The 2018 finals of Imagine Chemistry recently took place in Gothenburg, Sweden. Ten teams were selected to continue collaborating with AkzoNobel Specialty Chemicals or one of our partners. We asked the winners to share their thoughts on Imagine Chemistry and working with AkzoNobel Specialty Chemicals. Here we speak with the team from the University of Nottingham.

“Usually when we have meetings like this, if I can answer all the questions, I’m not learning anything. That’s not been the case here. I’ve had loads of questions where I’ve had to think really hard. Talking to the experts has been unbelievably beneficial.”

Team name: University of Nottingham
Team members: Ifty Ahmed and Belinda Good
Location: UK
Mentor: Magnus Palmlof
Challenge area: Sustainable smart particle technologies
Award won: Research Agreement

One of several academic teams joining Imagine Chemistry this year, the team from the University of Nottingham was comprised of Ifty Ahmed, Associate Professor and Deputy Head of the Advanced Materials Research Group, and Belinda Good, Innovation and Commercialization Officer in the Technology Transfer Office. Their technology to produce porous microspheres from glass and glass ceramics materials seemed like such a good potential fit for our PPC business that they were awarded with a research agreement to co-develop it further.

In the video below, shot midway through the event, Ifty and Belinda give a bit of background into their project and what they wanted to get out of Imagine Chemistry.

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The team hoped to get some kind of agreement, but certainly didn’t expect it. “I got up on stage and the first words that came out of my mouth were, ‘I’m shocked,’” Ifty says with a laugh. “And that was absolutely genuine. Everybody we spoke to during the event, especially the experts, seemed to like the technology and the manufacturing process, but suggested we were too early stage and needed further data.”

This wasn’t a bad thing though, as Belinda clarifies: “All of the experts that came in would challenge our ideas and were really focused on pointing out potential areas for improvement and pointing out where the gaps were, but they were doing it in a really helpful and constructive way and being really collaborative. They really helped us to understand how to move forward.” Ifty added, “They helped us to develop a deeper understanding of what it would be like to go from our demonstrator level scale-up to an industry scale of manufacturing. That output alone was absolutely key and missing from our knowledge.”

As far as the collaboration goes, the team is hoping to do some feasibility studies, further investigate the scale-up and analysis with AkzoNobel, and then work together to hopefully develop the technology towards commercialization. Longer term, Belinda says, “My aim is to see as much of the good research as I can go from the university to actual application – to see it in use and help get it out there so that it benefits people in whatever way.”

For Ifty’s part, he says, “My main ambition in life is to see something that I’ve developed actually being utilized and of benefit to somebody somewhere and know that I haven’t just wasted my life writing and publishing papers. It would be fantastic for even just one development to see the light of day. I will rest happier if I could achieve that.” He adds, “I haven’t said this to Belinda yet, but if she would take care of all the business side of things for me so that I can just focus on the technical side, that would be awesome.”

To get things started, AkzoNobel will start to get to know the team’s technology better while they further investigate how to scale up. Stay tuned to find out how their collaboration progresses!