GO Fund Success Stories

The second round of GO Fund (Grantham Opportunities Fund) awarded 14 researchers at the University of Sheffield with funding to develop their projects across many different disciplines. Now that these projects are coming to an end, read more below about the amazing cross-disciplinary sustainability research that the funding was used for throughout 2023!

Porous two-dimensional materials for carbon capture

Jiangtian Tan – PhD student & Grantham Scholar, Department of Chemistry 

Jiangtian from the Foster group at the University of Sheffield worked collaboratively with St Andrews and Edinburgh to study the applications of an emerging class of porous two-dimensional materials named “metal-organic nanosheets (MONs)” in gas separation membranes. They used the funding to visit Professor Paul Wright’s group at the University of St Andrews in May and June 2023, prepared a series of gas separation membranes using porous two-dimensional metal-organic nanosheets (MONs), and studied their gas adsorption behaviour. They also visited Professor Maria-Chiara Ferrari’s group at the University of Edinburgh to learn the state-of-the-art system used for testing the gas separation performance of membranes.

Jiangtian said: ‘The gas separation results of the prepared membranes were not as good as what I was hoping for, but formed the basis of a chapter for my PhD thesis. In the future, we would like to explore different membrane preparation methods to process MONs into membranes, and see if we could improve their gas separation performance.’

Tracking central-place foraging flying insects

Dr Michael Smith – Lecturer, Department of Computer Science

Dr Michael Smith at the field site in front of the nest and tracking systems

So far we have developed prototypes for both the transmitters and receivers in a bluetooth bee tracking system. This will allow us to track bees over the landscape as they forage. We will be starting experimental field trials by the end of November and will start work with real bees in Spring. The funding has also allowed us to explore different approaches to power the tiny bluetooth tags (solar, super-capacitor or micro-battery).

There currently isn’t an accessible method to allow researchers and those in agriculture to understand how bees use and navigate the landscape. This funding enables the development of our low-cost and easy-to-use approach. The funding also has enabled us to host a workshop early next year, bringing together experts from across the world on small animal tracking – allowing the field to gain clarity around the technical challenges and identify opportunities.

Michael now supervises a PhD student, Christopher Noroozi, who is a member of the new cohort of our Grantham Scholars. His PhD project is building on Michael’s work to develop a novel method of bee tracking.

Workshop on ‘Sense of Place in an Evolving Space’

Participants of the ‘Sense of Place in an Evolving Space’ workshop

Dr Andrea Zappalaglio – Lecturer in Intellectual Property Law, School of Law

The funding has been used to create a research team capable of investigating the relationship between the ‘evolution of places’ and ‘sustainable development’ from an original multidisciplinary and global perspective. The workshop took place on 13 September 2023 in City University of London.

The event was multidisciplinary, gathering 9 researchers specialised in 7 different areas of the social sciences: law, economics, sociology, anthropology, history, geography and cultural heritage. It was also global, as the 9 participants had 6 different nationalities and discussed cases related to various areas including Jamaica, Australia, India, Spain, France, UK and the Netherlands.

Disease control in Brassica crops to improve food production

Professor Stephen Rolfe – Professor & Chair in Plant Science, School of Biosciences

Clubroot is an important pathogen of Brassica crops throughout the world. It causes complex developmental changes in its host, reprogramming how different cell types develop. In conventional studies, infected tissue is analysed in bulk, so the complex spatial patterns of gene expression that underpin these developmental changes are lost.

In this project we are using new single cell sequencing approaches to analyse how individual cells respond to infection. We are particularly interested in why only a proportion of host cells become infected as this leads to potential new routes for disease control. There are a number of challenges involved in this work, not least of which is obtaining intact single cells from infected tissue.

The GO funding has allowed us to explore which host plants, cell separation and isolation techniques provide optimal cells for single cell sequencing. We have now identified a successful protocol for isolating clubroot-infected single cells from Brassicas and are now undertaking the individual cell sequencing.

Fabrication of broadband antireflective photonic nanostructures

Dr Yunran Wang – Research Associate, Electronic and Electrical Engineering

Solar photovoltaic cells which convert solar energy into electrical energy have been regarded as the forefront of the global pursuit for sustainable and clean energy solutions. However, the current solar-to-energy conversion efficiency remains inadequate to meet commercial requirements due to the deficiency in light absorption. The GO funding received has been instrumental in conducting our research on the fabrication of broadband antireflective photonic nanostructures for light absorption enhancement in semiconductor photovoltaics using single-pulse laser interference lithography.

The financial support has allowed us to carry out the entire fabrication process, covering essentials such as wafer consumables, chemicals and access to fabrication facilities. In addition, it has enabled us to carry out structural and optical characterisations of the fabricated samples. The funding has been crucial in ensuring the success of our research project and has greatly contributed to innovation in the field.

Workshops on water governance in Nairobi, Kenya

One of the final events Monica organised

Monica Martin Grau – PhD student & Grantham Scholar, Urban Studies and Planning

The project emerged in parallel to Monica’s PhD research on water governance in Nairobi (Kenya). Drawing on a series of workshops, the project’s data generation process unveils the manifold ways in which mundane acts of living carried out by people, in particular geographies and with everyday objects, make water available across the city.

