Sustainable Social Science at the Interface

A Research Associate position is available for an enthusiastic, early-career, interdisciplinary scholar with experience in investigating large scale infrastructure systems or new business models. This is a unique and exciting opportunity to be part of an EPSRC funded project exploring the circular economy of plastics and plastics waste with partners from academia (Materials Science, Business Systems, Sustainable Consumption Institute) and industry.

You will hold a PhD or equivalent with relevant research experience in investigating large scale infrastructure (e.g. waste, energy, transport), new business models, or waste management. Expertise in qualitative methods, particularly semi-structured interviewing, is a benefit, as is knowledge of polymer, materials or NIR science.

You will be working as part of a large interdisciplinary team, working alongside material scientists, social scientists, as well as business stakeholders, therefore you will need to be an enthusiastic team player with good communication skills and the ability to work flexibly.  Excellent written and oral communication skills are also essential.

The School is committed to promoting equality and diversity, including the Athena SWAN charter for promoting women’s careers in STEMM subjects (science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine) in higher education. The School holds a Bronze Award for their commitment to the representation of women in the workplace and we particularly welcome applications from women for this post. All appointments will be made on merit.

For further information, please visit: http://www.materials.manchester.ac.uk/about-us/athena-swan/

Please note that we are unable to respond to enquiries, accept CVs or applications from Recruitment Agencies.

Enquiries about the vacancy, shortlisting and interviews:
Name: Professor Michael Shaver
Email: Michael.shaver@manchester.ac.uk

Well Done Waitrose!

Waitrose is leading the way in the UK supermarkets’ pursuit of cutting single-use plastic waste with their “Unpacked” trial in Oxford.

Packaging has been removed from 75% of produce, with more fragile items sold in cardboard punnets, while flowers are wrapped in recyclable craft paper or in fibre-based pots rather than the classic cellophane wrap and plastic pots. Customers are then offered compostable or reusable cotton bags to put other produce in.

The packaging revelation continues further through the store with refill dispensers for certain dried foods! Not only does this minimise packaging waste – but also facilitates a cut down in food waste, where customers take only what they need, rather than what is available/cheapest.

While this presents a great shift towards increasing the value of plastic materials through their reuse, it is vital that safety standards are maintained. Plastic packaging helps to preserve certain produce for longer, while lots of loose products increases the risk of food contamination. It may also take consumers a while to adapt and therefore the right behaviour must also be encouraged with regards to actually reusing the containers and bags available – not using more each time they shop.

“Unpacked” is the latest in a line of initiatives lined up by the store, with their recent pledge to cut out black plastic, which isn’t widely recycled in the UK. While last year they stopped handing out disposable coffee cups in store.

Seeking Post-doc in Sustainable Polymers!

We are hiring once again!

A Research Associate position is available for an outstanding and enthusiastic polymer chemist to undertake research in the field of synthetic polymer chemistry, particularly in the design and synthesis of degradable polymer architectures for application in formulations. The project will be based in the Green Materials Laboratory under the direction of Prof. Michael Shaver as part of a diverse team addressing academic and industry challenges in sustainable polymer science.

You should have, or be working towards, a PhD or equivalent in synthetic polymer chemistry or a closely related field. Expertise in synthesis and the characterisation of polymers is essential, including air-sensitive techniques, gel-permeation chromatography, biodegradation and/or formulation rheology. You should be capable of working under your own initiative and leading a small research team, so excellent communication and organisational skills are also required.

Apply at: https://www.jobs.manchester.ac.uk/displayjob.aspx?jobid=17323

Rheological Characterisation of Poly(FLP) Networks

Congrats to Utku and Meng for their new Macromolecules paper! This work further investigates the rheological properties of our novel polymeric Frustrated Lewis Pairs.

The original styrene-FLP copolymers were studied, as were newly synthesised FLP-MMA copolymers. The networks formed upon addition of a DEAD linker behave as non-covalent supramolecular assemblies with a high temperature dependence. Increasing crosslink density resulted in a more solid-like material, as did the switch to a more flexible MMA backbone as a result of more facile chain rearrangement.

Group Transfer Polymerization of Methacrylates

Great work by Dan in his new Macromolecules paper! The paper details our work in developing novel titanium-amino-phenolates complexes for the radical polymerisation of methyl methacrylate. The polymerization is possible without the need for a co-catalyst or activator and gives good control over molecular weight, as expected with a controlled radical polymerization. These systems however proceed via a unique bimetallic group transfer process, providing insight into titanium-mediated radical reactions and polymerizations.

Compostable Sales Soar!

