Researchers from the University of Glasgow’s College of Science & Engineering have been awarded funding to support cutting-edge new research projects.
Five projects led by University engineers and computing scientists have received support from the New Horizons fund, administered by the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).
The New Horizons fund supports adventurous research from across the mathematical and physical sciences. The five Glasgow-led projects are among 77 to receive support in the latest round of New Horizons awards.
Grants of up to £200,000 to cover a maximum of two years’ work were available to New Horizons applicants, with a streamlined application process and a review process focused on the transformational potential of the research.
Professor David Flynn of the James Watt School of Engineering will lead a new programme of research address an unmet clinical need in cancer treatment, leading to a radically new technology for photodynamic therapy and creating a paradigm shift in post-treatment management for patients.
The project team includes academics experienced in multidisciplinary research from within the University of Glasgow, with expertise in biomedical engineering, healthcare technologies, nano-microfabrication, and experimental therapeutics in cancer.
This project hypothesizes that time-critical and curative treatment for bladder cancer can be revolutionised by creating implantable microsystems for a world-first in-situ photodynamic therapy. Through the complex optimisation and integration of photoactive, porous, and high surface area polymers within a wireless implantable microsystem, the researchers aim to deliver in-situ singlet oxygen to enhance tumour cell kill either as a monotherapy or in combination with radiotherapy. This new technology has the potential to address the unmet clinical needs of bladder cancer, associated with its late detection, limited treatment options, and a high mortality rate.
Dr Chong Li and Professor Martin Weides of the James Watt School of Engineering will investigate a feasibility of integrating wireless technology with superconducting transmon quantum bits – or ‘qubits’ – for upscaling quantum computer systems.
This is a completely new idea for overcoming the urgent technological challenge of scaling up the size of existing quantum simulators and computers by bringing the conventional wireless technology to the inside of quantum computers, achieving controls and readouts of thousands of qubits in a compact way.
The proposed technique hasn’t yet been explored elsewhere in the world and could potentially lead to paradigm shifts in existing architectures of quantum computer systems and create new fields of research, such as the development of wireless CPUs for quantum computers.
Dr Rair Macêdo and Professor Martin Lavery of the James Watt School of Engineering will work on a microwave-to-optical interface for the distribution of quantum states over optical cables and/or free-space channels, like the internet.
Quantum computing is becoming a rapidly maturing field, hastening the need for novel technologies that can enable distributed quantum information to create quantum computer networks. Such a quantum network, or quantum internet, is expected to offer unprecedented capabilities as well as allowing us to perform tasks that are impossible to carry out with today’s web with additional levels of security.
Qubits are the most basic unit of quantum information. However, qubits’ signals are typically in the microwave frequency band, forming a key hurdle in achieving large-scale quantum information distribution as microwaves cannot be transferred very as easily as light through a quantum fibre.
Through this award, Dr Macêdo and Prof. Lavery aim at tacking this problem using magnets. This is because spintronic states (i.e. spin precession in magnetic materials) have extraordinary optical capabilities as well as having been shown to support information exchange with qubits – making them the perfect candidate for interfacing quantum communication.
Realising such an interface would be critical in forming the basis of a global network of quantum computers and to realise a truly quantum internet.
Dr Graham McDonaldDr Jake Lever and Professor Iadh Ounis from the School of Computing Science will develop novel machine learning-based information extraction models to enable medical researchers to extract, and learn from, useful information in the clinical notes of medical records, while protecting any sensitive patient information.
Medical records track a patient’s hospital visits, diagnoses, symptoms and many other key data throughout their medical journey. Analysing large collections of such records can lead to new discoveries in treatments, a greater understanding of the causes of diseases, and improved healthcare delivery. However, a substantial amount of information about patients’ histories is recorded in the clinical notes of medical practitioners. Access to this unstructured data is restricted as it can contain personally identifiable patient information.
The project will develop an active learning framework to enable medical researchers to explore and annotate adaptive synthetic records that are representative of real records and that reflect the researchers’ interests. The annotated synthetic records will provide a means to train machine learning-based models for extracting information from the real medical records while protecting patients’ identities. The researchers will work with the NHS Safe Havens to explore how this approach can benefit medical research and the NHS.
Professor Roy Vellaisamy of the James Watt School of Engineering and Professor Merlyne De Souza of the University of Sheffield’s Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering will explore a new application of topological insulators in the field of artificial intelligence. Topological insulators are a versatile group of materials with gapless conducting states on their surface and a bandgap in their interior that have potential applications in future quantum computing, spintronics and energy harvesting. 
Present-day computers consisting of segregated memory and CPUs are nearing the end of their maximum achievable computing power, paving way for novel neuromorphic computers for the future. 
Artificial neural networks use cross-bar arrays of memristors that are intrinsically capable of addition and multiplication operations. Nevertheless, the decision-making elements of artificial neural networks are neurons that operate by integrating input current from synapses to trigger an output voltage once the membrane potential exceeds a threshold.
Attempts to emulate neurons in electronic devices have faced issues of density and power consumption, especially if CMOS based. This project attempts to harness the exotic properties of topological insulators to implement a neuron leading to new paradigms in ultra-low power devices for the internet of things and big data.
EPSRC Executive Chair Professor Dame Lynn Gladden said: “The adventurous thinking displayed in these new projects underlines the ingenuity and imagination of our research base, taking novel approaches to tackle major challenges.
“The discovery-led science we support is at the heart of the research and innovation ecosystem.
“Engineering and physical sciences underpins and advances research across all disciplines, catalysing the breakthroughs and technologies that deliver benefits and prosperity for all of society.”