The GO Fund award was mainly used to document the customary character of the interviews and workshops of this research process, making available audiovisual data about the communities Monica engaged with during her PhD process. Therefore, allowing prospective dissemination of the ways life happens in these communities, and opening a window of opportunity for further discussions about ways to foster alternative sustainable development pathways.

As an example of the multiple options documenting this process could allow, we are currently editing a video about water practices in the neighbourhood of Mathare which will be presented to local authorities and water stakeholders for discussion in a public event in Nairobi.

Research at the London School of Economics

Thomas Siddall – PhD student & Grantham Scholar, Department of Economics

Thomas used the award to fund a visiting research position at the London School of Economics, where he continued working on his PhD with a new supervisor from the department.

He said: ‘This was a fantastic experience that I gained so much from, both personally and academically. I left the LSE with a group of good friends and some great experiences from my time living in London. I started a new research project with two academics during this time and I remain affiliated with the department. The GO Fund provided me with one of the highlights of my PhD and the opportunity to build my network and research portfolio that I wouldn’t otherwise have had.’

Partnership to support “Activism for planetary health and equity”

The image developed for contacting activists

Dr Katie Powell – Research Fellow, School of Medicine and Population Health

We identified and mapped 49 grass-roots action groups in the UK that address planetary health and equity together, with a specific focus on people marginalised whose needs are often not centred in research and who are often under-represented in research but who are central to activism for social justice. Then we produced a typology of different types of UK activism and their ‘theories of change’ in improving planetary health and equity.

Furthermore, we identified knowledge needs of activists and public health leaders working to address planetary health and equity in connected ways through interviews with 8 activists; two discussion groups with health equity researchers and one with a Faculty of Public Health special interest group. The GO Funding was massively helpful in bringing our team together and opening doors for conversations.

Boosting African rice yields by developing resistance to the Rice Yellow Mottle Virus

Dr Robert Caine – Postdoctoral Research Associate, School of Biosciences

Dr Robert Caine with Patrick Odongo

The GO Fund has kindly funded Patrick Odongo (KU Leuven), Holly Croft and myself to explore both the molecular mechanisms and spectral signals that contribute towards rice yellow mottle virus (RYMV) infection. Currently this virus is widespread in sub-Saharan Africa and can cause up to a 100% yield reduction in rice. The long-term goals of our project are to develop rice that is resistant to RYMV and to improve imaging methods suitable for the early detection of future RYMV outbreaks.

Patrick recently visited Sheffield (Nov-Dec 2023) to give a seminar to our Plants, Photosynthesis and soil (PPS) cluster and received training in how optical data can potentially be used to identify and prevent disease outbreaks (such as RYMV). We next plan to generate metabolomic data to complement our sequencing data, and then we will write up our results into a research paper. In the coming months we hope to use our advances to secure further funds so we can dig deeper into developing technologies that can prevent RYMV from decimating future African rice yields.

Developing network on health system resilience for extreme weather emergencies

Dr John Richmond – Assistant Professor in Healthcare Management and Leadership, School of Medicine and Population Health

Dr John Richmond and the extreme weather group

The Grantham Opportunities funding was instrumental in helping me to develop a network of researchers interested in health system sustainability and extreme weather.

The funding supported three streams of activity: 1) Delivery of an evidence synthesis course for 12 international early-career and PhD researchers for both grey and published literature in this area. 2) Travel support to individuals who would otherwise be unable to attend our International Symposium with researchers from more than 10 countries, held at The University of Sheffield in July 2023. 3) Completion of grey literature evidence searching by international PhD student to support scoping review (in progress) of health system adaptations for extreme heat.

Durability of bio-composites for strengthening of masonry structures

Dr Niki Trochoutsou during an experiment

Dr Niki Trochoutsou – Research Associate, Department of Civil and Structural Engineering

The GO Fund enabled the implementation of an extensive multi-scale experimental campaign on the durability of bio-composites for strengthening of masonry structures. A range of materials were procured and examined, including natural fibre textiles of different architectures and lime-based mortars, and two PhD students were given the opportunity to work as research assistants, stimulating technical and leadership skills in parallel to active learning.

Advanced, expensive, analytical techniques (such as SEM, XRD) were also carried out, which were indispensable to examine physical degradation mechanisms. Most importantly, it was possible to disseminate the obtained results to: i) international committee meetings, ii) leading industry partners (KIMIA SpA), iii) research group seminars and other outreach activities, and iv) two international conferences highly related to the field of strengthening and sustainable technologies (SCMT6, SMAR2024).

The outcomes of this research, gratefully funded by the GO Fund, unlock the full potential of natural-fibre textile-reinforced mortars and pave the way towards the engineering and tailoring of these novel bio-based systems to meet specific-application criteria, while directly contributing to key UN SDGs.

 


The main image shows Dr Robert Caine during his research fieldtrip