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Doctoral Training Initiative

Centre for Doctoral Training Initiative - Plastics Shaken Up

Summary

Plastics Shaken Up will train cohorts of PhD students in an exciting transdisciplinary way, in close collaboration with industry, government and non-government organizations.

Gained knowledge, expertise and skills in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) will be enriched with the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, which will contribute theoretically and methodologically and encourage consideration of findings in their societal, political, and cultural contexts (STEM+ approach).

Research at Plastics Shaken Up will take a holistic approach and involves five grand challenges: (1) Consumer trends and needs (eco-use, challenging habitual and behavioural choices), (2) Product and design (eco-design, properties, life cycle analysis, net-zero); (3) Sustainable chemical feedstocks (renewable, waste and recycled feedstocks); (4) Sustainable high value manufacturing (non-hazardous, cost-effective, green chemistry and processing, energy efficient, zero-waste); and (5) End-of-life (chemical, biodegradable and mechanical recycling).

Plastics Shaken Up will deliver on a rethink on how PhD students are trained and educated

We will shake-up polymer science and revolutionise the way how polymers/plastics are made, processed, used, reused, unmade, remade and discarded.

Students carry out their research over 4 years, having bespoke interdisciplinary supervisory teams with mentors from WCFPG and external partners. Each student is provided with a tailored STEM+ training and skills package throughout the 4 years. Skills certificates are awarded upon completion. Students will be trained across a wide range of knowledge sets and skills, such as fundamentals of polymer science and engineering, coding, data processing, design thinking, IP and entrepreneurship, life cycle analysis, climate change, its ethics and justice, as well as the means of communicating findings to a wide variety of publics in accessible ways. They will be enriched and inspired by student-led annual getaways and engaged with our external partners at Polymer Club consortium events. Each student will do secondments with our partners. Each student will produce an environmental and socio-economic impact assessment of their research findings.

Why this initiative, and why now? The plastics industry is crucial to the UK economy, being the 2nd largest employer in manufacturing. Plastics are a top 10 export (£9.6bn) and vital global materials, powering innovation and energy efficiency in key sectors such as food, transport, construction, sanitation, renewable energy, and health. However, plastic waste and pollution have reached globally alarming levels, and we believe that future thinking in plastics technology must be ethical, sustainable, interdisciplinary, and holistic.

At the same time, profound changes lie ahead for society, business and the global labour market given the changing shape of the global economy and our need to address our ambitions in for example climate protection and global technology leadership. STEM doctoral graduates need to be fit for this future. Universities must equip them not only with outstanding scientific and technological expertise, but with interdisciplinary cognitive, digital, interpersonal, and self-leadership skills, as well as tools from social sciences and the humanities to deliver a just, sustainable workplace. Our transdisciplinary STEM+ approach will deliver this.

The next generation of scientists and engineers from Plastics Shaken Up will be ambassadors of a global green and sustainable plastics renaissance. These creative, critical, independent and accountable intellectual risk takers will serve wider society and deliver an international workforce that can provide global leadership and innovation in tackling future environmental and sustainability challenges.