Polymer materials

Synthesis, characterisation and theoretical understanding of novel Polymer Materials. This research area includes studies into novel polymer synthesis, polymer drug delivery, polymer nanocomposites, responsive polymers, block co-polymers and soft nanotechnology. It does not include research into polymers for energy applications or photonic polymers, which are covered in related research areas.

We aim to maintain the size of this research area as a proportion of the EPSRC portfolio. As well as directly helping to meet a range of real-world challenges, the area enables a number of other research areas. In this Delivery Plan period, the focus will be to build on core strengths and drive links with healthcare challenges and opportunities arising from advanced materials research.

Specifically, we aim to:

  • Maintain the UK's core strengths in polymer synthesis, composites, soft matter characterisation, hydrogels and liquid crystal science (Evidence source 1)
  • Facilitate links with the life sciences, building on the strong links with the Biomaterials and Tissue Engineering research area, and ensuring pull-through to clinical application (e.g. via the Healthcare Technologies Impact and Translation Toolkit (Evidence source 2))
  • Build on the key role this area plays in the advanced materials field, including developing awareness of how this affects other research areas across Themes. This will include links to the Sir Henry Royce Institute, to ensure that we understand government and industrial drivers for communicating important technical challenges and share appropriate opportunities
  • Ensure the community is fully engaged in EPSRC research opportunities in areas where there is strong industrial interest in polymers (e.g. composite materials for aerospace, liquid crystals in display technologies (Evidence source 3), polymers for drug delivery)

In the Polymer Materials area, there is a good 'people balance' featuring established leaders, fellows and Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs). We will look to maintain this and share best practice. Other aims include maintaining access to large facilities and encouraging links to users to accelerate impact. Working across EPSRC Themes will be important in addressing the multidisciplinary opportunities in this area.

Highlights:

The 2014 Materially Better report underlined this research area's importance by highlighting the vital role that polymers play in many aspects of daily life. (Evidence source 4) It also demonstrated that polymer chemistry and polymer-based materials science in the UK are currently vibrant and have a strong international reputation. Synthesis and characterisation, in particular, remain important.

This area is well-balanced demographically with a good range of fellows, first grants and leading established academics. Supporting this, a polymer-related CDT has been funded at the University of Sheffield as well as one in composite materials at the University of Bristol. These will help ensure the future supply of trained people.

Increasing interest is apparent in polymers' use in energy applications (e.g. reduction of energy use through display materials) and electronics. The development of polymers for healthcare applications (e.g. biomaterials, drug delivery and infection control) is a rapidly growing area and has strong crossover with the Healthcare Technologies Theme at EPSRC and across Research Councils. Key influences include links to the life sciences (Evidence source 5), EPSRC's Healthcare Technologies strategy and the cross-Council Antimicrobial Resistance Initiative. About a quarter of the total value of the Polymer Materials portfolio is directly relevant to health.

In terms of project partners on grants, the top contributors are in the personal care, chemicals and pharma sectors. 45% of the companies interviewed for EPSRC's Sovereign Capability Report said the Polymer Materials research area was critical to their business (Evidence source 6).

Polymer Materials links to the advanced materials field and therefore to the Advanced Materials Leadership Council (AMLC) strategy and the Sir Henry Royce Institute. Advanced materials has been highlighted as one of 12 potentially economically disruptive technologies (Evidence source 7), with medicine highlighted as one of the most promising areas for adoption of advanced nanomaterials; new Polymer Materials could contribute to this.

Specific fields of notable quality - where the UK contributes around 17% of the top 10% of most highly cited publications - are hydrogels, liquid crystals and polymerisation methodology. (Evidence source 8)

Materials modelling and characterisation are key aspects of this research area and rely on use of, for example, the Scanning Transmission Electron Microscopy (STEM) facility, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF), the ISIS Neutron and Muon Source, Diamond Light Source and the Advanced Research Computing High End Resource (ARCHER).

This area has long-term links to all Outcomes and Ambitions, with immediate impact in the Productive Nation Outcome. Relevant Ambitions in the Productive, Resilient and Healthy Nation Outcomes include:

P1: Introduce the next generation of innovative and disruptive technologies

P5: Transform to a sustainable society, with a focus on the circular economy

R4: Manage resources efficiently and sustainably

We will continue to see steady growth in the sub-topic of renewable and biodegradable Polymer Materials. Manufacturing and engineering could provide even more opportunities to deliver impact.

H2: Improve prevention and public health 

H4: Develop future therapeutic technologies

Links to the life sciences will lead to fundamental advances in the development of Polymer Materials for tissue regeneration, drug delivery and medical implants.

  1. EPSRC Polymer Materials Capability Evidence Review: 2010 Roadmap.
  2. Health Technologies Impact and Translation Toolkit.
  3. Chemical Sciences and Society Summit (CS3), Organic Electronics for a Better Tomorrow: Innovation, Accessibility, Sustainability (PDF), (2012).
  4. EPSRC, Materially Better: Ensuring the UK is at the Forefront of Materials Science (PDF), (2014).
  5. EPSRC, The Importance of Engineering and Physical Sciences to Health and Life Sciences (PDF) ('the Maxwell review'), (2014).
  6. EPSRC, Sovereign Capability Report, (2016).
  7. McKinsey & Company, Disruptive Technologies: Advances That Will Transform Life, Business, and the Global Economy, (2013).
  8. Polymer Materials were covered by three Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014 panels: Chemistry, Physics and Materials. More of EPSRC's major players (by funding value) are in the higher-ranked chemistry departments, suggesting polymer chemistry is a strength.

Other source:

  • AMLC, Vision papers.

Research area connections

This diagram shows the top 10 connections between Research Areas within the EPSRC research portfolio. The depth of the segment relates to value of grants and the width of the segment relates to the number of grants shared by those two Research Areas. Please click to see the related Research Area rationale.

Maintain

We aim to maintain this area as a proportion of the EPSRC portfolio.

Visualising our Portfolio (VoP)
Visualising our portfolio (VoP) is a tool for users to visually interact with the EPSRC portfolio and data relationships.

EPSRC support by research area in polymer materials (GoW)
Search EPSRC's research and training grants.

Contact Details

In the following table, contact information relevant to the page. The first column is for visual reference only. Data is in the right column.

Name: Dr Ellen Meek
Job title: Portfolio Manager
Organisation: EPSRC
Telephone: 01793 444208