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Textile Technology - Can we really grow leather in a lab?

Introduction

My name is Dana and I am a 1st year EPSRC-funded PhD student at The University of Manchester. My project is interdisciplinary, spanning across the Textiles and Biomaterials research groups. I also need to draw on the Chemistry knowledge I learned at Undergraduate level. I work within the broader Department of Materials and spend most of my time on the Sackville Street Campus. My research aims to grow leather in a laboratory using tissue engineering techniques. It is hoped that this method could potentially be more environmentally, socially and ethically sustainable than current manufacturing practices.

In Depth…

At school, I enjoyed learning about a broad range of subjects. By A Level, I narrowed my favourite subjects down to Chemistry, Biology, Maths and Textiles. Teachers advised me to drop Textiles, so I could focus on more academic subjects. However, I persevered, since I enjoyed the subject so much. Textiles is, sadly, often undervalued as a subject in schools due to a lack of understanding. It offers many more career prospects than the stereotypical fashion designer. The scientific side of the subject, Textile Technology, is a fast-growing industry, with many exciting innovations already discovered. These textile products are designed to perform specific functions, as opposed to simply looking attractive. Examples of products already developed include smart, electronic textile garments to monitor patient health or army officer location. The technology spans a wide range of industries, also including agriculture, construction and sports. In fact, it would be difficult to find an aspect of modern life without Textile Technology in action!


My journey progressed through studying a Chemistry degree at The University of Durham. I appreciated the quaint city, having originally come from a rural area, and enjoyed participation in several extracurricular societies. During my degree, I gained a strong core knowledge and skillset that would be useful in any future career path, not just scientific. I confirmed my key interests were in the Biological and Materials fields. During my Master’s, I completed a year in industry with Solvay, specialising in composite materials for high performance automobiles. This gave me valuable, first hand work experience in Textile Technology. Following graduation in 2018, I took a year out to go travelling and learn more about the world. A fascinating exhibition on ‘Fashioned From Nature’ at the V&A Museum in London really captured my interest in sustainable fashion.

Meanwhile, society has become increasingly aware of the harmful impacts that materials can have on the environment. Plastics in particular have received a lot of negative media coverage. Animal welfare activism has reached broader audiences through social media. The proportion of people classifying themselves as vegetarian, or even vegan, is growing. Even those still consuming animal products are conscious about cutting down to lower negative health and environmental impacts. I myself converted to vegetarianism a couple of years ago. Leather is a luxurious fabric used in a variety of high-end fashion and furnishing products. It does however raise animal welfare concerns as it is made from animal skin, mostly wasted in the meat industry. As more people become vegetarian, we may need other sources of leather to meet demand. We should avoid equally harmful plastic alternatives though. Human skin is already grown in laboratories for medical skin grafts, so perhaps we could use similar techniques to grow animal skin? This is exactly what I shall work on over the next few years. This topic perfectly combines my academic and personal interests.

A typical working day could involve a mixture of: laboratory work; reading literature; analysing data; writing up; presenting research or teaching. I collaborate with staff members from many different departments. This variety of work during a PhD can make it more interesting than a typical day job. I am excited to see where my research goes! Maybe one day, lab-grown leather will make high street jackets… I am very lucky to be meeting my niche subject interests through this PhD. After completion, I hope to return to industry for a while. I may either continue down the sustainable fashion route or move into lab-grown meat research.

Going Further…

If you are interested in learning more about the potential of lab-grown leather, see this paper outlining research by another group:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2589234719300193

For The University of Manchester Department of Materials website, including many other interesting research projects:

https://www.materials.manchester.ac.uk/research/

To learn more about lab-grown meat technologies see this news article:

https://www.economist.com/international/2019/10/12/plant-based-meat-could-create-a-radically-different-food-chain

For the unique courses available at The University of Manchester specifically in Textile Technology:

https://www.manchester.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/courses/2020/09900/meng-materials-science-and-engineering-with-textiles-technology/

https://www.manchester.ac.uk/study/masters/courses/list/08611/msc-textile-technology-technical-textiles/

Youtube videos introducing other textile technologies:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OuXPCXEKvSo

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=smart+textiles

Career prospects:

https://nationalcareers.service.gov.uk/search-results?searchTerm=textile+technoloy


 

Biomedical Materials: my research into bone regeneration

by YPU Admin on November 15, 2019, Comments. Tags: biomedical materials, material science, PhD, science, and STEM

Introduction

Hi, my name is Negin Kamyar and I am a 2nd year PhD student at University of Manchester. I am doing my PhD in Biomedical materials and I am a part of Bio-Active Materials group headed by Dr. Jonny Blaker.

