Idea Fund Award : Using everyday items to manufacture complex scaffolds for tissue regeneration

We are delighted to announce our first ‘I’ve got an Idea’ Fund award of 2023 to Dr Ramneek K. Johal, a research scientist in the fields of biomaterials and regenerative medicine. As well as working on defined projects, Ramneek likes experimenting in her own time to seek novel solutions to the problems encountered in the lab.

Collagen I is one of the most abundant proteins found within the human body. Its role is two-fold: to provide a suitable framework (mechanical strength) for tissues and to foster cell attachment and function.  Bovine and human collagen I are highly conserved at the molecular level and bovine collagen is widely used in tissue engineering due to its low price and abundance.  It is particularly useful for the development of scaffolds for soft tissue repair and regeneration such as skin. 

Skin provides a mechanical barrier to the human body protecting against invading pathogens and the elements. Damage to the skin can occur and in the UK ~ 175,000 people attend Accident and Emergency with burns and scalds every year (www.  Thus, there is a need for engineered replacements/scaffolds that mimic the skins naturally complex 3D architecture.   

There are a number of techniques that can be used for the manufacture of 3D scaffolds including ice-templating.  This is a technique whereby a suspension of collagen is frozen, with ice crystals forming a labyrinth like architecture (Figure 1). The collagen is trapped at the ice crystal boundaries, and when the ice is sublimated using a freeze drier the collagen is left behind forming a porous scaffold.  Many factors can influence the scaffold architecture including the freezing temperature, rate of freezing and the shape of the mould.  Currently, the moulds are made by the lab’s workshop, however they are both time-consuming and expensive to manufacture. If a mould doesn’t correctly influence the geometry and pore size of the current scaffold, it’s back to square one in terms of design and manufacture (with added expense!).

Ramneek’s idea is to use cheap, everyday household items such as tea light holders, plumbing fittings, small toys and baking trays as moulds. By varying the freeze-drying temperature/freezing rate she will be able to determine how these everyday moulds influence geometry, pore size and porosity of collagen scaffolds.   Scanning electron microscopy will be used to visualise the formed scaffold interior.  The data produced by this project will help both academic and industrial researchers in the development of novel (and potentially cheaper) scaffolds for tissue regeneration. We wish Ramneek well in her novel experimentation.

We are proud to continue to fund a fascinatingly wide diversity of technical ideas.

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Does IR heating keep you warm without wasting energy?

In terms of domestic heating, the UK faces a major challenge from the combination of fossil fuel reduction, the rising cost of energy and our poorly insulated housing stock. We need to find ways to keep people comfortably and affordably warm in a diversity of housing without wasting energy.

Infrared (IR) heating is one option. Instead of heating the air, IR panels heat the occupants directly along with the thermal mass of the room (walls, ceiling, floor and furniture). This mass absorbs the heat and radiates back into the room which gradually warms the entire space.

Given that IR heating is decentralised and heats people directly, what difference does that
make to people’s thermal comfort and their home’s energy efficiency? To address this question, I interviewed 20 UK households who have IR as their primary source of heating. You can read the results here.

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Experiencing an Idea Fund project live at ‘Hot in Here’ performance

Thoroughly enjoyable visit to Bath this week to meet Pigfoot Theatre and see their energy harvesting dance floor tiles (funded through our ‘I’ve got an idea’ fund) in action in their powerful & joyous ”Hot in Here’ performance. Well done Pigfoot Theatre for their innovative idea of floor tiles at low cost which can easily be transported and configured to new locations. ‘Hot in Here’ is current on tour around the UK.

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Researching households who use Infrared heating

This month, I’m interviewing 20 UK households who are heating their homes with Infrared heating. How do they use it? How well does it work for them? How much energy does it use?

As an experimental psychologist, I’m trying to unravel the complex interrelationship between (a) people’s thermal comfort, (b) types of domestic heating (radiant, convected, conducted) and (c) energy.

My motivation is how we can keep individuals (who are wildly variable in both physiology and behaviour) comfortably warm in houses (which are wildly variable in size, age and energy efficiency) without wasting energy or money. I think the clue may be to switch thinking from heating space to heating people.

The research follows on from the trial I ran exploring person-centred and hybrid methods of heating in rural Welsh homes earlier this year.

Thank you to the Herschel customers who are helping me with this research and Herschel Infrared for enabling it to happen.

It would be interesting to do a similar set of interviews with heat pump households.

My findings will be published on this website in December.

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How to plan a research project

I thought this guide might be over simplistic but actually it makes some very useful points and I strongly recommend a read. I certainly was reminded of mistakes I’ve made in my multiple research projects over the years.

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Is it bad to be “Economically Inactive”?

Inspired by exploring neolithic cup and ring markings on rocks around Argyll

Listening to the Radio 4 Today programme this morning, someone was being interviewed about the current problem of high job vacancy rates partly as a result of the growth in “inactive” people following the Covid epidemic. “Inactive” it seems has become a shorthand for “economically inactive” which the government defines as “A person of working age who is out of work. not actively looking for work. not waiting to start a job or not in full-time education

The first thing I’d like to know is are these, so-called, “inactive”, people actually inactive or just carrying out activities not in return for money or the value of money – the definition of economically inactive and the only value that GDP measures.

