Prize for Physics was awarded (in part) to Professors Michael Kosterlitz and David Thouless for thegroundbreaking research they did on topological physics at Birmingham in the 1970s.

The EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Topological Design is one of 75 Doctoral Training Centres that have been funded by the EPSRC. The Centres will be funded through EPSRC, which has allocated £444 million and a further £2.2 million from The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). The University of Birmingham is also involved in a new collaborative Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) as part of a £6.5 million UK-Ireland joint initiative to train future innovation leaders.

The Centres’ 1,400 project partners have contributed £386 million in cash and in-kind support, and include companies such as Tata Steel and Procter and Gamble and charities such as Cancer Research UK.

The funding is designed to ensure the next generation of doctoral level students are equipped to tackle research and innovation challenges across the engineering and physical sciences landscape.