WIT secures €3.7m investment from SFI for enhancement of Research Infrastructure

Research
Dr Peter McLoughlin, PMBRC; Prof Mark Ferguson, SFI & Dr Willie Donnelly, Head of Research & Principal Investigator, TSSG

Dr Peter McLoughlin, PMBRC; Prof Mark Ferguson, SFI & Dr Willie Donnelly, Head of Research & Principal Investigator, TSSG

Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) has recently signed papers with the Science Foundation of Ireland (SFI), securing almost €3.7m in research funding. This most recent funding win, which represents over 10 per cent of the total funding available, is part of the Government’s €30m investment in research infrastructures.

A total of 37 projects were approved for funding, divided among 12 higher education bodies including six of the seven universities. WIT is one of only two Institutes of Technology to receive funding through the scheme.

Dr. William Donnelly, Head of Research at WIT said that it is WIT’s research philosophy to create economic impact through the exploitation of its research knowledge base.  The investment is recognition of the strategic importance and scientific merits of the Institute’s ongoing research programmes.

According to Dr. Donnelly, “The Institute’s strategic research collaborations with leading multinational and indigenous industry leaders in the areas of Mobile services, Bio-pharma and Advanced Manufacturing is already producing major economic impact regionally and nationally. This latest investment from SFI will help WIT to increase its research outputs resulting in increased academic and industry collaboration which will lead to greater job creation and economic impact".

The infrastructural funding was awarded to research groups where projects demonstrated partnerships and collaborations, links with industry, relevance to Ireland’s prioritized research areas and sustainable planning. SFI has invested in four projects at WIT which involve strong collaboration with ICT, pharmaceutical, medical device, food and advanced materials companies.

Telecommunications Software and Systems Group’s (TSSG) FAME testbed, which received funding of almost €2m, will provide academia and industry operating in the ICT space with a platform for experimentation and the testing and validation of protocols, algorithms, tools and services.

The Pharmaceutical & Molecular Biotechnology Research Group (PMBRC) was awarded funding of €338,718 for the purchase of a Glovebox-mounted Scanning Probe Microscope (SPM) system which offers great benefits for the pharmaceutical, life sciences, medical devices industries supporting both the development of therapeutics and improvements in manufacturing competitiveness. In addition, the Centre secured €307,721 for a Multifunctional Supercritical Fluid (SCF) and extrusion and injection moulding system for use in the pharmaceutical, medical device and other high technology sectors.

The South East Applied Materials Research Group (SEAM) received funding of over €1m for the procurement of next generation X-Ray Microtomography (XMT) system, otherwise known as an Industrial CT scanner. This system enables 3-dimensional non-destructive analysis of large dense structures such as orthopaedic and biomedical implants, injection moulded parts, metallic castings, large assemblies, electronic components, etc. and will make a significant impact among industries in the biomedical device, pharma, electronic and precision engineering sectors.


About the four projects

FAME Testbed

The FAME testbed will provide academia and industry with a platform for experimentation and the testing and validation of protocols, algorithms, tools and services. It will enable study in realistic network settings and can be used to study aspects of federation, autonomics, network virtualization and cloud infrastructure optimization. A few exemplar applications and topics for which the FAME testbed is well suited are Unified Communications, Social Networks, and Internet of Things. The testbed consists of state-of-the-art hardware (server, network and storage) and software (systems management, unified computing, unified communications and enterprise social networking) components, which can be used to specifically refine and tune algorithms and knowledge-based systems, and which can’t be achieved through simulations.

This testbed will be used by the SFI-funded Strategic Research Cluster FAME, as well as future Research Centres. This FAME testbed will be connected to similar European testbeds such as the European Openlab network, which is part of the Future Internet Research and Experimentation Initiative (FIRE). It will also collaborate with the Irish Centre for High-End Computing (ICHEC) Super Computer. The FAME testbed is a unique trial infrastructure that will substantially enhance Ireland’s research capability in communications networks and particularly the ability of the communications and service management research sector to deliver innovative industry solutions based on state of the art research. It will also provide a platform for Irish industry to test its communications network services prior to commercial deployment.

