I am driven to help ensure that important scientific discoveries are converted into solutions that provide better experiences for people and reduce environmental impact. I focus on innovations relating to my expertise in Soft Matter Physics. Soft Matter is the science of fluids containing microscopic or nanoscopic entities which provide internal structure to materials thus imparting useful properties. Many of the products we use every day, e.g. decorative paints, lotions, shampoos, bread dough and cement are classified as soft materials (before they dry or are baked).
Life would not be so much fun if there were no states of matter between a solid and a liquid!
Here are a few things I am involved with right now……
I am the CEO of a start-up company, Dyneval Ltd, incorporated in April 2020 with my co-founder Dr Vincent Martinez. We are committed to delivering commercial success and are guided by our Chairman, Richard Cooper who is an experienced entrepreneur, engineer and investor. Dyneval is developing innovative advanced algorithms to measure microscopic motion from video data. This could revolutionise the way male fertility is measured so that health professionals and men can better understand subfertility and interventions to improve it . Furthermore, the techniques can be applied to chemical characterisation and are ideal for challenging situations, e.g. high concentrations and light-absorbing particles. (To physicists, spermatozoa and colloidal particles are both ‘bits’ that we can measure the motion of!) Our algorithms are informed by advanced statistical physics – human intelligence powered by computers (not machine learning!).
DAINtech: Dispersions Arrested in Nematic technology provide a new route to create stable formulations while avoiding the need for polymers in everyday products such as personal care products. We believe this is a solution to reducing the environmental impact of fast moving consumer goods (e.g. those bought in the supermarket, chemist and DIY stores) and will meet the EU Directive to avoid microplastics. Over the past decade my team has developed a thorough understanding of these composites, has patented the invention and we are looking for companies to license this technology from the University of Edinburgh. Since we first discovered this new type of gel 10 years ago, publishing the discovery in Science, we have developed a range of prototypes using industrial materials in aqueous and non-aqueous solvents so that the technology is ready for adoption. Research continues with BBSRC IBioIC funded PhD student, Orlaith Skelton, exploring the use of various sources of cellulose and more gentle surface chemistry modification protocols suitable for DAINtech, in collaboration with Mark Dorris from Napier and MBL.
Where science meets business: I am involved with various networks and organisations that bridge scientific innovation and business. This provides me with useful insights, an understanding of trends, challenges, funding opportunities and the opportunity to meet new potential collaborators. I am on the Board of Trustees of the SCI, founded their Formulation Forum to bring together different sectors to focus on common challenges and I am an officer for the SCI Science and Enterprise Group. I am a member of the Scottish Enterprise Sustainable Production committee and support their Leadership Masterclasses in Life and Chemical Sciences.
Here are some highlights from my past……
In 2012, I set up the Edinburgh Complex Fluids Partnership (ECFP), with Professor Wilson Poon, to help transfer knowledge from the Soft Matter and Biological Physics Research Group to manufacturing companies. I became Director of ECFP in 2016 and stepped down in April 2020 to focus on Dyneval Ltd. During these eight years we worked with over 50 companies, with an even split between multinationals and small to medium sized enterprises and turned over ~£0.5M / year on collaborative projects, consultancy and outreach. ECFP partners with other organisations such as the National Biofilm Innovation Centre, the National Formulation Centre and the Soft Matter and Formulation Innovation CDT. My PhD student, David Crosby, who works on microgel behaviour with GSK will complete by December 2020.
Between 2015 and 2019 I held a Royal Society Industrial Fellowship to work on developing innovative formulations (that later became DAINtech) and supporting my industrial partner, The Mentholatum Company, with their more traditional formulations, such as their pain relief products, for example, the well known DEEP HEAT. A SCI Sydney Andrews scholarship awarded to my PhD student, Navneeta Katyan, supported work that helped to deepen our understanding of the innovative composites. Between 2016-2018, I had the privilege of joining the Royal Society Science, Industry and Translation committee and have acted as a reviewer for their Entrepreneurs in Residence programme since 2018.
Formulating Value Chains from African Orphan Crops
Inspired by time spent living in Zambia (teaching Physics) and Tanzania when I was younger, I joined a collaboration led by SRUC’s Dr Cesar Revoreda Giha to explore the functional properties of Orphan Crops under a BBSRC GCRF funded project. Orphan crops are those that are important regionally but are not traded widely and have not received much attention by cultivators and researchers. Dr Andreia Silva was the postdoctoral researcher on this project and we explored the functional properties of Amaranth and Finger Millet. Both of these crops are nutritious, have potential to provide stability to the microstructure of foods and, importantly, grow readily in dry conditions and are therefore relatively resilient to climate change. In keeping with the theme, Andreia supervised a summer student project to explore the functional properties of baobab powder (the iconic baobab tree is shown in this picture) with the Scottish-Gambian company Baotic.
Further to everything above I have also been:
- an elected member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s Young Academy of Scotland
- Chair of the SCI Scotland committee
- a recipient of the iCURE funding program to explore applications of DAINtech
- a PRINCE2 Practitioner
- awarded a Jersey Education Scholarship for PhD research.
More information can be found on my Edinburgh University profile.