Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Polymer materials

This research area addresses the synthesis, characterisation and theoretical understanding of novel polymer materials.

Partners involved:
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

The scope and what we're doing

This research area addresses the synthesis, characterisation and theoretical understanding of novel polymer materials. It includes studies into:

  • novel polymer synthesis
  • polymer drug delivery
  • polymer nanocomposites
  • responsive polymers
  • block co-polymers
  • soft nanotechnology.

It does not include research into polymers for energy applications or photonic polymers, which are covered in related research areas.

As well as directly helping to meet a range of real world challenges, this area enables a number of other research areas. The focus will be to build on core strengths and drive links with healthcare challenges and opportunities arising from advanced materials research.

Specifically, we aim to:

  • maintain the UK’s core strengths in the synthesis and characterisation of polymers and composites
  • facilitate links with the life sciences, building on the strong links with the Biomaterials and Tissue Engineering research area, and ensuring pull through to clinical application – for example, through the Healthcare Technologies Impact and Translation Toolkit)
  • build on the key role this area plays in the advanced materials field, including developing awareness of how this affects other research areas across themes, including links to the Sir Henry Royce Institute, to ensure that we understand government and industrial drivers for communicating important technical challenges and share appropriate opportunities
  • ensure the community is fully engaged in EPSRC research opportunities in areas where there is strong industrial interest in polymers, such as composite materials for aerospace and polymers for drug delivery.

In the polymer materials area, there is a good ‘people balance’ featuring established leaders, fellows and centres for doctoral training (CDTs). We will look to maintain this and share best practice.

Other aims include maintaining access to large facilities and encouraging links to users to accelerate impact. Working across EPSRC themes will be important in addressing the multidisciplinary opportunities in this area.

Why we're doing it

Polymers play a vital role in many aspects of daily life. Polymer chemistry and polymer-based materials science in the UK are currently vibrant and have a strong international reputation. Synthesis and characterisation, in particular, remain important.

This area is well-balanced demographically with a good range of fellows, first grants and leading established academics. Supporting this, a polymer-related CDT has been funded to help ensure the future supply of trained people.

Increasing interest is apparent in polymers’ use in energy applications – for example, reduction of energy use through display materials – and electronics. The development of polymers for healthcare applications, including biomaterials, drug delivery and infection control, is a rapidly growing area and has strong crossover with the Healthcare Technologies theme at EPSRC and across research councils.

Key influences include links to the life sciences, EPSRC’s healthcare technologies strategy and the cross-council antimicrobial resistance initiative. About a quarter of the total value of the polymer materials portfolio is directly relevant to health.

In terms of project partners on grants, the top contributors are in the personal care, chemicals and pharma sectors, and 45% of the companies interviewed for EPSRC’s Sovereign Capability Report said the polymer materials research area was critical to their business.

The polymer materials area links to the advanced materials field, and therefore to the Advanced Materials Leadership Council (AMLC) strategy and the Sir Henry Royce Institute. Advanced materials has been highlighted as one of 12 potentially economically disruptive technologies, with medicine highlighted as one of the most promising areas for adoption of advanced nanomaterials. New polymer materials could contribute to this.

Specific fields of notable quality – where the UK contributes around 17% of the top 10% of most highly cited publications – include polymerisation methodology. Materials modelling and characterisation are key aspects of this research area and rely on use of, for example, the Scanning Transmission Electron Microscopy (STEM) facility, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF), the ISIS Neutron and Muon Source, Diamond Light Source and the Advanced Research Computing High End Resource (ARCHER).

View evidence sources used to inform our research strategies.

Past projects, outcomes and impact

Visualising our portfolio (VoP) is a tool for users to visually interact with the EPSRC portfolio and data relationships. Find out more about research area connections and funding for Polymer Materials.

Find previously funded projects on Grants on the Web.

Last updated: 20 February 2023

This is the website for UKRI: our seven research councils, Research England and Innovate UK. Let us know if you have feedback or would like to help improve our online products and services.