Imperial-TUM seed fund takes off

Medical trojan horses, bespoke helmets, and wind farm efficiency are some of the projects to receive funding from the Imperial-TUM Collaboration Fund.

The fund, backed equally by Imperial and Technical University of Munich as part of their ‘ flagship partnership ’, will seed early-stage research activity in healthcare haptics, battery storage, and ideas for a circular economy.

The start-up funds will help researchers explore new ideas and directions of research to further their respective fields:

Re-working wind

By combining our expertise through the seed fund, we can better simulate wind farms to eventually increase the output of clean energy. Dr Sylvain Laizet Department of Aeronautics

Wind farms, which comprise clusters of wind turbines, are a valuable source of renewable energy. Placed in open, windy areas, the wind turns the turbines’ blades so its energy is converted into mechanical power. Generators then convert the mechanical power into electricity.

However, many wind farms suffer from ‘wake interference’, where turbulent air from the back of a turbine cascades through a row of wind turbines. This turbulence disrupts energy extraction from the wind and reduces the farm’s efficiency.

Wind farm simulators (WFS) help researchers model and understand the problem before trying out some solutions. Imperial’s Dr Sylvain Laizet ’s ( Aeronautics ) team developed one such simulator, WInC3D , and hope the seed funding will drive collaboration with TUM’s Professor Carlo Bottasso ’s team which will lead to the next generation of wind farm-dedicated simulation and modelling techniques.

Dr Laizet said: “Imperial and TUM are leaders in wind energy research. Combining the seed fund and our expertise, we can better simulate wind farms to eventually increase the output of clean energy.”

(Image credit: Courtesy Dr Georgios Deskos )

Trojan horses for gut disease

Our seed-funded trojan horses could help us improve patients’ treatment and lives. Dr Nazila Kamaly Department of Chemistry

Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease , collectively known as irritable bowel disease (IBD), are long-term inflammatory conditions that cause gut ulceration. Patients must often have parts of their gut removed and the remaining tissue stitched together - a procedure known as anastomosis.

However, the ongoing inflammation in remaining tissue can prevent the surgical wounds healing, worsening symptoms and risking infection.

Imperial’s Dr Nazila Kamaly ( Chemistry ) and TUM’s Dr Philipp-Alexander Neumann have developed a ‘trojan horse’ idea to deliver anti-inflammatory drugs to the surgical sites. If successful, the lack of inflammation could allow the wounds to heal.

The team will use the seed funding to create proof-of-concept experiments - the results of which could lead to further research in delivering trojan horse style drugs for IBD patients.

Patients would swallow tiny particles, or nanoparticles, which contain anti-inflammatory drugs wrapped in robust coatings. The coatings resist stomach acid, bind to wounded tissue, and release their therapeutic payload over time at the site.

Dr Kamaly said: “Many people with IBD don’t respond to available drugs - a state often worsened by anastomosis surgery. Our seed-funded trojan horses could help us improve patients’ treatment and lives.”

3D printed helmets

Our knowledge of the biology involved in TBI is growing fast. These funds could help all-important head protection to evolve alongside it. Dr Mazdak Ghajari Dyson School of Design Engineering

Imperial’s Dr Mazdak Ghajari ( Design Engineering ) and TUM’s Professor Fabian Duddeck will use the funds to 3D print and test tailored head gear that could better prevent traumatic brain injury (TBI) than current models.

Helmets reduce the forces suffered by the head during cycle and motorcycle accidents, sports like ice hockey, and in war zones. They are usually lined with foam, which offers cushioning but lacks protection against the rotational forces at play when a head hits the ground or is affected by a blast.

The team, which includes Imperial’s Dr Siamak Khosroshahi , argue that using tailored 3D printed lattices instead of foam might offer more brain protection and prevent TBI. The lattices are mechanically flexible, meaning they’re more able to absorb rotational forces - and can better divert them from the head and brain - than traditional liners.

The flexibility means they could also be tailored to the user to provide even more protection.

The seed fund will help them test this idea. Dr Ghajari said: “Our knowledge of the biology involved in TBI is growing fast. These funds could help all-important head protection to evolve alongside it.”

Seeding success

Other early stage collaborative projects to receive funding include:

  • Using virtual reality spaces to enhance healthcare and doctor training (haptics in healthcare), by Imperial’s Professor Fernando Bello ( Surgery & Cancer ) and TUM’s Professor Eckehard Steinbach
  • Studying environmental science and how best to achieve a circular economy, by Imperial’s Dr Marco Aurisicchio (Design Engineering) and TUM’s Professor Magnus Fröhling
  • Developing next generation probes for B-meson particles using CERN ’s Large Hadron Collider , by Imperial’s Dr Mitesh Patel ( Physics ) and TUM’s Dr Danny van Dyk
  • Molecular analysis of gene mutation-related heart defects, by Imperial’s Professor Thomas Brand ( NHLI ) and TUM’s Professor Stefan Engelhardt
  • Simulating new designs of structured electrodes for the next generation of lithium ion batteries, by Imperial’s Dr Sam Cooper (Design Engineering) and TUM’s Professor Hubert Gasteiger
  • Using nanotweezers to study biological cells and their contents, by Imperial’s Dr Aleksandar Ivanov (Chemistry) and TUM’s Professor Oliver Hayden
  • Nano-manufacturing single photon emitters for quantum communication systems, by Imperial’s Dr Felice Torrisi (Chemistry) and TUM’s Professor Jonathan Finley
  • Studying the fundamentals and industrial application of friction and lubrication mechanisms on elements of machines (tribology), by Imperial’s Professor Daniele Dini ( Mechanical Engineering ) and TUM’s Professor Karsten Stahl
  • Sharing best practices and knowledge in supporting technical staff via teaching, research, and innovation, by Imperial’s Allison Hunter ( Life Sciences ). TUM’s partner to be announced.

European Partners Fund

In addition to the Imperial-TUM seed fund, Imperial has funded two further new collaborations with TUM via the College’s European Partners Fund, led by Dr Mimi Hii (Chemistry) and Professor Greg Pavliotis ( Maths ). Photos and graphics subject to third party copyright used with permission or © Imperial College London.

Caroline Brogan
Communications and Public Affairs