The material scientists at The Open University have a long history of working with Industry, through direct contract work, CASE awards, Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs) and UKInnovate awards.
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The work began in the late 1990s with funding and collaboration with Dow Corning, who were interested in the electronic properties of silsesquioxanes. This led to a number of publications with their staff, all in high impact journals. Included in these studies were ways to form standard polyhedral cages, cages with a mixture of substituents and the first detailed synthesis and structure determination of a D cage with carbons replacing some oxygen atoms. The synthesis of fluoride encapsulated silsesquioxane cages had a particularly high impact in the literature as noted in a 2004 paper in the American journal J. Phys. Chem. A., “Nothing is known about the formation process of these endohedral and exohedral complexes beyond the pioneering synthetic encapsulation of F- by Taylor et al.”
The work has been presented at numerous International conferences, including keynote lectures. As a result of our reputation, one of the group is often asked to be on the International organising committees of International Organosilicon chemistry meetings.
As world leaders in the field of silsesquioxane chemistry, we have been working with TWI, who have an interest in the use of silsesquioxanes as simple protective coatings of metals and have developed the Vitolane® technology as a platform for the production of tailored chemicals which offer a range of functionalities based on silsesquioxanes. We have been in discussion with them over a number of years about how they can control their processes and produce coatings that are more reproducible and with a range of properties. This has led to a CASE award to develop their silsesquioxane technology further. We have developed a method of analysing the components of their coatings and for controlling the variety of components that lead to different properties, shelf life, setting times etc.
Our expertise in organo-silicon synthesis has also been recognised by Hichrom Ltd, one of Europe’s leading supplier of High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) columns. This came about by personal recommendation of our expertise by Gelest Inc., a large organo-silicon compound manufacturer/supplier, as a result of some of our related work with contact lenses. The technology used to create silsesquioxanes can be directly translated to attaching silicon-based ligands to silica surfaces for their use in HPLC columns, enabling in particular detection of specific compounds in complex mixtures.
This is important in the Pharmaceutical Industry in measuring the purity of drugs and monitoring the levels of by-products during manufacture. It is also important in tracking how the body deals with and removes the drug, by monitoring it’s fate in body fluids, which are quite complex mixtures. The columns also have application in the food industry in examining purity and adulterations. We were awarded a three year Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with the original aim of developing six new columns that have orthogonal selectivity and thus provide a toolkit for analysing any mixture. This has been exceeded. Our PFP column is unique in that it occupies a space in the market that no other manufacturer has been able to fill. Our amide column has the same selectivity as many other amide columns but is unique in its stability. At the moment we have a full pipeline of potential new columns.
More recently we have had a three year Knowledge Transfer Partnership with Cornelius specialities. Cornelius is strong in the first generation silicon hydrogel contact lens business but needed the OU’s analytical chemistry capabilities, synthetic expertise and relevant knowledge gained through its existing KTP with Hichrom Ltd to help it develop new, faster, more effective methods for developing second-generation complex products.
This KTP aimed to:
This KTP offered the OU its first opportunity to be involved in the large-scale synthesis and commercialisation of organosilicon compounds. Again the KTP has exceeded both our expectations.