SEPnet’s Doctoral Training Network for Small to Medium Size Enterprises

Funding a PhD with a university can be a highly effective way of conducting research & development but the cost of research for knowledge-based SMEs can be prohibitive. By building an SME Doctoral Training Network (SME-DTN) we are creating a critical mass of research to support both regional industries and national science priorities.

We recruit PhD students from diverse backgrounds to carry out industry-relevant research in areas such as:
• condensed matter physics
• numerical modelling
• gaming
• AI
• data science
• quantum technologies
• medical imaging
• photonic materials & devices
• sensors.

Companies will share costs of each PhD studentship with a SEPnet university partner and work with academics to shape projects in line with each company’s business strategy. The first PhD students will be recruited in October 2021.

Do you have an industry-relevant research project? We want to hear from you! To discuss your project, email:

Testimonials from students, employers and academics:

Data Analytics for Optimising Athlete Performance: collaborative project between Body Rocket and the University of Kent

Callum Barnes, PhD Researcher, University of Kent and Body Rocket:  Callum Barnes, PhD Researcher, University of Kent and Body Rocket:  I’m in the early stages of my PhD and I have already found great value in being a part of the SME-DTN with Body Rocket. During this time the collaborative funding has helped me develop novel technology to collect early data. With this data collected, conclusions have already been reached and is ready to be written up in a formal academic paper where it can be presented at a conference that is held in the host city of the Tour De France for 2023. The additional RED Fund support for training has allowed me to develop my skills within business as well as build connections between academia and industry, not only through the DTN but also by attending the SEPnet Graduate Network training courses.  For cycling enthusiasts out there, a sneak preview of the impact of my research, see here!!

Eric De Golier, CEO, Body Rocket:  As with many cutting edge IoT products Body Rocket found itself in a position of having an immediate product for early adopters but a longer path to fully maximising the value of our technology with a broader audience. Historically this can be an organic process of trying to get the technology involved in new research wherever possible. By getting involved in the SEPnet SME-DTN programme we’ve been able to form a direct link with the University of Kent to kickstart that process. As our data is new and unique it offers great opportunities for novel research, so it feels like a real win-win for everyone.

Dr Stuart Gibson, Senior Lecturer in Physics and Astronomy, UoA Physics Research Lead, University of Kent:  We are pleased to be working with Body Rocket ltd on a collaborative research project supported by the SEPnet SME-DTN. Their novel technology for measuring a cyclist’s aerodynamic drag is unique and offers clear advantages over other products on the market. Kent’s contribution focuses on the development and application of machine learning algorithms for optimisation of an athlete’s performance. The proposed programme of research exploits our expertise attained through the development of data led solutions to a wide range of problems in the physical sciences.  This multidisciplinary project represents an exciting opportunity to engage with industry and work with our colleagues in the department of Sports Science at the University of Kent.

Sustainable manufacturing of lithium-ion batteries by dry coating of solvent-free electrodes:  collaborative PhD project between Addionics Ltd and University of Surrey

Pye Kwye, PhD Researcher, University of Surrey and Addionics Ltd:  My PhD has involved working closely with the University of Surrey and Addionics to discover potential methods of removing hazardous solvents and improving the economical sustainability of battery manufacturing. My work has allowed me to realise the importance of research and impact it can make upon a larger industry. I hope to see my research influence the energy industry by helping optimize energy storage systems and hopefully making these systems safer and more affordable for key technologies such as electric vehicles, ultimately, driving a positive environmental future.  SEPnet’s training network has demonstrated the importance of communications and networking with other researchers and provided opportunities for me to attend conferences and gatherings to further improve my scientific knowledge. For example, it has helped me improve the quality of my research, enlightened me of the paths towards getting published, and improved my understanding of concepts such as AI and machine learning.

Dr Vladimir Yufit, Chief Science and Innovation Officer, co-founder of Addionics:  We are very pleased to start a PhD project with the leading experts in the field Prof Qiong Cai, Charley Wu and Joseph Keddie from University of Surrey. Addionics will leverage their expertise and jointly design, model and manufacture battery electrodes using dry-coating methods. These methods provide significant cost reduction to fabricate battery cells for electric vehicles with improved characteristics enabled by Addionics proprietary technology. I am excited and looking forward to development of our new battery electrode technology.  

Dr Qiong Cai, Reader in Chemical Engineering and Sustainable Energy Materials, University of Surrey:  We are excited to work with Addionics on developing sustainable manufacturing techniques for fabricating next-generation lithium-ion batteries (LIBs). This partnership is a recognition of our expertise in electrode materials engineering and a result of our decade-long collaboration with Addionics’s two co-funders Dr Vladimir Yufit and Dr Farid Tariq.  In this partnership, we bring Surrey’s expertise in electrode design and modelling (Dr Qiong Cai), particle technology and formulation engineering (Prof Charley Wu), and physical characterisation of coating and polymers (Prof Joseph Keddie), to support the development of dry-coating techniques for sustainable manufacturing of LIBs that has potential to significantly reduce the cost of LIBs. 