Glovebox-mounted Scanning Probe Miscroscope (SPM) system

The glovebox mounted atomic force microscope (AFM) system comprises of a state of the art imaging and characterisation system contained in a highly controlled environment. The instrument will be dedicated to the visualisation and characterisation of surfaces at the nanoscale.  The instrument offers great benefits for the pharmaceutical, life sciences, medical devices industries supporting both the development of therapeutics and improvements in manufacturing competitiveness. This item of infrastructure aligns itself closely with the Marie Curie HIPODERM project, the Enterprise Ireland funded Pharmaceutical and Molecular Biotechnology Research Centre and the ERDF funded Wales Ireland Network for Innovative photovoltaic technologies. This unique item of infrastructure is the only AFM system in Ireland and one of a handful worldwide to offer a combination of quantitative electrical, mechanical and photoconductive mapping capability at the nanoscale. In addition to supporting the aforementioned industrial areas, the addition of photoconductive mapping allows for the characterisation organic light emitting diode and organic photovoltaic solar cells, advancing both national and international research in this area.

In the first instance AFM techniques will be used extensively by researchers at Bausch and Lomb, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Waterford, SolarPrint, Dublin and Lake Region Medical, Galway and Wexford to improve their quality control systems, develop new processes and characterise the performance of their products.  In addition the infrastructure will be extensively used by researchers at Waterford Institute of Technology, Cork Institute of Technology, Athlone Institute of Technology and the University of Limerick to advance national and international cross-disciplinary research in biosciences, energy and materials.

Next Generation X-ray Micro-tomography (XMT) system

SEAM Research Centre of WIT has been successful in acquiring funding from SFI for the procurement of next generation X-Ray Microtomography (XMT) system. This system, otherwise known as Industrial CT scanner, enables 3-dimensional Non-destructive analysis of large dense structures such as orthopaedic and biomedical implants, injection moulded parts, metallic castings, large assemblies, electronic components, etc.  The system is equipped with the first unipolar 300kV/500W micro-focus X-ray source and has large sample handling capability compared to SEAM’s current system. This vital research infrastructure will be the first of its kind in Ireland offering solutions to industry for void and flaw detection and 3D metrology for large components.  Utilising current XMT, SEAM has created interest among academic researchers and made a significant impact among industries in the biomedical device, pharma, electronic and precision engineering sectors. The procurement of next generation equipment represents a huge leap forward in the capabilities of SEAM that will undoubtedly spawn the greatest benefit and the widest range of applications to industries based in Ireland.   Further, this research infrastructure is closely aligned to the key priority areas of Medical devices, Manufacturing Competiveness, Processing technologies and Novel materials identified in the National Research Prioritisation Steering Group 2012 in terms of its focus on application and development of technology to reduce cost, eliminate waste and increase product quality and profits. This equipment will be made accessible to academic researchers and development institutes in Ireland.  SEAM’s impeccable collaborative track record matches well with SFI’s emphasis on collaborative efforts and on liaison with industry with the goal of strengthening and sustaining Ireland’s research base for all stakeholders. 

Multifunctional Supercritical Fluid (SCF) and extrusion and injection moulding system

The use of supercritical fluids in the pharmaceutical, medical device and other high technology sectors affords the opportunity to add a new and exciting dimension to the processing of materials. The use of supercritical CO2 as an inexpensive solvent in many polymer processing applications has already brought many benefits to the industrial sector and as its use becomes more widespread, materials that had previously been designated as ‘un-processable,’ due to their high viscosity or their thermal instability, can now be reinvestigated with the aid of supercritical fluids. SCF technology has not yet reached its potential within industry; however, considerable research into this field is ongoing and would indicate that the number of applications and the usage of this technology is only likely to grow.

The equipment funded includes:

  • Supercritical Fluid Extraction and Impregnation reaction system

  • Supercritical fluid assisted extrusion system

  • Supercritical fluid assisted injection moulding machine

Applications include:  Plastics Recycling; Vaccine Encapsulation; Extraction and Purification of Materials; Tailored Property Development of Polymers; Green Plasticisation of Polymers (removes the need for harmful processing aids); Enhanced Polymer Blending; Microcellular Foams; Processing of Shape Memory Polymers; Scaffolds for Tissue Engineering; Production of Protein Powders; Preparation of Biodegradable Microparticles.

This is the first complete system of its kind in Ireland dedicated for targeted and applied research for regional, national and international collaborations with industry and meets with the National Priority Research Areas in Processing Technologies and Novel Materials, Processing and Drug Delivery and Medical Devices.


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