Complex fluids and rheology

Characterisation, modelling, formulation and processing of complex fluids (e.g. blood, creams, pastes and emulsions), including understanding the effects of additives. This includes rheological properties and their measurement. Its key focus is the effect of the process on the resulting performance of the product. An example application is polymer extrusion. (This area does not cover chemical synthesis or soft matter physics of such systems, which other research areas cover.)

Recognising multi-stakeholder involvement in this area (from healthcare, manufacturing, formulation, and oil and gas), we will continue to encourage applications which bring in longer-term disruptive thinking and a coherent approach to the common challenges these sectors face.

Lower Technology Readiness Level (TRL) fundamental research funded under this area will continue to feed into the National Formulation Centre. This centre will enable UK businesses to collaborate with supply chain partners and academia to develop, prove, prototype and scale-up the next generation of formulated products.

To ensure a balanced portfolio, we have considered this strategy alongside the broader chemical engineering portfolio (including the Particle Technology and Process Systems: Components and Integration research areas). Throughout the Delivery Plan period, we will work with the community to focus on collaboration across the chemistry and chemical engineering interface, identifying opportunities for multidisciplinary research that delivers against the Prosperity Outcomes and Ambitions in our Delivery Plan. Opportunities may exist to link to the Engineering Grand Challenge addressing Engineering across Length Scales, from Atoms to Applications.

The growing number of chemical engineering undergraduates, emanating from strong industrial demand, means student training remains highly relevant in this research area and across the wider chemical engineering portfolio (Evidence source 1). We will work with the chemical engineering community to explore and address any concerns over academic leadership and the balance of support across all career levels.


At the end of the last Delivery Plan this research area increased as a percentage of the EPSRC portfolio, due to investments in the Manufacturing Theme’s Future Formulation of Complex Products call; three of the seven funded grants contain research in Complex Fluids and Rheology. These investments have moved the portfolio towards more formulation-related research (Evidence source 2).

There are centres of critical mass in the UK which contribute to the health of this area. These centres are funded both by EPSRC and by broader sources. Internal analysis indicates that large UK-based multinationals have committed investment with EPSRC in this research area (Evidence source 2).

Fundamental research in this area contributes and is key to a number of leading UK industrial sectors, including manufacturing, formulation, healthcare, pharmaceutical, and oil and gas (Evidence source 3,4,5). Together with relevant research areas including Particle Technology, Biophysics and Soft Matter Physics, and Process Systems: Components and Integration, this area contributes to the chemical and chemistry-using industries, which in total generate £180 billion of sales per year for the UK in a market with estimated global sales totalling £1000 billion (Evidence source 4). Research looking into the characterisation, modelling and formulation of complex fluids is vital to these industries in relation to the production and use of such complex fluids.

This research area benefits from training provisions from Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs), Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTPs) and Industrial Collaborative Awards in Science & Technology (CASE). These investments are distributed throughout the UK and have been maintained over the last Delivery Plan, broadly aligning with growing industrial demand and the increasing relevance of this research area (Evidence source 1,2).

This area will draw on and contribute to the health of other research areas and disciplines: e.g. Fluid Dynamics and Aerodynamics, Microsystems, Particle Technology, and Process Systems: Components and Integration. It is also critical in Polymer Materials, Continuum Mechanics, Biophysics and Soft Matter Physics. Research in this area links to the Healthcare Technologies and Manufacturing the Future Challenge Themes.

This area has the potential to significantly contribute to the Productive and Healthy Nation Outcomes in the medium to long term, and the following Ambitions in particular:

P1: Introduce the next generation of innovative and disruptive technologies

This research area will be critical to enabling development of innovative and disruptive technologies through the fundamental understanding and manufacturing/scale-up of new particulate systems and products.

P2: Ensure affordable solutions for national needs

This area will be critical to supporting the creation and manufacturing of affordable medicines.

H3: Optimise diagnosis and treatment

Research in this area will be important in optimising care through the modelling of blood and its rheological properties.

H4: Develop future therapeutic technologies

This area will be critical to enabling development of novel, more effective. 

  1. Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), Bridging the Skills Gap in the Biopharmaceutical Industry (PDF), (2015).
  2. EPSRC portfolio data: size, investments, student numbers.
  3. Innovate UK, A Strategy for Innovation in the UK Chemistry-using Industries, (2013).
  4. Innovate UK, Realising the Potential for Formulation in the UK, (2013).
  5. Innovate UK, A Pre-competitive Vision for the Food & Drink Industries (PDF), (2013).

Other sources:

  • Learned Society Balancing Capability Workshop, (February 2016).
  • Chemical Engineering Heads of Department meeting, (July 2016).
  • Community engagement with stakeholders and researchers in this research area.

Research area connections

This diagram shows the top 10 connections between Research Areas within the EPSRC research portfolio. The depth of the segment relates to value of grants and the width of the segment relates to the number of grants shared by those two Research Areas. Please click to see the related Research Area rationale.

Visualising our Portfolio (VoP)
Visualising our portfolio (VoP) is a tool for users to visually interact with the EPSRC portfolio and data relationships.

EPSRC support by research area in Complex fluids and rheology (GoW)
Search EPSRC's research and training grants.

Contact Details

In the following table, contact information relevant to the page. The first column is for visual reference only. Data is in the right column.

Name: James Tarver
Job title: Portfolio Manager
Department: Engineering
Organisation: EPSRC
Telephone: 01793 444472