Quantitative rationale for frequency & tolerance of QA programmes based on clinical impact & patient outcomes for supine and upright radiotherapy:  collaborative project between Leo Cancer Care, National Physical Laboratory and the University of Surrey

Anthony Criscuolo, PhD Researcher, University of Surrey and Leo Cancer Care: Anthony Criscuolo, PhD Researcher, University of Surrey, NPL and Leo Cancer Care:  Undertaking my PhD with Leo Cancer Care, NPL and the University of Surrey has given me an insight of the impact of research in industry. I have been working on Monte Carlo techniques to contribute to the design team at Leo, seeing my research contributing directly to current advancement in Radiotherapy.  By working collaboratively I have had the opportunities to gain experience of both research and business environments, which enables me to work with world leaders across the field.  Being part of SEPnet, allowed me to attend their Winter School this year which gave me both networking skills and knowledge on linking science into business.

Michael Kissick, PhD, Senior Physicist, Leo Cancer Care: The SEPnet SME-DTN collaborative research program is providing us with a perfect opportunity.  As part of our development of upright image guidance and setup accuracy for compact upright radiation therapy treatments, sophisticated Monte-Carlo type computer physics modelling will be used.  These codes include all the fundamental physics and are ideal for radiation science student training and development.  Our company benefits greatly from this time-consuming task being accomplished with a collaboration.  A PhD student is the ideal person for this task due to their advanced training and education.  The physics staff is helping train the PhD candidate with real world physics problems and approaches.  The PhD candidate helps the physics staff at Leo by taking up a complicated time-consuming investigation. 

Professor Giuseppe Schettino, Medical Physics, University of Surrey:  SEPnet is providing a perfect environment to foster a 3-way collaboration between the University of Surrey, a national laboratory (NPL) and industry (Leo Cancer Care) enabling to fast track basic research for clinical application. The additional opportunities offered to the student as part of the SEPnet cohort are also extremely beneficial for career development.

Professor Russell A S Thomas FIPEM,  Principal Research & Clinical Scientist, Science Area Leader of Medical Radiation Science at National Physical Laboratory:  Anthony’s PhD is co-funded by Leo Cancer Care, who he is working with on the development of their new radiotherapy linear accelerator (linac) system, called Ruby, for the treatment of cancer patients in an upright position. Anthony has been working closely with the UK based team and has also visited Leo Cancer Care headquarters in Wisconsin to learn more about the systems and work with their Monte Carlo experts on the development of his Monte Carlo codes to be used in the design and development of Ruby. He has been involved in a measurement campaign at Daresbury laboratories where initial testing of the Ruby system has allowed him to make a range of dosimetric measurements that will enable him to validate his codes. Next steps for the project will be to extend his theoretical models to include additional components of the beam line to support Leo Cancer Care in the process of designing and further refinement of the system.

Ceramic Based Conducting Composites and Coatings to Eliminate Detrimental Charging During X-Ray Bombardment:  collaborative project with Advanced Materials Development, Rapiscan and the University of Sussex

Alexander McCann, PhD Researcher, University of Sussex, AMD and Rapiscan:  I am a University of Sussex graduate currently undertaking my PhD in the Materials Physics Group at the university under the supervision of Professor Alan Dalton. While I had some previous experience with the research group as part of my undergraduate and postgraduate studies, being able to pursue a full-time research-based PhD with the group has allowed me to gain understanding of how the research performed in the lab can translate into real-world application. Being able to collaborate with industrial partners and listen to their feedback helps direct our research and inform our experiments in the lab. My own current research on graphene oxide-based composites and coatings is very much based on previous work done by not only our group but many others, including at the University of Surrey, that has been jointly developed with industry collaborators such as AMD. As such, I am able to undertake this PhD with the knowledge that the foundations of my own research are well-established and already proven in real-world applications. Additionally, being part of SEPnet affords me the opportunities to attend conferences, seminars and workshops to help expand my doctoral training and learn new skills that can help improve not only the quality of my research, but also the ways in which I can organise, communicate and present it.

Functional Nanomaterials Inks:  The development of scalable ink production processes for functional nanomaterials; Characterisation of printed films & functional nanomaterials and Integration of printed nanomaterials films within device structures:  collaborative PhD project Advanced Materials Development and University of Sussex and Advanced Materials Development

Kevin Doty, PhD Researcher, University of Sussex and Advanced Materials Development: I graduated with a BSc in Chemistry and Certification in Secondary Education in the USA, as I had always planned to be a teacher. After teaching for 5 years, I realized that I wanted to expand my scientific horizons, and recently graduated with a MSc in Nanomaterials and Energy. I have been incredibly blessed to have achieved this, and not once in my life had I considered a PhD before this. Now, I am pursuing a PhD in Materials Physics, and the SEPnet support is instrumental to assisting me in taking my understanding to the next level. The monetary support is allowing me to learn and connect with professionals in the field that I would not have been able to otherwise, and the access to the training courses is giving me the research skills and knowledge to take full advantage of my PhD studentship. I would have never dreamed that I would be working and studying to achieve a doctorate, but along with the SEPnet support, that far-off dream is not quite a far-off dream anymore.

