Cranfield University is part of a new £13.5 million initiative to grow research capabilities in biodetection technologies against harmful, airborne pathogens. Funded by Research England, as part of their Expanding Excellence in England fund, the Future Biodetection Technologies Hub is led by the University of Hertfordshire, in collaboration with Cranfield, Leeds and Manchester universities.

The funding runs for five years and will address the technological leaps required to build safer, healthier, more resilient environments against bioaerosols – airborne particles of a biological origin including bacteria, viruses, fungi, pollen and toxins - and deepen our understanding of their impact on health, security and climate change. 

Bringing specialist leaders together to transform biodetection technologies

Cranfield University has long-standing expertise in characterising bioaerosol emissions from various environments, and a specialist focus on testing, developing and applying research concepts to develop real-world solutions. The new collaborative hub will bring together researchers with different engineering specialisms from across three Schools in Cranfield. The University project team includes Dr Zaheer Nasar, Dr Chris Walton, Professor Frederic Coulon, Dr Jane Hodgkinson, Dr Iva Chianella, Dr Licia Dossi and Dr Ata Khalid, who will create an interdisciplinary Aerobiosense Research Group to develop novel technologies.

Dr Zaheer Nasar, Lecturer in Atmospheric Aerosols in Cranfield’s Environment Centre, is leading the project for the University and welcomed the investment: “This significant funding will scale up our collective expertise and national capabilities in biodetection technologies. This is a crucial area to develop, with impacts across healthcare, environment, agriculture, security and industry.

“At Cranfield it presents a welcome opportunity for interdisciplinary research, bringing together specialist leaders in their own fields to create an influential and exciting network.”

Professor Leon A. Terry, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation at Cranfield University commented: “Cranfield has a powerful track record in working closely with industry, government and partners to develop real-world applications for research. The investment is set to unite and grow our own expertise, and create an exciting collaborative research hub with our partners.”

Leading innovation to create resilience

Ian Johnston, Professor of Microfluidics and Biodetection at the University of Hertfordshire who led on the grant application, said: “There is an urgent requirement to develop technology for the early detection of biological hazards across numerous real-world applications impacting human, animal and plant health, as well as to develop instrumentation that enhances our understanding of atmospheric processes associated with climate change and its impacts. 

“Our vision is to lead the innovation required to ensure that the UK is resilient to the broad spectrum of biological threats, to positively impact global health, environmental, economic and security outcomes.”

Dr Steven Hill, Director of Research at Research England, said: “We have invested in research units in universities right across England. This will diversify the regional spread of research disciplines to support the sustained enhancement of research capacity across England, and enhance the skills base, build and diversify talent and bring disciplines together to develop new skillsets and "future leaders” in areas of research excellence where there is untapped potential. 

“Our investment will also help to reinforce the contribution of HEPs to their region through strategic local partnerships, focusing on sharing resources and infrastructure and generating local impact, backed by robust institutional leadership. We’re excited to see how these units develop over the next five years.” 

Cranfield is the only Higher Education Provider to have been part of two different and successful Expanding Excellence in England awards in this funding round from Research England. Cranfield also received £7.2 million funding to develop a new research centre, the Magan Centre for Applied Mycology, which focuses on harnessing the positive powers of fungi.