UofG researchers set out for New Horizons

Researchers from the University of Glasgow’s College of Science & Engineering are sharing in new funding for adventurous, high-risk research.

Four projects from three Schools have received support from the 25.5m New Horizons fund, administered by the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC).

A total of 126 adventurous projects in the mathematical and physical sciences will benefit from the pilot funding from EPSRC, part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

Grants of up to 200,000 to cover a maximum of two years’ work were available to New Horizons applicants, with a streamlined application process and a review process focused on the transformational potential of the research.

Dr Joerg Goette and Dr Robert Bennett of the School of Physics & Astronomy will explorea new method of trapping and manipulating atoms which could have new applications in areas, including quantum computation. The method is based on interfering laser beams in such a way that a grid appears, made up of areas in which the light has different values of a property known as helicity.

This new type of optical lattice also contains electric and magnetic substructures, which can be used to explore the response of atoms to the rapidly-varying electric and magnetic fields that constitute all light beams.

During the project, they will model these lattices in order to evaluate their experimental feasibility and how they can be generated from realistic laser beams, as well as looking for new phases of quantum matter that may arise among atoms trapped within the lattice.

Professor Duncan Gregory of the School of Chemistry will advance our understanding of electrides - a small but extraordinary group of solids with unique physical properties and crystal structures, which have the potential to transform the materials landscape.

New phenomena and properties are critical in launching advanced materials beyond the current state-of-the-art, thereby introducing the next generation of innovative and disruptive technologies.

The project aims to learn more about electrides as a family of new materials, synthesised by design principles and scrutinised as cutting-edge materials with applications in electronics, energy storage and catalysis. The programme consists of three scientific themes: discovering new electrides, manipulating their properties by design and pioneering the concept of low dimensional electride nanomaterials - or ’electrenes’.

Dr Gordon Hedley of the School of Chemistry ’s project will examine the possibility of developing new techniques to measure the quantum behaviour of simple carbon-based materials by looking at the light emitted from individual molecules.

Using high power lasers and microscopes, Gordon’s group will measure light emitted by molecules one at a time. That light will be split into two paths, and interferences between them will be used to determine the quantum behaviour of the molecule. This quantum behaviour is often called ’spooky’ because it appears to allow things that simply make no sense, for example connections between two objects that allow us to always instantly know what the second one is doing if we look at the first, even if the first is in Glasgow, Scotland and the second Glasgow, U.S.A.

The advances pursued in this project could lead to new ways to build secure quantum communication and computational devices using simple and easily manufacturable materials.

Dr Efthymios Sofos of the School of Mathematics and Statistics will build on previous research undertaken with Professor Alexei Skorobogatov in Imperial College London on Schinzel’s Hypothesis H, which states that any polynomial produces primes, unless there is an obvious obstruction. Dr Sofos and Professor Skorobogatov settled Schinzel’s Hypothesis H for all randomly chosen polynomials.

Their new project will develop the consequences in Diophantine geometry. Hilbert’s famous tenth problem states that there exists a finite algorithm for deciding whether a Diophantine equation can be solved in the integers. Hilbert’s claim was famously disproved by Matiyasevich. The team’s work reveals strong evidence to the surprising statement that the contrary holds when it comes to solving equations in the rationals: the finite time Hasse-principle algorithm holds for all randomly chosen equations.

Professor Chris Pearce, Vice-Principal for Research at the University of Glasgow, said: "It’s fantastic to see these exciting new projects receive support from the inaugural round of New Horizons funding. They’re all great examples of the kinds of innovative thinking which underpin the University of Glasgow’s broad research expertise, and I’m looking forward to seeing how each project develops."

EPSRC’s 2019 Delivery Plan highlighted the desire to continue promoting excellence in research by investing in new approaches to delivery that are optimised to the specific researcher base and research outputs desired.

Science Minister Amanda Solloway said: "It is critical we give the UK’s best researchers the resources to drive forward their revolutionary ideas so they can focus on identifying solutions to some of the world’s greatest challenges, such as climate change.

"This government funding will allow some of our brightest mathematicians and physicists to channel all their creative ingenuity into achieving potentially life-changing scientific breakthroughs - from mathematics informing how we save our rainforests to robotics that will help track cancer faster."

EPSRC Executive Chair, Professor Dame Lynn Gladden, said: "New Horizons reflects EPSRC’s commitment to funding creative, transformative and ambitious new ideas across our portfolio. In this pilot, we have funded more than 100 projects in the mathematical and physical sciences.

"The scheme also piloted a new, simplified applications process designed to minimise the administrative burden of submitting grant applications, thereby enabling researchers to focus on developing their research ideas.

"The call for proposals attracted a very positive response in terms of both the number and quality of applications and we look forward to exploring how to include the approaches taken through New Horizons in further areas of our portfolio."

EPSRC will now evaluate the pilot and the outcomes of New Horizons in line with the wider UKRI Reforming our Business programme and consider how the approaches taken through New Horizons can be included in future activities.