Blog search results for Tag: university

Sustainability & Environment

Researchers at Stellenbosch University in South Africa have found a way to track pollen using quantum dots, developing a simple and cost-effective method for studying pollen distribution.

 bee and pollen

Tracking pollen can help scientists better understand pollinator behaviour.

Pollination and pollination services are key for productive farming. In fact, many farms actively manage pollination, bringing in bees or planting effective field margins.

 Fluorescent quantum dots on a bee

Fluorescent quantum dots on a bee show the distribution of the marked pollen. Image: Corneile Minnaar

Despite the importance of pollination, for many years research has been limited as there is no efficient way to study pollen distribution or track individual pollen grains.

Scientists at the university have developed an innovative method to track pollen using quantum dots.

Tracking pollen with quantum dots. Source: Stellenbosch University

Quantum dots are nanocrystals that emit bright fluorescent light when exposed to UV light. The quantum dots were equipped with lipophilic (fat-loving) ligands to allow them to stick to the fatty outer layer of pollen grains. The fluorescent colour of the quantum dots can then be used to track any pollen they have adhered to.


Careers

University students from across the UK came to SCI HQ in London on Friday 7 December 2018 for a day of face-to-face business and innovation and entrepreneurship training, which was exclusively available to entrants to the Bright SCIdea Challenge 2019.

The students heard from experts in their fields on topics such as ‘Managing the Money’, ‘Defining the Market’, Intellectual Property (IP) and ‘How to Pitch’.

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Sharon Todd, SCI’s Executive Director, introduces the students to SCI and the Bright SCIdea Challenge.  

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David Prest, from our corporate supporter Drochaid Research Services, talks to delegates about defining the market and taking their product from lab to the market.

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Our Bright SCIdea applicants learnt about IP from Charlotte Crowhurst, a patent lawyer and partner from Potter Clarkson.

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Martin Curry from our sponsor STEM Healthcare teaches the audience about managing the money of a business.

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Libby Linfied – one-third of our 2018 UCL winners Team Glucoguard – spoke about her experience and journey to last year’s final. 

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Victor Christou, CEO of Cambridge Innovation Capital and 2018 Head Judge, ran an interactive session on how to pitch. 

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Groups were given everyday objects to pitch to Victor.

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The students made compelling arguments for a plug adapter, hi-vis vest, ‘phone pillow’ and lunchbox.

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Delegates and trainers mingled at a wine reception in the evening.


The Bright SCIdea Challenge 2019 final will take place on Tuesday 19 March 2019 at SCI HQ in London. Teams will compete for a chance to win £5,000!


Health & Wellbeing

Tweaking the chemical structure of the antibiotic vancomycin may offer a new route to tackle the burgeoning problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, researchers in Australia have discovered.

Vancomycin has been used since the late 1950s to treat life-threatening infections caused by Gram-positive bacteria, including methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA). The antibiotic works by binding to a precursor of the cell wall component, peptidoglycan, Lipid II, thus inhibiting bacterial growth.

Lipid II is present in both Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria. However, in Gram-negative bacteria it is protected by an outer membrane. In Gram-positive bacteria, Lipid II is embedded in the cell membrane but part of the molecule – a pentapeptide component – sticks out, which is what vancomycin binds to.

The researchers at the University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Biology (IMB), led by director of superbug solutions Matt Cooper, reasoned that if they could increase the ability of vancomycin to bind to the bacterial membrane, this would make it more difficult for bacteria to develop resistance to it.

‘Our strategy was to add components to vancomycin so that the new derivatives – which we call “vancapticins” – could target more widely the membrane surface,’ explains Mark Blaskovich, senior research chemist at IMB. ‘By providing two binding sites – the membrane surface and the membrane-embedded Lipid II - this allows binding to resistant strains in which the Lipid II has mutated to reduce interactions with vancomycin.’ 

