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Friedrich-Alexander University

21 Projects, page 1 of 5
  • Funder: UKRI Project Code: EP/P030815/1
    Funder Contribution: 100,798 GBP
    Partners: WSU, Lancaster University, Friedrich-Alexander University

    The transformation of energy in the forms of heat and work pertains to everyday life and is a crucial aspect in the efficiency of machines. In fact, the laws of thermodynamics, which govern these energy transformations, are so fundamental that have their say in almost all branches of physics. The first law acknowledges that heat is energy to be accounted for in energy conservation. The second law of thermodynamics qualitatively distinguishes heat from other forms of energy by associating it to entropy, a measurement of the "lack of information" about a system, and by stating that entropy grows in macroscopic systems. The generality of these statements stems from general statistical properties of macroscopic objects with a large number of degrees of freedoms. However, the technological advances in engineering and operating nanoscale objects like molecular machines, forces us to rethink the implications of thermodynamics for microscopic few-particle systems, where thermal fluctuations are significant. Here the laws of thermodynamics can be reformulated in terms of probabilistic equations, known as fluctuation theorems, which account for rare microscopic events, like those where entropy decreases, which are instead washed away by statistics in the macroscopic word. The formulation and experimental verification of these theorems have been a success of stochastic thermodynamics in the past decade. The nanoscale world, however, challenges us further with quantum mechanical processes emerging at this scale, and devices built upon them. How do we include quantum fluctuations into the laws of thermodynamics? Current research is advancing on this front with some success by analyzing quantum machines operating between classical thermal sources, to identify genuine quantum effects and generalize the definitions of heat and work for quantum processes. The main problem is that in quantum mechanics even measuring the energy of an isolated system is a deterministic process, and that measuring a specified variable, e.g. work along quantum evolution, comes with unavoidable back-action that needs to be taken into account. In this project, we set aside the usual thermodynamic setup where a system is coupled to a thermal bath and focus instead on the measurement process, where a detector monitoring the system is the reservoir with which the system exchanges energy. This kind of configuration allows us to focus on the role of quantum measurement, and it brings new aspects into play, like the fact of dealing with an out-of-equilibrium environment, and the thermodynamic role of the information gained during the measurement. It also comes with the possibility of short-term experimental realizations, since quantum detector's readout is experimentally available, as opposed to thermal baths' readout. The project will set-up the tools to deal with the thermodynamics of quantum measurement and use them to engineer heat flow detectors and possibly heat flow engineering at the nanoscale.

  • Funder: UKRI Project Code: EP/L027313/1
    Funder Contribution: 96,819 GBP
    Partners: UGOE, Friedrich-Alexander University, University of Strathclyde

    In the medium- to long-term it is highly important that society lessens its reliance on the rare, expensive, often toxic transition metals. To do this alternative strategies must be developed which can replicate or improve the desired outcomes but by judiciously using cheaper, more environmentally benign starting materials and reagents. Such a philosophy lies at the heart of this project, which will aim to develop the chemistry of the most abundant metal in the Earth's crust, namely aluminium, towards achieving some of these goals. A pertinent approach to enhancing the reactivity of aluminium compounds is to activate it in conjunction with a second metal, giving an anionic aluminium complex (a so-called 'ate'). Magnesium (the sixth most abundant metal in the Eart's crust) is one such metal which is known to accomplish this activation. This project will take a systematic approach to the refined synthesis of a library of magnesium aluminates and will characterize the resulting products fully across the three phases (solid, X-ray crystallography; solution, NMR studies; gas phase, DFT calculations). The application of these novel magnesium aluminates will then be advanced in three targeted areas. Magnesium aluminates are primed to replace lithium centred materials for use as electrolytic material in rechargeable batteries. Unfortunately a lot of the material is wasted and the active species themselves are often poorly understood. By tuning the make-up of the aluminate, particularly with respect to the organic ligands which if too nucleophilic can attack the battery cathode, the well-defined novel complexes will be appraised for their utility as such an electrolyte. Magnesium aluminates have also been identified as effective reagents in iron catalyzed bond forming processes but little is known about the intermediates of such reactions with current emphasis being placed on the final product itself. By peering in to this intermediary black box, this project will reveal what is hidden inside and previously unseen, allowing a far greater understanding of the processes involved and arming catalytic practitioners with far more details and knowledge with which to rationally develop the field. Iron, as the second most abundant metal after aluminium, demands greater attention in this area. Finally, the products will be used as starting materials for the development of hydrogen rich supramolecular cluster compounds, which will be studied as model compounds on the road to preparing a reversible hydrogen storage system for portable energy applications. Ultimately, these branches of research will develop the practical applications of activated anionic aluminates with long-term sustainability at the forefront and will promote a step change in the way we understand metal promoted processes.

  • Funder: UKRI Project Code: NE/V011405/1
    Funder Contribution: 619,695 GBP
    Partners: Hebei University, Friedrich-Alexander University, University of Oxford

    Different numbers of species are found in different regions of the globe and in different environments. The tropics house incredible numbers of species, whereas polar environments house far fewer. This pattern of decreasing number of species from the equator to the poles is referred to as the latitudinal biodiversity gradient. The spatial distribution of life on Earth is well characterised today, but we know relatively little about how spatial patterns of biodiversity have varied over millions of years, during times in which Earth's climate and continents were dramatically different to today. This knowledge gap prevents us from understanding the causes of variation in richness among regions and environments, leaving a fundamental and unanswered question at the heart of biodiversity studies. We will characterise how latitudinal biodiversity gradients in the oceans have varied during the past 545 million years, using the rich fossil record of skeletonising marine invertebrates. This will allow us to ask what environmental factors control the distribution of biodiversity among regions and environments. These deep time patterns will provide important historical context for understanding the distribution of life on Earth, yielding unprecedented insight into the generation and maintenance of marine biodiversity. It will also help us to understand the long-term effects of major shifts in climate state, such as those occurring today, on biodiversity.