So, about my background - I did my bachelor’s in biomedical engineering in Azad Tehran University. During my bachelor’s, I worked on fabrication of skin patches for wound healing. As I was getting to know my research interest more and more in the biomedical field, I became more passionate to discover new things in my field. To further progress and improve in my field, I decided to apply to University of Manchester to study my Master’s. I successfully got accepted to study Biomaterials at University of Manchester and I graduated with distinction. During my master’s project I worked on the fabrication of three-dimensional (3-D) materials composed of polymers and two-dimensional (2-D) materials for bone regeneration. Since I was very excited about my master’s project, I decided to start my PhD in Biomedical Material and continue my research with more passion and time. My research is focused on the fabrication of 3-D bone implants which can be degraded over time so that the body’s new tissue can replace the degraded implant. These materials can be used for bone fractures and patients with osteoporosis.

So far, my PhD has been great. I published one paper in the ACS applied nanomaterials journal and I also presented my work to one of the biggest world conferences “Material Research Society (MRS)” in Boston. Participation in this conference gave me the chance to meet a lot of researchers around the world and learn new things in my field and share my research with them. I am looking forward to new achievements and opportunities during my PhD research.

In Depth…

When I was a child, I was always very keen on studying medicine in the future due to having a strong feeling and passion for helping people’s lives. My main inspiration in my life was my family who have always supported me to follow my dreams, since I was a child, and still support me today. While studying at school I was very enthusiastic about biomedical science and my parents bought me many science related books which helped me to be sure that it was what I wanted to do. I remember, when I was in the final year of high school, I met one of our family friends, who was doing research on heart stents and I had very long conversation with her about this field. After that day, I started reading more about the different applications of biomedical devices and I became more and more interested in inventing biomedical devices to improve humans’ lives. So, my dream towards medicine always stayed in my mind, but its direction changed to a more interesting and challenging field for me as biomedical engineer. During my bachelor’s, I worked on the fabrication of skin patches for wound healing and I presented my work in an international conference in Poland. One year after getting my bachelor’s degree, I successfully collaborated in publishing an academic book in Persian called “Nanomaterial in Biomedical Engineering” with my supervisor. During my master’s at Manchester University, I found I was more interested in the topic of bone implants because of current challenges in this field. In my master’s project, I worked on the fabrication of a 3-D fibre-based scaffold for potential bone regeneration which could be degraded over time.

Since I was fascinated by my Master’s project, I decided to continue the topic for my PhD. So, I am currently a second year PhD student and absolutely love my research with all its challenges and adventures. My project is a multidisciplinary topic which focuses on the fabrication of tissue scaffolds with different techniques. These scaffolds are 3-D structures which are composed of polymers and two-dimensional materials which can mimic the natural bone’s tissue. These 3-D scaffolds are integrated with biological factors and cells to mimic the physiological environment. In the physiological environment, these scaffolds can degrade over time and stimulate the formation of new tissue. The main aim of this research is finding a new way to help patients who are suffering from bone fractures and osteoporosis.

Now, I am almost midway through my PhD and I still absolutely love my research. I find every day challenging and adventurous for myself. I definitely can say that research is an unlimited area, that every day I learn and discover new things in my field. Beside doing my research, I also help other bachelor’s and master’s students in the lab with their projects which makes me feel more excited about continuing my own research in my field to a higher level. I have to say that that I am very thankful to all my parents’ support that gave me lots of opportunity to experience an amazing adventure in my life.

Figure 1 3-D scaffold for bone regeneration.