In addition, the researchers say that the vancapticins have been designed to take advantage of compositional differences between mammalian and bacteria cell membranes – ie bacterial cells have a greater negative charge. The vancapticins have greater selectivity for bacterial cells over mammalian cells, potentially reducing off-target effects and giving a better safety profile. A series of structure–activity studies showed that some of the vancapticins were more than 100 times more active than vancomycin.

 MRSA

Hospital-Associated Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) Bacteria. Image: NIAID

This membrane-targeting strategy, the researchers say, has the potential to ‘revitalise’ antibiotics that have lost their effectiveness against recalcitrant bacteria as well as enhance the activity of other intravenous-administered drugs that target membrane associated receptors.

John Mann, emeritus professor of chemistry at Queen’s University Belfast, UK, comments: ‘Bacteria have developed numerous strategies to modify the binding, uptake and expulsion of antibiotics, and thus develop resistance. So, it is especially exciting to see the development of these new vancomycin derivatives that enhance the membrane binding properties of the antibiotic, thus enhancing its efficacy and beating the bacteria at their own game.’

Materials

Energy storage is absolutely crucial in today’s world. More than just the batteries in our remote controls, more even than our mobile phones and laptops; advancements in energy storage could solve the issues with renewable power,  preserving energy generated at times of low demand.

Advances in lithium-ion batteries have dominated the headlines in this area of late, but a variety of developments across the field of electrode materials could become game changers.

1. In the beginning, there were metals

 The Daniell cell

The Daniell cell, an early battery from 1836 using a zinc electrode. Image: Daderot

Early batteries used metallic electrodes, such as zinc, iron, platinum, and lead. The Daniell cell, invented by British chemist John Frederic Daniell and the historical basis for the volt measurement, used a zinc electrode just like the early batteries produced by scientists such as Alessandro Volta and William Cruickshank. 

Alterations elsewhere in the Daniell cell substantially improved its performance compared with existing battery technology and it became the industry standard.


2. From acid to alkaline

 Waldemar Jungner

Waldemar Jungner: the Swedish scientist who developed the first Nickel-Cadmium battery. Image: Svenska dagbladets årsbok 1924

Another major development in electrode materials came with the first alkaline battery, developed by Waldemar Jungner using nickel (Ni) and cadmium (Cd). Jungner had experimented with iron instead of cadmium but found it considerably less successful. 

The Ni–Cd battery had far greater energy density than the other rechargeable batteries at the time, although it was also considerably more expensive.


3. Smaller, lighter, better, faster

 Organic materials for microbattery

Organic materials for microbattery electrodes are tested on coin cells. Image: Mikko Raskinen

Want your electronic devices to be even smaller and lighter? Researchers from Aalto University, Finland, are working on improving the efficiency of microbatteries by fabricating electrochemically active organic lithium electrode thin films. 

The team use lithium terephthalate, a recently found anode material for a lithium-ion battery, and prepare it with a combined atomic/molecular layer deposition technique.


4. There’s more to life than lithium

 Salar de Uyuni

50-70% of the world’s known lithium reserves are in Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia. Image: Anouchka Unel

Lithium-ion batteries have dominated the rechargeable market since their emergence in the 1990′s. However, the rarity of material means that, increasingly, research and development is focused elsewhere. 

Researchers at Stanford University, USA, believe they have created a sodium ion battery with the same storage capacity as lithium but at 80% less cost. The battery uses sodium salt for the cathode and phosphorous for the anode. 

5. Back to the start

Advances are also being made in the electrode materials used in artificial photosynthesis. Video: TEDx Talks

Hematite and other cheap, plentiful metals are being used to create photocatalytic electrode materials by a team of scientists from Tianjin University, China. The approach, that combines nanotechnology with chemical doping, can produce a photocurrent more than five times higher than current approaches to artificial photosynthesis. 

You can read an interview with the recipient of SCI’s 2017 Castner Medal, who delivered the lecture Developments in Electrodes and Electrochemical Cell Designhere.