It has been four years since I helped found the Edinburgh Complex Fluids Partnership and, lately, I have been conducting a review of our activity. In particular, I have examined the sectors with which we have worked. Unsurprisingly, the dominant sectors are food and personal care industries which require formulation expertise that is clearly reliant on complex fluid know-how. What has surprised me is the number of projects relating to the veterinary and pharmaceutical sciences where the delivery of actives for the benefit of health, man or beast, can be enhanced through the careful design of formulations.
On Thursday 14th January I attended the inaugural talk by Professor Mark Parsons, ‘“A billion billion calculations in a second – a step too far?”. Prof. Parsons is Director of the Edinburgh Parallel Computing Centre which hosts the UK’s national supercomputer, ARCHER.
As an experimentalist, parallel computing has never really been my thing although I collaborate with computer simulators who run intensive simulations in this way. However, it was highly interesting to hear how the world’s superpowers are competing to create faster and faster computers, with the Chinese winning with Tianhe-2, currently. Ironically, Prof. Parsons then pointed out that current software techniques cannot cope and such machines cannot be efficiently programmed. This is because we are still using linear mathematical procedures like Fast Fourier Transforms and Finite Element Methods – to advance our mathematicians need to help find new mathematical techniques suitable for efficient parallel programming.
For those of you interested in the weather, apparently the ECMWF weather model is the world’s best for weather prediction and more reliable for predicting hurricane routes!
Personally, I find it very satisfying to play a small part in helping a new business grow from the kitchen sink to a manufacturing plant with products on the supermarket shelf. When working with academics, my advice to start-ups is:
- Be open with academics about what you want to solve – often they can solve the unexpected.
- Academics enjoy teaching and love a keen student (wherever they are from). Learn as much as you can by asking questions, and read up from books and literature.
- Set clear goals when specifying a project and make sure you understand which parts of a project are exploratory and which parts can be achieved.
- Expect to receive regular presentations to review progress and a final report.
(Email me if there is any advice you think I have missed!)
October 2013: Peter Higgs shares the Nobel Prize for Physics.
The School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Edinburgh celebrates the award of the Nobel Prize in Physics awarded jointly to Peter W. Higgs and François Englert for “for the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles, and which recently was confirmed through the discovery of the predicted fundamental particle, by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider”. As part of this celebration there will be an event tonight with short talks and a Q&A session with Peter.
I went to a fascinating talk yesterday on green chemistry by Professor Philip Jessop from Queen’s University, Canada. Prof. Jessop has created reversible switchable solvent and switchable surfactant systems which can be turned from ‘good’ to ‘poor’ behaviour by simply bubbling carbon dioxide through the system. With switchable solvents, the idea is to remove products from solvents without distillation which saves energy and allows solvents to be recycled thereby eliminating waste. How brilliant is that!
Destabilisation of emulsions is a tricky process since generally surfactants are difficult to remove from interfaces. Jessop’s switchable surfactants can be ‘switched’ to behave as poor surfactants so that they leave the interface and allow oil and water phases to separate. This control over good and poor surfactant behaviour is deeply desirable for oil recovery where water is pumped down to force the oil up to the surface.
Prof. Jessop has also set up The Green Centre Canada to help early stage green technologies be developed for specific industrial needs. The switchable solvent technology is being developed and distributed through the company Switchable Solutions.
I am excited about how these materials can be used in complex fluids and how they can make processes more efficient and environmentally safer.
I would like to introduce the Edinburgh Complex Fluids Partnership (ECFP), part of the University of Edinburgh. We provide consultancy to companies working with or producing soft matter materials. Our services can help improve the shelf-life of products or the processing of formulations. We work on all sizes of contracts so just get in contact if you are interested in working with us or finding out more.
Wood T.A., Lintuvuori J. S., Schofield A. B., Marenduzzo D. and Poon W. C. K. Science, 334, 79, 2011.
When colloidal particles are dispersed in a nematic liquid crystal medium the composite exhibits very interesting behaviour. At volume fractions above 20% it becomes very stiff and, together with rheological data, simulations indicate that a colloidal gel is held together by defect lines percolating through the sample. These composites could find applications in sensor technologies.