Going Further…

If you are interested in reading my paper, please visit the website: https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acsanm.8b00938?af=R

If you are interest in finding more information about the biomaterial and our group, please visit the websites: https://www.research.manchester.ac.uk/portal/jonny.blaker.html and https://www.research.manchester.ac.uk/portal/david.lewis-4.html

If you are interested in perusing Materials sciences, please visit the website: http://www.materials.manchester.ac.uk/

We also have a school blog which details life as a materials student and interviews a range of students and lecturers: http://www.mub.eps.manchester.ac.uk/uommaterialsblog/




 

A cure for Alzheimer's?

by YPU Admin on August 16, 2019, Comments. Tags: Alzheimer's, biology, chemistry, medicinal chemistry, medicine, Research, and STEM

Introduction

Hi, my name is James, I am a second year PhD researcher in Medicinal Chemistry at the University of Manchester and I make drugs. To put that statement into context, I make drugs targeting the biological process of inflammation which is involved in diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

My research group are interested in targeting the aptly named ‘inflammasome’ using small molecules. We hope that these small molecule inhibitors might one day be able to treat diseases which involve inflammation, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease is something that everyone is aware of. And it’s only going to become more common – we are all living a lot longer than we used to, which means that age-related diseases are on the rise. That’s why I think that the work that we do is really important!

In Depth…

I studied at the University of York where I graduated with a first class MChem degree in Chemistry (with a year in industry), taking my fourth and final year on an industrial placement at LifeArc in Stevenage. LifeArc is where I first started working in the field of medicinal chemistry, and it is the year I spent there which inspired me to continue in that area. There is something amazing about manipulating molecules to make ones that have never been made before. Chemistry is a lot like cooking in your kitchen, albeit with a few more pieces of safety equipment, and without licking the spoon at the end…

On a typical day, I will spend most of my time in the lab – setting up reactions, as well as analysing and purifying them. I will never get bored of the fact that I am playing around with electrons to form new bonds… and mixing two coloured liquids together to give a sparkly white solid will always be absolute magic to me.

Going Further…

For those interested in learning a bit more about everyday chemistry and how it impacts on your life, take a look at the ‘Exploring Everyday Chemistry’ twitter pages or even sign up for a free online course. This will help to expand your everyday chemistry knowledge, and with the brilliant Professor Andy Parsons as your guide, you will have no choice but to get excited about chemistry! (https://www.york.ac.uk/chemistry/news/deptnews/free-online-course-eedc/)

For the latest on Alzheimer’s research and news, look no further than the Twitter feeds for the Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer’s Research UK (https://twitter.com/ARUKnews)

The University of Manchester has a huge range of exciting research – I would really suggest taking a look at the UoM Research Hive for approachable and jargon-free updates on the work of postgraduates (like me!) at the University. (https://twitter.com/UomHive)

For all the latest news from all areas of science, take a look at the New Scientist twitter feed. (https://twitter.com/newscientist)


 

Can birdsong save endangered species?

Introduction

My name is Rebecca and I am a 2nd year PhD student in the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences. I have been interested in animals and the natural world since I was very young, so chose to study Natural Sciences, specialising in Zoology, at undergraduate level. Following this, I was selected for an animal husbandry internship at Chester Zoo, which cemented my desire to work with animals in zoological collections. I focused on this in more detail whilst completing my MSc Wild Animal Biology, examining multiple aspects of conservation and animal husbandry.

My research focuses on how birdsong can influence conservation. Birdsong exhibits clear population differences known as dialects, which are similar to accents in humans. These dialects can form very rapidly, especially in small, ex situ populations. They also play an important role in mate choice, with females preferring local over foreign dialects. Conservation interventions often bring birds from different populations together, so dialect differences could impact mate choice. This could cause many problems, the most serious being that birds may not integrate and breed in their new population. 

Automated recording unit

In depth

Many songbirds are threatened with extinction. Unfortunately, critically endangered species are often hard to access and have low sample sizes, meaning this kind of research is not possible. To avoid this, I work with a model species, the Java Sparrow (Lonchura oryzivora), which is numerous in zoos and aviculture but threatened in its home range. Once studied in the model, we can expand our techniques to more critically endangered birds.

Recording birds

Recording birds can be surprisingly challenging! Environments are full of noise, whether natural (like water and wind) or man-made (like traffic or electrical appliances), which also show up on our recordings. Lots of different equipment is available for different situations. Recordings in controlled conditions can make use of sensitive directional microphones. However, recordings outdoors require sturdy automatic recording units (ARUs), which can be left for long periods in all weather.

Analysing songs

Although we may be able to hear differences between the songs of different birds, it can be difficult to understand and explain how songs are different through listening alone.  We can visualise songs as a spectrogram, which allows us to analyse songs much more accurately.

Generally, we are interested in two main parts of song: spectrotemporal and structural features.