  • Funder: UKRI Project Code: BB/F009860/1
    Funder Contribution: 383,510 GBP
    Partners: University of Cambridge, Friedrich-Alexander University, Schering-Plough Research Inst - Newhouse

    Nerve cells communicate along the length of their axons by means of action potentials, or transient reversals (depolarisations) of the voltage across the cell membrane. When a sensory stimulus impinges on the skin surface it must, in order to be detected, elicit action potentials in the sensory nerve, or neurone, innervating the body surface at the point of contact. If the stimulus is sustained then it will often elicit a train of action potentials whose frequency encodes the intensity of the stimulus, with higher frequencies signalling a more intense stimulus. Each action potential in a train is followed by a return of the membrane potential to its former negative level (a repolarisation), and in order to elicit the next action potential in the train the membrane voltage must be depolarised again to threshold. The processes which mediate the rate of this depolarisation between action potentials is thus a crucial determinant of the action potential frequency and therefore of the perceived intensity of the stimulus. One important determinant of this rate is the strength of the stimulus, but it is not the only one. In many sensory neurones repolarisation switches on an inward current which then aids the depolarisation to threshold of the next action potential. This current, the hyperpolarisation-activated inward current, or Ih, is the subject of this grant application. Ih is interesting because it can be enhanced by many mediators which promote a sensation of pain, and it therefore may be important in hyperalgesia, or the enhanced pain which follows injury, and in neuropathic pain, an anomalous pain state characterised by ongoing pain and hypersensitivity to even moderate tactile and thermal stimuli. Neuropathic pain is not well understood and is poorly treated by currently available drugs. The condition is often life-long and causes a substantial reduction in quality of life for those who suffer from it. Ih ion channels are made up from various combinations of four different subunits, HCN1-4. Preliminary evidence leading up to this application has shown that there is a segregation in expression of these subunits, with the fast HCN1 subunit expressed in large neurones sensing light touch, and the slower HCN2 in small neurones, most of which sense painful stimuli of various kinds. Why is this? A possible reason is that HCN2 is enhanced by various mediators known to enhance pain, while HCN1 is unaffected. Thus this segregation may provide at least a partial explanation for the increase in pain following injury. We aim to find out more about which subunits are expressed in which types of sensory neurones, and how their behaviour is modulated by inflammatory mediators. There is also evidence from work in other labs that Ih is involved in neuropathic pain, but which subunit is important here and how it enhances neuropathic pain is unknown. We will tackle these and other questions by the use of mice in which each HCN subunits has been genetically deleted (knocked out). We will use a range of techniques to study these mice and to compare them with their wild-type littermates. One major technique will be to record the electrical responses from neurones, both in cell culture, where their behaviour can more readily be investigated, and in an isolated preparation of neurones in situ in skin, which has the advantage that the neurones are in their natural environment. In addition, we will study the behaviour of wild-type and HCN knockout mice in response to a mild painful stimulus, from which they are free with withdraw when it begins to hurt. These studies will advance our understanding of the role of HCN subunits in pain, and if particular subunits have crucial roles in some aspects of pain (e.g. in neuropathic pain) the work will act as a stimulus to the development of novel drugs aimed at specifically blocking those subunits.

  • Funder: UKRI Project Code: EP/P001017/1
    Funder Contribution: 330,104 GBP
    Partners: University of Edinburgh, Friedrich-Alexander University, Imperial College London, BIU

    The interaction between users and a robot often takes place in busy environments in the presence of competing speakers and background noise sources such as televisions. The signals received at the microphones of the robot are hence a mixture of the signals from multiple sound sources, ambient noise, and reverberation due to reflections of sound waves. Thus, in order to focus on stimuli of interest, the robot has to learn and adapt to the acoustic environment. The aim of this research is to provide robots and machines with the ability to understand and adapt to the surrounding acoustic environment. Acoustic scene analysis combines salient features from the observed audio signals in order to create situational awareness of the environment; Sound sources are detected, localised and identified, whilst acoustic properties of the room itself can be characterised. Using the information acquired by analysing the acoustic scene, a three-dimensional map of the environment is created, and can be used to identify sounds or recognise the intent of speech signals. Moreover, by moving within the environment, the robot can explore and learn about the acoustic properties of its surrounding. However, many of the tasks required for analysis of the acoustic scene are jointly dependent. For example, localising the sources of sounds buried in noise and reverberation is a challenging problem. Sound source localisation can be improved by enhancing the signals of desired sources, such as human speakers, whilst suppressing interfering sources, such as a television. However, for source enhancement, desired and interfering sources must be spatially distinguished, hence requiring knowledge of the source directions. The novel objective of this research is therefore to identify and exploit constructively the joint dependencies between the tasks required for acoustic scene analysis. To achieve this objective, the project will take advantage of the motion of the robot in order to look at uncertain events from different perspectives. Techniques will be developed to constructively exploit motion of the robot's arms by fusing microphones attached to the robot's limbs with microphone arrays installed in the robot head. Furthermore, approaches will be investigated that allow multiple robots to share their experience and knowledge about the acoustic environment. The research will be conducted at Imperial College London, within the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering with academic advice from national, European, and international project partners at the University of Edinburgh, UK; International Audio Laboratories Erlangen, Germany; and Bar-Ilan University, Israel.