Alan Dalton, Professor of Experimental Physics (Physics and Astronomy) School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences and Co-Director of Sussex Programme for Quantum Research, Rheological Optimisation of Nanostructured Inks for Printable Electronics, Principal Investigator, Materials Physics, University of Sussex:  We work closely with industry partners to develop novel graphene-based materials, leading to our on-going relationship with Advanced Material Development (AMD) – specialists in funding research into 2D nanotechnologies.  Through the SEPnet SME-DTN programme, we have been able to recruit to and are placing two PhD studentships with our group at Sussex, both working on bespoke projects aligned to specific industry-funded applications.  We particularly appreciate the add-on benefits for researchers that join us through this programme; the additional support and doctoral training they receive, plus the access to a peer cohort beyond our laboratories and university environment, all contribute to a fully-rounded research experience for them and enable the acquisition of skills and acumen not always achievable through a purely academic perspective.

Hybrid quantum communication and sensing networks: collaborative project between DSTL and the University of Sussex  

Dr Robert Hancock, Senior Principal Scientist, Dstl:   Quantum communications is a rapidly developing area of technology, and one where we in Dstl need to understand the range of potential applications and use cases that go beyond QKD. The underpinning skills to develop such applications are extremely sparse, especially outside the academic community. This is why we are particularly happy to be supporting this project on distributed quantum sensing, along with Research England: it gives us direct access to world class research at Sussex, it will allow us to integrate our expertise in communications and networking. We are excited to be jointly developing our own skills alongside Theo Yannis, the PhD student.

Professor Jacob Dunningham, Professor of Physics, University of Sussex, Executive Director of the South East Physics Network (SEPnet), Deputy Director of the Sussex Centre for Quantum Technologies, and Departmental Head of Research and Knowledge Exchange:  We are delighted to be working with DSTL on this collaborative project with the support of the SEPnet SME-DTN and the Research England Development Fund. At Sussex we have been developing the theory and mathematical framework needed to describe how quantum effects can be used to enhance the precision of sensors and how these sensors can be combined into networks. DSTL have enormous expertise in networking, sensing and communication technologies. We feel very fortunate to be able to tap this wealth of knowledge and work with them in exploring how quantum ideas can enhance these applications.  

The development of a portfolio of distributed condition management sensors for wind turbines and carbon storage infrastructure:  collaborative EngD project with 3-Sci and the University of Hertfordshire

Stephanie King, EngD student, University of Hertfordshire and 3-Sci Employee:  I graduated with an MPhys degree from Oxford University in 2004. I have been very lucky to enjoy a varied career over the past 20 years, applying my degree to a wide range of engineering challenges. I am a permanent employee at 3-Sci Ltd and my work inspired me to pursue a doctorate. The University of Hertfordshire’s Professional EngD programme seemed well suited to my situation. The online course enables me to undertake the doctorate on a part time basis, allowing me to continue with my employment alongside my research. Pursuing a doctorate in the field of my industrial work gives me a framework to research a topic of interest at a greater depth. My research is aligned with the technical direction my company wish to take so my research benefits 3-Sci Ltd whilst also giving me a new challenge and route for professional development.

As a mature student, the support from SEPnet has been invaluable to help me navigate my way back into the world of academia. The access to training through SEPnet and my EngD course are helping to refine my technical and professional skills. It feels like a real network of support that I can turn to for advice.

Adrian Bowles, Technical Director, 3-Sci Ltd:  3-Sci Ltd were very happy to be involved as an SME for Stephanie’s EngD under the SEPnet scheme. SEPnet has facilitated Stephanie’s EngD course, enabling her to research a topic of interest which feeds back into products being developed at 3-Sci. 3-Sci are also looking forward to the partnership with the University and a greater interaction with research groups and their facilities.

Dr Gbanaibolou Jombo, Senior Lecturer in Machine Performance and Structural Integrity, University of Hertfordshire:  SEPnet SME-DTN has made it possible for the University of Hertfordshire to work with 3-Sci Ltd in new technology product development. This is a fantastic opportunity to move fundamental research into the sphere of applied research with the university offering its expertise and facilities in machine condition monitoring and structural health monitoring.

For a list of our projects for October 2021-22 see here.

RED (Research England Development) funded.

See here for SEPnet’s successful pilot scheme in Radiation Detection (RADnet).