Even as an advanced Western, market driven, economy, we all recognise the things which make our lives happy, meaningful & worth living, e.g. love, health, discovering, learning, playing, conversation, creating, making things, growing things, walking, singing, reading, art, music, surprises, sensations, imagination, laughter, pets, our natural world, eating together…. And we all recognise that these things can’t easily be assigned a monetary value. But, paradoxically, our market driven, capitalist economy only values and incentivises those activities to which it can assign a ££ market value and count as contributing to GDP. People not engaging in one of those are currently counted as “inactive”- an implied negative.

Albert Wenger, in his book ‘Life after Capital’, argues that we have lost sight of the value of “non-economic” work – work that is about taking care of people and our planet, living happy, meaningful lives, creating a better more enjoyable world through art, music and drama, building vibrant communities, etc. As he says, there are vast swathes of problems that markets cannot and will not solve and opportunities it won’t create. Wenger asks “how do we grow this “non-economic” sphere?” i.e. grow those activities which directly contribute to our own, others or society’s wellbeing and sense of purpose without consideration of personal financial gain? When these things we create or services we provide aren’t produced for the market, their evaluation doesn’t count.

So, maybe many of the people who left their jobs as a result of the pandemic are indeed highly “active” and contributing joyfully and meaningfully to that much needed non-economic sphere. Could Universal Basic Income be the way to grow this? It requires a total rethink of our market and job led economy and, sadly, no politician of any party seems to be even thinking about this.

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Inspiration from William Blake

William Blake knew what we all eventually realize, if we are awake and courageous enough: that the best way — and the only effective way — to complain about the way things are is to make new and better things, untested and unexampled things, things that spring from the gravity of creative conviction and drag the status quo like a tide toward some new horizon…..

True politics are not ideologies to discuss, but an attitude to your relationship with the world which is enacted in your daily life. Your politics are not what you tell yourself you believe. They are not the set of ideas that you identify with, or look to for personal validation of your goodness as a human being. Your politics are expressed in the choices that you make, the way you treat other people, and the actions you perform. It is here that hypocrisy and vanity fall away, as the reality of your politics is revealed in the countless decisions that you make every day.”

Worth reading the whole article – a welcome counter to Rishi Sunak’s focus on the “earning potential” of any education.

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Update on Melodica Sound Chamber project

Great to get an update on Connell’s project.

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‘I’ve got an idea’ fund reopens

As of today (01/08/2022), our idea fund is open again for applications.

Last award – Fibe Team – Creating textiles from potato harvest waste

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Melodicas & Potatoes – 2 new Idea Fund Awards

We are delighted to announce our latest two ‘I’ve got an idea Fund’ awards for individuals and small organisations who have a technical idea that they want to test out to see if they can make it work.

Fibe – Creating textiles from potato harvest waste

Fibe consists of 5 Design Engineering students at Imperial College London who are keen to create more sustainable textiles.

The leafy plant that grows above the potato contributes to 5 million tonnes of non-compostable waste each year. Fibe’s plan is to collect this abundant and cheap waste stream from farmers and convert it to textiles. Their research assesses their fibres would use 99% less water, 92% less energy and 90% less land than cotton all while promoting food farming. The resulting textile is recyclable and biodegradable whilst also having excellent physical properties of softness, durability, washability and potentially being antimicrobial.

Fibe Team

Having run successful lab experiments creating workable fibres, the award will enable the team to fund a scaled trial this summer involving 5 potato farms and the use (thanks to Leeds University) of industrial spinning and weaving machines to test the scalability of Fibe’s process and produce the first high quality textile sample.

Connell McBride – Improving Melodica sound quality & design.

When not working as a lawyer in Northern Ireland, Connell McBride is passionate about increasing access to keyboard music education, particularly for young people disadvantaged economically or through disability.

Connell currently teaches using melodicas (small wind powered keyboards) because they are affordable (~ £20.00), easy to learn, portable and musically very expressive. Students can naturally progress to piano accordion, piano, keyboard, pipe organ and of course computer music via midi keyboard controllers.

Connell’s Melodica Class in Armagh

In seeking to increase the street cred and profile of the melodica, one significant drawback is that melodicas can sound a bit nasal and they look a bit toy like. So, Connell’s idea is to design a sound chamber that can be fitted to a cheap melodica which will improve the quality of its sound by muting the more nasal sounding frequencies. He plans to use materials such as wood or carbon fibre which will also augment the visual appeal of the instrument. The goal will be to improve the sound and look of a standardly priced melodica to create more attractive musical output and appearance but wthout greatly inflating the purchase price for young people.

Connell is teaming up with a carpenter friend who builds ukeleles and a local dentist whose 3D imaging equipment can help with prototype modelling for successive design experiments and testing. And it looks like there will be plenty of enthusiastic youngsters around to help try the prototypes out. The Idea Fund award will cover the cost of all the bits of kit and raw materials required for the experimental stage of the project.


In celebration of the Idea Fund’s never ending diversity of ideas, maybe one day I will stand, dressed in a potato leaf fibre dress, playing Irish folk tunes on a delightfully non-nasal sounding melodica.

The ‘I’ve got an Idea Fund’ is currently closed and will reopen for applications on 1st August 2022.

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