Swansea University student wins place in final of global TATA competition

TATA Steel UK engineering doctorate student Alex Harold, based at Swansea University, has won a place in the final of a prestigious annual competition run by the TATA Group.

Alex HaroldEvery year the TATA Group holds an international competition to highlight and reward the excellent innovations and cutting-edge research and development activity taking place at TATA.  Up to 3000 projects apply to the competition, with around 80 progressing to the final.

Alex works at Swansea University’s COATED2 Centre which trains researchers on how to develop new functional coatings for products.  Her project: ‘Superhydrophobic Coatings from Bacterial Proteins’ was shortlisted for presentation at the European group final this March, where Alex faced stiff competition from entrants working at TATA Steel Europe, Jaguar Landrover and TATA Global Beverages.

Alex explained the research behind her project: “We wanted to try a coating that wasn't just inspired by nature but utilised biological components to provide a solution to an industrial problem. 

“The surface membrane of common soil bacteria (Streptomyces sp.) is not only hydrophobic, which means it repels water, but it protects the organism from desiccation and therefore the movement of water across the membrane.  We extracted this membrane and created a protein solution that would self-assemble along hydrophobic / hydrophilic interfaces.  Using this property, we were able to coat steel products and produce a robust protein coating that was less than 10mm thick, able to withstand boiling and freezing, and potentially able to reduce corrosion.”

Alex won in her category, and given a special commendation, with the judges praising how forward-thinking, innovative and possibly game-changing her project was. She will now present her project at the international final in Mumbai this April. 

Dr Dave Penney, lead of Swansea University’s COATED2 Centre for Doctoral Training said: “Alex has done a fantastic job managing to bring together biology and materials science to create a product unlike anything else.

“Alex’s work is a great example of academia and industry working together to create something exciting.  We are extremely proud of her achievements and are keen to see this research get taken forward.”