At the heart of GCRF START sits the community of co-investigators whose work in the relevant scientific disciplines is world-leading in their fields. They support a wider group of students and post-doctoral assistants whose contribution to START is vital to nurture future capacity and leadership in the African scientific research community. Working on experiments at the UK’s synchrotron, Diamond Light Source, START researchers and students will bring insights to sustainable energy and improvement in health that will have long-lasting legacies across Africa. 

Africa does not yet have a synchrotron light source, but African researchers are keen to apply synchrotron techniques to their research problems. START funds research posts in Africa and the UK, focusing on two crucial research areas to African development, energy materials and structural biology for healthcare. 

The motivation for START comes from the societal challenges faced by African communities; for example, 600 million people (70%) in sub-Saharan Africa live without electricity, and a reliable electricity supply is one of the most powerful tools for lifting people out of poverty and ending their dependency on aid.  START researchers will investigate energy materials, including solar cell structures, catalysts and batteries. Development of healthcare in Africa is hampered by a lack of fundamental understanding of the cause in diseases such as malaria or HIV. Structural biology gives unprecedented insight into the mechanisms behind such diseases.

How START is funded

Synchrotron Techniques for African Research and Technology (START) is funded by a £3.7M grant by the UK’s Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) from the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF). The STFC awarded the funding from the GCRF, a 5-year £1.5Bn fund that is a key component in the delivery of the UK Aid Strategy, ensuring that UK research takes a leading role in addressing the problems faced by developing countries through research and innovation.

The GCRF is a UK government fund that aims to promote challenge-led research and which works towards strengthening capacity for research, innovation and knowledge exchange in the UK and developing countries. It supports partnerships between excellent UK research institutions and researchers in developing countries. The GCRF is connected to the UK’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) commitment, which is monitored by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The STFC supports the UK scientific community by working in partnership with universities, research organisations and government to ensure that researchers have access to large high-quality facilities. Its aim is to support scientists in developing world leading research and innovation, and provide training across Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematical (STEM) disciplines. It is a large multidisciplinary research organisation that operates world-class large-scale research facilities and is a major stakeholder in Diamond Light Source. It also manages and facilitates access to leading facilities in other countries on behalf of UK researchers and manages international research projects. Its ultimate purpose is to enable excellent research.

How START is managed

START governance structure

START is organised through a number of committees, primarily a Leadership Committee to oversee the management of the project, to ensure that the programme is on track and to address the aims of the grant. In order to spot new ways of working and to enable discussion of fresh aspects of research within the scope of START an Opportunities Committee is led by START’s Post-Doctoral community. An independent view of the START project and its direction is undertaken by a group of experts in their fields from academia, industry and NGO’s who make up an Advisory Panel which can be drawn on for impartial guidance.

START will lead the research direction as it engages with scientists, representatives from industry in the energy sector and relevant non-governmental organisations (NGOs) across Africa. Further, in developing new energy materials and structural biology research START will be helping to train the next generation of independent investigators and leaders through research and skills development.

START management structure

Diamond Light Source

START is administered by investigators based at Diamond Light Source, the UK’s national synchrotron. Expertise in running state-of-the–art synchrotron experiments and investigations at Diamond lies at the heart of the aims of START. Diamond has many beamlines relevant to meeting the scientific objectives of the START research strands. Beamline staff are experts in the techniques and provide detailed training on undertaking the experiments and in analysis and data interpretation.

The synchrotron at Diamond provides opportunities for researchers to look closely at how the structures and surfaces of materials behave. It will support the detailed examination of energy and biological materials. Synchrotron techniques can help researchers understand the way certain materials are constituted and how they behave under extreme or challenging conditions. This will, for example, help build an understanding of protein structures to enable targeted pharmaceutical intervention with new medicines.

If you would like to join the START project or be kept up to date about the programme then please get in touch with the START Project Coordinator at GCRF_START@diamond.ac.uk