Spectrotemporal features include information about the timing of the song, for example its duration and the intervals between notes, and spectral details, such as minimum and maximum frequency.

Structural features relate to the notes themselves - their shape, how they are grouped together.

Once we have extracted these features for songs from multiple birds, we can compare them to see how similar their songs are.  If bird songs are more similar within than between populations, it is good evidence that dialects exist in the species.

Going further

Find out more about songbird conservation with Chester Zoo’s Sing for Songbirds (https://www.actforwildlife.org.uk/what-we-fight-for/conservation-challenges/our-campaigns/sing-for-songbirds) and EAZA’s Silent Forest (https://www.silentforest.eu) campaigns

The Macaulay Library (https://www.macaulaylibrary.org) is a great birdsong resource with recordings from thousands of species.

My links

Chester Zoo profile link:

https://www.chesterzoo.org/conservation-and-science/work-with-us/conservation-scholars/rebecca-lewis

DTP Profile:

https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/studentships-earth-atmosphere-ocean/our-students/2017-2018/rebeccalewis/

 

Selfish species: game theory and the ecosystem

Introduction

I am studying for a PhD in Statistical Physics and Complex Systems at The University of Manchester. My research studies a system of many interacting species where the population of one species can facilitate or hinder the growth of another species. This relationship is determined by a specific interaction coefficient between the species. The interaction coefficients for the relationship between every pair of species are drawn randomly from a two-dimensional Gaussian distribution, and we use the parameters of this distribution to predict how the ecosystem behaves. We can then simulate these interacting species using a computer programme to check our predictions.


In Depth…

I studied Mathematics and Physics for my undergraduate degree at The University of Manchester. I chose this degree because I enjoy understanding how the world works, and appreciate how bizarre and counter-intuitive our reality is. I had a fascination for quantum mechanics and relativity, higher dimensions, and sub-atomic particles. I really enjoyed learning about these concepts as well as being introduced to many other fascinating ideas. I enjoyed the lecture style of teaching but I also developed my ability for independent learning, I became really good at managing my own time, and absorbing information at my own pace from reading textbooks and lecture notes. The most useful skill I learned during my degree was how to computer programme, I learned how use Matlab, C++, and Python, and I learned how to write codes for simulations, data analysis, solving complicated equations, and optimization algorithms. I decided to do a PhD after my undergraduate degree because I really enjoy self-study and programming, and I am further developing these skills with new challenges every day.

I became interested in population dynamics after reading "The Selfish Gene" by Richard Dawkins, where he described behavioural evolution using ideas from Game Theory. He described how an animal’s behaviour, and the behaviours of the other animals it interacts with, would determine how successful the animal would be at surviving and passing on it genes. These successful behavioural strategies would dictate how the behaviour of the population as a whole would change over time, and evolve to an Evolutionary Stable Strategy which could be understood as stable Nash equilibria. During my degree I took the opportunity to study Game Theory further by writing my second year vacation essay on the topic. I researched many areas of Game Theory and went through a short online course. I discovered how it can be applied to statistical physics, in the Ising model for ferromagnets, and really enjoyed learning about how ideas from quantum mechanics could produce Quantum Game Theory, where a player could play multiple strategies at the same time. In my fourth year I undertook a project with my current PhD supervisor on a population of individuals who had the choice of two behavioural strategies to interact with. The population evolved by the number of individuals playing the more successful strategy increasing, but this model also considered the effect of time delay, such as a gestation period in nature. I really enjoyed my project with my supervisor and through this I continued onto a PhD with him.

Going Further…

Here is a link to my supervisor’s webpage, if you are interested in my research you could look at his publications:

https://www.theory.physics.manchester.ac.uk/~galla/

Here are links to the undergraduate Mathematics and Physics courses webpages:

http://www.maths.manchester.ac.uk/

https://www.physics.manchester.ac.uk/

If you are interested in game theory, here is a brief course:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iZKErrvVMaY&list=PL76B0EB6DDFC42D02

If you are interested in “The Selfish Gene” here is a brief summary of the book, chapter 12 discusses game theory:

http://old.unipr.it/arpa/defi/econlaw/SELFISH%20GENE.pdf

and the full text can be downloaded here:

https://www.zuj.edu.jo/download/the-selfish-gene-r-dawkins-1976-ww-pdf/