Confidence, perseverance and existing world-class facilities were the recipe for success in securing more than £800,000 for X-ray crystallography, according to Alex Slawin, professor of chemical crystallography at St Andrews University.
Professor Slawin, director of the Molecular Structure Laboratory, won the award from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to develop hardware and software that could completely automate existing processes.
She is working with a company to develop a robotic system similar to that used in manufacturing cars, which will enable X-ray measurements to be taken 24 hours a day.
Her grant application was initially rejected 18 months ago. "But the panel made valuable suggestions that I took on board. I did more experiments and showed how I thought what I was suggesting could be implemented. You can't just give up after one bad review. If you're confident enough of your idea, you have to invest time in it."
Professor Slawin was able to show that the robotic system could be used in chemistry in general. Understanding the shape of molecules being developed can have important applications in chemistry and materials research, ranging from new drugs to lightweight batteries.
She said that the system could be used with ease in many chemistry labs.
Three years ago, she won a £500,000 equipment grant. "I've been building on past success. You can't just come up with a big grant from nothing," she said. "The X-ray labs in the School of Chemistry are among the world's most well equipped as a consequence of previous grant successes, but these new developments will place St Andrews at the forefront of research."