Northern Gritstone, the investment business focused on university spin-outs and technology-enabled businesses in the North of England, has taken part in a £2m investment in deeptech LC AuxeTec.

LC AuxeTec, which develops auxetic materials from liquid crystal elastomers, is the first spin-out from the University of Leeds to receive investment from Northern Gritstone.

Auxeticity – the property of a material to become thicker rather than thinner when stretched – is a unique phenomenon.

In nature, this property can be seen in places like the Achilles tendon and cat skin.

Auxeticity is attractive as it can give materials an advantage when it comes to absorbing shock, as well as resisting fractures and tears.

That makes these materials promising in applications that require durability and robustness, such as electronic screens and glass for buildings and vehicles.

LC was conceived by Professor Helen Gleeson OBE, Cavendish Professor, and former Head of the School of Physics at the University.

In her academic career, which spans more than 30 years, she has led a wide range of research projects and won the Times Higher Education Award for Outstanding Research Supervisor of the Year in 2018.

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In exploring the semi-soft elasticity of liquid crystal elastomers, Prof Gleeson and her team made a serendipitous discovery: the world’s first synthetic material that is auxetic at the molecular level.

The unintuitive properties of LC AuxeTec’s materials mean they expand when under pressure, giving them superior impact and delamination resistance.

The patent, which covers these materials, is exclusively licensed to the company.

Prof Gleeson and her team will continue to make improvements to the auxetic materials at the University of Leeds and LC AuxeTec will have access to these developments and first rights to in-license any new IP that emerges in this area.

The company will use the funding to build out its team and appoint its first full-time employees, including incoming CEO Robert Gunn and senior engineer Matt Reynolds, and move into dedicated offices in the Nexus building on the University of Leeds campus.

Robert has for more than 15 years’ experience in leading science and technology-based startups and joins from his role as CEO of consultancy business Enceladus Ventures.

Duncan Johnson, CEO of Northern Gritstone, said“In pushing the boundaries of their research to develop a unique auxetic material, Helen and her team have showcased Northern universities’ ability to drive innovation and create world-leading businesses in the region.

“This investment will help ensure LC AuxeTec’s technology reaches its full potential and maximise opportunities for commercial use. We look forward to working with Rob and the University of Leeds as they guide the company’s expansion and develop proof points that their industry partners can roll out across their products.”

Robert Gunn, incoming CEO of LC AuxeTec, said: “After working with many early-stage businesses in my previous role, I cannot wait to get onboard at LC AuxeTec and start work on developing this extraordinary material for real world uses.

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“Northern Gritstone’s investment will be essential to helping us to achieve this, allowing us to take the world-class research produced by Helen and the University of Leeds team and commercialise it for industry. We are just beginning to grasp the full possibilities of this material and I am optimistic about the results we can deliver in the years ahead.”

Professor Helen Gleeson said“When we discovered that our materials were auxetic at the molecular level, we began to realise the opportunities that they could hold across a number of different industries as they can be stretched further than other materials already available.

“As we continue to test the properties of our material and expand our understanding of what it is achievable, Northern Gritstone’s funding will enable Robert and his new team to start making these potential use cases a reality. We will continue to work closely together to share knowledge and ensure the success of LC AuxeTec going forwards.”