With the UK throwing away 2.5bn coffee cups a year, the “latte levy” of 25p on plastic disposable cups was welcome progress on government policy addressing single-use plastic waste. The EU has also announced plans to ban single-use plastics – ranging from plastic straws to a reduction in food and drink packaging.

For some businesses, such as the Houses of Parliament, this has drawn their attention towards compostable products as an alternative for food packaging. It was recently announced that Vegware has seen its sales increase 50% since the discussions around disposale cups and straws started! However the compostable packaging requires special disposal at composting plants and is not compatible with ordinary waste dumps. Vegware has pledged to collect waste from businesses it supplies to try and solve this problem – but commercial composting is currently very regional in the UK.

Landfill taxes can encourage a shift towards recyclable and compostable packaging options. However, as pointed out by the Scottish Green Party and Friends of the Earth Scotland, its important that we don’t think about replacing one single-use plastic with another. Compostable packaging has a place, especially with UK-wide composting coverage, but only where a disposable option is truly needed.

“If you were going to a festival you should have a reusable cup for your beer, but for your falafels, you should probably use Vegware.”

GML at Greater Manchester Green Summit

Following on from the GML joining Manchester’s RE3 project, Prof. Shaver represented the University of Manchester and the Henry Royce Institute at the recent Greater Manchester Green Summit! Greater Manchester has ambitious plans to be a carbon neutral city by 2032 and to eliminate avoidable plastic waste by 2020, lots of positive discussion was had at the summit surrounding these aims.

Mike outlined the scale of the problem with plastic waste, with 40 billion tonnes of plastic waste projected to be present on Earth by 2050. Greater Manchester is well placed to provide a sustainability model for others to follow – with attitudes moving away from going “plastic-free” resulting in increased food waste, and instead towards focusing on using better materials and using current ones in a smarter way.

While development of new materials including biodegradable and self-repairing polymers is key, organisations and individuals need to take responsibility for their plastic use. The way we deal with this generated waste also needs to be managed more effectively in considering what we can and should biodegrade, reuse and recycle. Collaboration between academia, industry and the public sector is vital in this respect, with projects such as the RE3 facilitating such collaboration.

Take a look here for more details on the summit.

GML joins EPSRC RE3 project- Rethinking Resources and Recycling

Manchester is at the heart of the UK’s shift to a sustainable plastic society. Greater Manchester plans to minimise single-use plastics by 2020, providing a leading example to the rest of the UK, where a 2042 target has been set by the government for elimination of avoidable plastic waste. It is essential that we realise that often plastic is the best material for the job – from both an energy and a property perspective – and thus it is about intelligent choices of how we reuse, recycle and degrade these materials that underpins progress. Following our move to the University of Manchester, the Green Materials Laboratory are excited to be collaborating on the EPSRC funded RE3 project, with the aim of addressing plastic waste stream and supply chain challenges in the UK.

This interdisciplinary project seeks to target both the technological and societal sides of the 5 million tonnes of plastic waste being generated in the UK annually. A consortium has been formed of manufacturing, social, and material scientists, as well as several other academic and industrial partners, to provide practical solutions and thought leadership in valorising these plastic waste streams and creating sustainable business models. The project also aims to enable development of new degradable polymers to reduce our current reliance on single-use plastics from non-renewable feedstocks. Collaborating in this consortium allows us the unique opportunity to couple our expertise with that of other academics at the University of Manchester, as well as both industrial and local authority partners. We appreciate the new perspectives on what is a massive global challenge!

For more information, check out the link here…. RE3 – Rethinking Resources and Recycling

Ring-opening polymerisation of dioxolanones

Congrats to Yuechao and Mitch for their latest work on ROP of dioxolanones!

The paper builds on our previous work on the synthesis of poly(α-hydroxy acid)s where we found elimination of formaldehyde to be the favoured driving force. Here, the impact of a competing Tischchenko side reaction via the liberated formaldehyde was probed and found to lead to significant reductions in molecular weight. Polymerisation under dynamic vacuum reduces the tendency towards this side reaction through removal of formaldehyde, while use of a water jacketed reactor avoids loss of monomer. Crystalline poly(mandelic acid) was formed under these conditions, giving thermal properties competitive to that of polystyrene!

Morpholino Polymer Hydrogels as miRNA Sensors

Check our Gerry Langford’s new paper in ACS Sensors: It details our work in developing hydrogels with morpholino-based crosslinks that serve as sensors for single stranded oligonucelotide sequences. They show a remarkable improvement in sensitivity, salt tolerance, and temperature stability compared to ssDNA analogues and have detection limits as low as 10 pM. They even work using a simple mobile phone camera!

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