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Prof Niall English receives ERC Advanced Grant to optimise nanobubble technology for diverse end applications

Wednesday, 13 December, 2023

Professor Niall English

Professor Niall English of the School of Chemical & Bioprocess Engineering, Photo by Ste Murray

The European Research Council (ERC) has selected internationally renowned research leader, Professor (opens in a new window)Niall English, as a recipient of its highly prestigious 2023 Advanced Grant.

At a value of upwards of €2.5 million, these grants allow established research leaders to perform world-leading investigation of cutting-edge and high-risk / high-gain phenomena. Past recipients have included Nobel laureates and leading scientists who have gone on to make major contributions to their respective fields.

Through the NIMBLE project, Professor English, UCD School of Chemical and Bioprocess Engineering, will investigate how electric-field-generated nanobubbles and nanodroplets can be optimised in their characteristics for use in water treatment, agriculture, aquaculture and carbon capture.

Nanobubbles are tiny gas bubbles on the nanometre (nm) scale. ‘Nanobubble technology’ can remove impurities and pathogens from wet environments, improving production and processes across many applications in a broad range of sectors. The NIMBLE project will build on the low-energy, highly-efficient platform technology of nanobubble generation developed by Professor English’s research group in UCD.

Commenting on NIMBLE, Professor English said, "This ERC project will enhance our understanding of how electric-field engineering can predict the effectiveness of molecular engineering of nanobubbles, through optimal deployments in a range of settings. The use of nanobubbles as delivery agents for smart aquaculture and agriculture is a seminal development, and more efficient carbonation strategies by way of low-energy gasification, reactive species and flotation characteristics, could revolutionise water treatment and carbon capture."

“The development of NIMBLE owes a deal to the persistent work of our group's young and ambitious researchers, as well as international collaborators in academia and industry - whom I now salute today. I must also thank the European Commission, Bord Gáis, Enterprise Ireland, and Science Foundation Ireland (e.g. I-Form and iCRAG) for supporting the nano-phase R&D journey."

UCD Vice-President for Research, Impact and Innovation, Professor Helen Roche said: "Congratulations to Professor Niall English on this great achievement. The highly competitive ERC Advanced grants recognise research leaders who are contributing valuable new knowledge within their fields, and whose work has real benefits for the global community. We look forward to seeing the far-reaching impact of the NIMBLE project.”

The ERC Advanced grants - totalling €544m for 2023 - provide researchers with the opportunity to pursue ambitious, curiosity-driven projects that could lead to major scientific breakthroughs. In addition to strengthening Europe's knowledge base, the grants are expected to create more than 2,000 jobs for postdoctoral fellows, PhD students, and other staff at host institutions in 20 countries.

EU Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, Mariya Gabriel said: “ERC grants are a top recognition and a significant commitment from our best researchers. The €544 million funding puts our 218 research leaders, together with their teams of postdoctoral fellows, PhD students and research staff, in pole position to push back the boundaries of our knowledge, break new ground and build foundations for future growth and prosperity in Europe.”

An inventor, professor, chartered chemical engineer (FIChemE) and industrialist, Professor English is the co-founder of two prestigious European Innovation Council (EIC) Accelerator-backed spin-outs, (opens in a new window)AquaB and (opens in a new window)BioSimulytics. In 2020, AquaB won the IChemE Global Award in the Water Award category based on the breakthrough platform nanobubble technology. Biosimulytics was the overall winner of the 2019 UCD VentureLaunch Accelerator Programme and received the NovaUCD Spin-out of the Year Award in 2022 for its work to advance molecular simulation of crystal-structure prediction.