IBM UK’s University Relations Programme – a partnership to remember

IBM is always trying to ensure a sustainable future, and IBM’s UK University Relations Programme aims to do exactly that, by ensuring we have the right skills for sustainable growth. Skills are vital for the UK economy if it is to retain its competiveness and make progress in the future, which is why IBM is partnering with a number of universities across the country. The aim is to expand the resources and experiences offered to students, better preparing them for the careers of tomorrow with skills that will stimulate growth and drive innovation.

Through this initiative IBM UK experts give guest lectures and seminars, support curriculum development, work as visiting professors and undertake collaborative research activities with staff and students.

Medical Breakthroughs

One of the great challenges in the medical community is to find a vaccine for the HIV virus. Three years ago IBM and Edinburgh University joined forces to tackle that very problem. "By combining the experimental research of University of Edinburgh and the simulation capabilities of the world's most powerful supercomputer, IBM's Blue Gene, we just might get much closer to that goal." said IBM Researcher Glenn Martyna. The project includes powerful computing technology combined with new experimental characterisation, targeting the infection process itself by designing inhibitors for the part of the virus responsible for allowing the virus' genetic material to enter the human cell. The new aspect of this collaboration is its attempt to design, simultaneously, multiple inhibitors and therefore prevent the virus from mutating and invalidating the drug therapy as it does with single inhibitors. "This is a new approach to drug design - we are using sophisticated algorithms coupled with experimental techniques to design improved molecular therapies, and we can capitalise on enormous computing power to do this efficiently and rationally." said Jason Crain, of the University of Edinburgh's School of Physics and Divisional Head of Science at the National Physical Laboratory in the UK.

Over the last few years breast cancer has been the most common cancer in the UK. Most doctors say that early detection tests save thousands of lives each year and are vital to lowering this rate. In 2002 Oxford University partnered with IBM and the UK Government to build a sophisticated computing Grid to enable early screening and diagnosis of breast cancer, and provide medical professionals with more information to help treat the disease. The project was named eDiamond and was the first Grid to be built entirely with commercially available technology, including a new-found software developed by Mirada Solutions to standardise new and existing digital mammogram images. This capability helps radiologists accurately compare and evaluate all mammography scans stored on eDiamond. Essentially we're applying the vast computing power of a Grid to create a massive digital 'photo album' of mammogram scans available to medical experts across the UK. The on-demand processing and storage capabilities of eDiamond will enable our most advanced technologies to personally and positively impact people more than ever before. The results of this project could transform breast cancer screening in the future and save lives.

Marina Jirotka, studying the new digital mammogram images.

Molecular Discovery

In 2010, scientists at IBM and the University of Aberdeen made history by collaborating to ‘see’ the structure of a marine compound from the deepest place on earth using an atomic force microscope (AFM). The results of the project have opened up new possibilities in biological research which could lead to the faster development of new medicines. Scientists from the University's Marine Biodiscovery Centre began work on a species of bacterium from a mud sample taken from the Mariana Trench located 10,916 metres beneath the Pacific Ocean. This pressure-tolerant bacterium – called Dermacoccus abyssi produced a chemical compound which could not be recognised. Using a technique called noncontact AFM, scientists from IBM Research were able to image individual molecules with atomic resolution within one week. These images confirmed the identification as cephalandole, a compound originally isolated from a Taiwanese orchid. The experiment was the first successful use of an AFM in the determination of, what was at the time, an unknown molecular structure. Scientists at the Marine Biodiscovery Centre are now focusing on harnessing the potential of marine organisms as a source for the discovery of chemical compounds, which could be used to develop new treatments for cancer, inflammation, infection, and parasitic diseases.

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IBM and University of Aberdeen identify molecules from the deep sea.

SPM measurements of the unknown compound.

Kaikō pictured above, provided the samples that scientists studied.

Here Kaikō is taking a sample from the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean.

Solving Energy Problems

IBM’s smarter planet initiative is all about using our resources more intelligently, and in 2009 IBM and University of Southampton used this idea to solve energy problems. The Intelligent Decentralised Energy-Aware Systems (iDEaS) project aimed to study how advanced smart meters can be used to control home energy storage devices and to understand the role they could play in an energy smart grid. To effectively measure results, the iDEaS project team needed mathematical optimisation technology to enable more intelligent decision-making for its analysis of energy utilisation. This is where IBM’s expertise came in using IBM ILOG CPLEX, a high-performance optimisation engine. The project used smart meters in the house to monitor energy, learning the energy-consumption profile of inhabitants. The meter received and tracked real-time electricity rates from the energy supplier, reflecting the differences in cost to generate electricity during peak and off-peak periods. Knowing the home’s energy profile and the supplier’s energy rates, the meter would seek to minimise each homeowner’s energy costs by using the battery to meet demand at peak times and recharge at off-peak. Not only did the simulations show an average reduction in energy costs by 13%, but they also showed a significant reduction in peak demand, a consequent reduction in carbon generation and more consistent market prices. Moreover, energy consumers without storage devices indirectly benefited from the lower prices. If rolled out across the country, this would indicate annual savings of nearly £1.5 billion.

IBM continues to work closely with these leading universities to keep the UK at the forefront of the knowledge based economy, as well as making a real difference to our country and the world.