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New £3.4 million research programme to enable visionary tech powerful enough to cool the sun’s surface

Evaporative coolers that can transfer heat from high‐power electronics at a rate equivalent to cooling the surface of the sun; or smart nano‐structured coatings that enable ships to slip through the water using less fuel are just two of the visionary applications of a new £3.4 million research programme announced today at the universities of Warwick and Edinburgh, and Daresbury Laboratory.

Professor Duncan Lockerby of Warwick University’s School of Engineering is leading the programme, funded by a grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), that will investigate how nano‐scale engineering flow systems can help respond to global health, transportation, energy and climate challenges over the next 40 years.

The research programme is in collaboration with eight major industrial companies, including AkzoNobel, the European Space Agency, the National Physical Laboratory, and Jaguar Land Rover. These will provide data for technological applications, and other material support.

The cross‐disciplinary team includes Professor Lockerby and Dr James Sprittles from the University of Warwick, Professor Jason Reese from the University of Edinburgh, and Professor David Emerson from Daresbury Laboratory in Warrington. The team will deliver new design techniques for flow systems at the nanoscale – a critical area of research to enable the development of visionary technologies.

The carbon dioxide produced by global shipping is twice that of aviation. China's passenger transportation energy use per capita is forecast to triple over the next 20 years, and India’s will double. Improving the fuel efficiency of marine transport is a strategic priority for governments and companies around the world, and would reduce the emissions that lead to climate change. Cooling high‐performance electronics is a major factor in the design of computer hardware and electronic devices. Next generation supercomputers are going to need to dissipate heat fluxes comparable to those at the surface of the sun.

Professor Lockerby said: “Recent scientific advances are now at the stage where engineers can make nanotechnology work both to improve the productivity of our industries and at the same time help meet pressing global challenges. This means developing functional devices some 1000 times smaller than the width of a human hair.

“For example, if we can engineer ship hull coatings at the nanoscale to reduce drag and marine fouling we could save 250 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per year worldwide. Another example is using arrays of liquid‐filled nanotubes as evaporative coolers, which could revolutionise the design of new electronic hardware with unprecedented levels of performance.

“But to facilitate the safe development of these technologies, it’s essential that we get the engineering right. Standard flow system design tools do not work at the nanoscale, so industry has no way to explore and optimise possible new technologies. This new research programme will help us to bridge that gap, so that the non‐intuitive flow physics can be exploited to engineer new technologies beyond any currently conceived.”

The five‐year research programme will deliver new design tools encapsulated in numerical software. These will enable, for the first time, practical simulations of nanoscale fluid interfaces that will be deployed on technical challenges including designing superhydrophobic surface coatings to reduce drag on marine vehicles, the cooling of high‐power electronics through evaporative nano‐menisci, and highly efficient nanowire filtration membranes.

The aim is to predict the performance of these proposed technologies accurately, optimise their design in partnership with industry, and propose new designs that exploit flow behaviour at this scale for technological impact.

The research grant funds 25 years of researcher time and eight doctoral scholarships. The programme is strongly supported by nine external partners, ranging from large multinational companies to SMEs and other universities.


Notes to Editors:

1. The research team involves Professor Duncan Lockerby and Dr James Sprittles of the University of Warwick, Professor Jason Reese of the University of Edinburgh, and Professor David Emerson of Daresbury Laboratory.

2. A short introductory video is at

3. The project website is

Further information:

For more details please contact Tom Frew, International Press Officer,,  +44(0)7785433155

Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council

Project website

For more details please contact Tom Frew, International Press Officer,, +44(0)7785433155