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Durham University

Durham Energy Institute


Durham University strengthens its international research collaborations in energy materials research.

(16 February 2018)

We are excited to announce a £150k Rutherford Strategic Partnership Grant programme that will bring four early career scientists to Durham University from India, Malaysia, and Mexico as Rutherford Strategic Fellows in Organic Energy Research (RSFs). The successful 2018 bid was led by Asst Prof Paul McGonigal (Department of Chemistry) and Dr Alyssa-Jennifer Avestro (Durham Energy Institute Early Career Fellow and Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 Research Fellow, Department of Chemistry). The Fellowships will draw international talents from around the globe to develop genuinely useful materials to meet the world’s ever-growing energy needs. The RSFs will push the boundaries of organic energy materials for storage, generation, and transmission alongside experts from the Departments of Chemistry, Physics, and Engineering.

During the 2018–2019 programme, the four RSFs will be hosted by the Durham Energy Institute (DEI) in the area of Organic Energy Materials—an emerging national priority area that is aligned with the ‘Clean Growth’ Grand Challenge of the UK Industrial Strategy as well as the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal in affordable and clean energy (UN-SDG 7). The RSFs will engage in a collaborative and interdisciplinary ‘discovery-to-device’ approach to materials research.

Between them, the RSFs will (i) synthesise electronically active molecules and materials (Chemistry), (ii) characterise their properties using advanced spectroscopies, crystallography, and microscopy (Chemistry & Physics), and (iii) evaluate promising materials ex-device and within bench-scale energy storage prototypes (Engineering). Each of the Fellow’s research activities will be guided by one of four expert hosts – Dr Alyssa-Jennifer Avestro (Chemistry), Dr Paul McGonigal (Chemistry), Prof Andy Monkman (Physics), and Dr Chris Groves (Engineering) – and they will also take part in a series of interdisciplinary DEI training activities.

The Rutherford Funding will enhance and build upon Durham’s already successful existing partnerships with Mexico (CONACYT and the Institute for Renewable Energy at the National Autonomous University of Mexico), India (Council of Scientific & Industrial Research and Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science) and Malaysia (University of Malaya).

The RSF programme is part of Durham’s wider commitment to fostering an international/intercultural environment and ensuring excellence in interdisciplinary research. It sets out to meet Durham’s 2017–2027 University Strategy internationalisation objectives: “(i) Delivering a step-change in Durham’s international reputation; (ii) Developing and sustaining a range of strategic partnerships with peer institutions; (iii) Attracting the best staff from around the world to work at or with Durham; (iv) Ensuring that more than a third of our students come from outside the UK.”

Our University prides itself on being a world leader in Research Excellence, with our Rutherford host Departments ranking as top 10 in the UK for Research Impact in the last Research Excellence Framework (REF) assessment: Chemistry (#1), Engineering (#4), and Physics (#10).

Durham University produces world leading research in energy materials across multiple departments in the sciences and social sciences. These activities target a range of applications, including photovoltaics, fuel cells and batteries, and materials for nuclear fusion technologies. The organic photovoltaics research at Durham University is a shining example of inter-disciplinary collaboration with the group including modellers and experimentalists who work together to produce cutting-edge research. RSFs will join this vibrant multidisciplinary community of researchers who are supported by the Durham Energy Institute.

The Institute believes that it is only by unlocking research synergies between different disciplines and sectors, that major breakthroughs in our understanding of how to best meet the energy demands of the future will be achieved.

Professor Danny Donoghue Dean for Internationalisation at Durham University said:

“Durham University is delighted to be part of the first group of universities to benefit from this wonderful new scheme. Developing international research links is becoming increasingly important and internationalization is a key part of our University strategy. We thank the UUKi and Rutherford fund for supporting us to enhance our partnerships in energy research with India, Malaysia and Mexico. We look forward to welcoming the fellows through this scheme, exchanging learning and developing new world class research in the area of organic energy materials.”


Background on Rutherford Fund

17 Universities across the UK were selected from 85 applicant institutions to receive funding to build on their international partnerships by hosting early career researchers from their strategic partners around the world.

The fellowships are funded by the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) through the £118m Rutherford Fund, which aims to attract global talent and strengthen the UK's research base.

Universities UK International (UUKi), who administer the Rutherford fund, are the international arm of Universities UK, representing UK universities and acting​ in their collective interests​ globally​. They​ actively promote universities abroad, provide trusted informa​tion for and about them, and create new opportunities for the sector.

By funding individual mobility within the framework of strategic partnerships, UUKi aims to catalyse longer term and interdisciplinary collaboration. Expected outcomes include:

  • Enhanced research links between UK institutions and key strategic partners in a broad range of countries
  • The development of new, and improvement of existing, research networks and links between future research leaders and the UK research community
  • New opportunities for collaboration and joint working, and greater impact for existing collaborations
  • Enhanced reputation of the UK and UK institutions in a broad range of countries​