Pioneering Research Tested in University Business Collaboration

Research by a team at Northumbria University’s School of Applied Sciences, led by computational chemist Dr Marcus Durrant, has developed a radical approach to the development of new catalysts – the vital components found in the manufacture of many of the world’s most commonly used products.

Major advances in software and computer technology over the past five years have enabled Durrant’s team to develop a new computerised approach for designing catalysts, which previously required labour intensive and costly experimental methods for their development.

Dr Durrant is recognised as a leading light in UK Computational Chemistry. His specialist interest is in biologically inspired computerised chemistry – bringing together evolutionary biology with computational chemistry, which uses quantum chemistry calculations. His radical new research was published in a European Chemistry Journal earlier this year.

Dr Durrant says: “Catalysts are used right across industry and are essential in drug production and the production of plastics for example. However, speeding up the process and developing new catalysts has previously been a hit and miss and laborious task.

“Traditional catalyst development involves an experimental approach in which chemists must identify potential catalysts, prepare them by chemical synthesis and measure their catalytic properties experimentally. This method requires a significant amount of experimental knowledge, time and money in order to identify promising lead compounds.”

Now Dr Durrant and his team have joined forces with Procter & Gamble to trial their new approach on real industrial problems.

Using the new technique computer-generated programmes will do battle, ensuring the survival of the fittest catalysts. 2,000 days worth of computer time will be used to complete the project for P&G, with over 500 complex calculations, each taking up to five days to complete. This radical new approach is ideal for tackling problems where more traditional experimental chemistry has struggled to find the answers.

Dr. Mike Addison, Business Development Manager at P&G says: “We were delighted when Northumbria approached us with a very exciting research and development proposal to help us identify new catalysts for our products. Northumbria's approach to catalyst development is entirely computer-based and has the potential to identify particularly promising structures behind which to invest synthesis effort. If successful the approach offers a major advance in catalyst development.

“P&G is committed to serving the needs of the worlds’ consumers now and for generations to come. Catalysts are particularly important to achieving many of the transformations consumers need and want in a sustainable way, it is therefore entirely fitting for P&G to be involved in this cutting edge project.”

The partnership between Northumbria University and Procter & Gamble has been facilitated by Northumbria Commercial Enterprises, the University’s specialist division responsible for matching academic expertise with industrial need.

Graham Hopson, Commercialisation Manager at Northumbria Commercial Enterprises says: “We are delighted to have facilitated this important partnership between the University and P&G. We offer a range of services to business clients and this is a clear example of how ground breaking academic research can be used to potentially tackle real industrial problems.”

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