E&T Magazine takes a closer look at some of the work being undertaken by this year’s Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 fellows.
Earlier this month the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 awarded eight industrial scholarships to up and coming research engineers and scientists.
These industrial fellowships provide recent graduates with the means to develop innovative technology with commercial potential, ideally leading to a patent, while completing a PhD or EngD. Each fellow receives £80,000 worth of funding for their work, to be carried out in collaboration with an academic and a business partner.
E&T caught up with several of this year’s fellows to discuss their work in more detail…
Campbell Brown – Developing a microfluidic Lab-on-a-chip
Campbell originally enrolled at The University of St Andrews in 2004 to complete a joint degree in Chemistry and Physics. While he received an MPhys in 2009, his master's project contained a strong physical chemistry component. This interest across fields is what attracted him to join Sharp Laboratories of Europe's graduate programme where he worked on projects with focuses ranging from quantum dots to mobile language learning software and from solar power to 3D optics. After a year of rotation he finally settled in the Health research group.
For the last three years Campbell has been working as part of a team at Sharp in collaboration with the University of Southampton and Public Health England to develop a miniaturised diagnostic device, a microfluidic Lab-on-a-chip, for a wide variety of applications.
With the 1851 funding his aim is to develop technologies and methods to improve detection on this device for various infectious diseases.
“Current microfluidic devices are capable of performing very complicated biochemistry but there is serious scope for improving their detection capabilities to achieve rapid, cheap and reliable tests,” he explains.
“The potential of the technology is huge. The ability to perform vital diagnostic tests quickly, at the point of care, as opposed to a centralised lab would vastly improve patient care. There is plenty of work to be done in finding ways to use this technology to improve patient care, as well as using it as a research platform in the life sciences. More broadly, I hope to discover more instances where developments in engineering and technology can be used in innovative ways to improve our health.”
Campbell has found that one challenge is that, as an electronics company, Sharp doesn't have a history of healthcare expertise: “so it is important for us to form partnerships with organisations that do,” he says. “This is why our collaboration with Southampton University is so important – it helps us to bring electronics and biochemical expertise together so we can maximise the technological platform developed by Sharp.
“The fantastic thing about the fellowship is that it doesn't just help industry solve technology problems by connecting them with cutting edge academic research; it also gives scientists and engineers the headspace to generate ideas for the future rather than having their vision limited to solving short-term goals,” he adds.
Stephen Greenland – Developing nano-satellite opportunities
Stephen graduated with a first in avionics and aerospace systems Engineering from the University of Manchester in 2005 and then went on to specialise in space systems at Cranfield University and the University of Tokyo.
In 2008 he joined the University of Strathclyde under a Knowledge Transfer Agreement with Clyde Space with the aim of developing a comprehensive space systems capability within the consortium.
Having been influenced by his positive experience of nano-satellites in Japan, he was jointly responsible for the proposal, definition and subsequent implementation of a national ‘CubeSat’ program of which UKub-1 is the pilot of the first ever UK Space Agency commissioned nano-satellite.
He is currently working to further develop his work in this area, planning to use the 1851 industrial fellowship funding to explore the niche business opportunities presented by nano-satellites, which include quantum technology, distributed imaging, and biosciences.
“Having developed the nano-satellite technology and completed UKube-1, it is now time to explore the opportunities this brings and maximise the return for the company and UK economy. The 1851 Industrial Fellowship has given us the means to make this next step,” he says.
“For me personally, the fellowship provides the opportunity to return to the world of academic research and gain my PhD, while also retaining a foothold in the commercial world,” he notes.
Jethro Coulson – Developing a technique for measuring metal components at a microscopic level
Jethro studied physics at the University of Warwick, graduating in 2011 with a First class Honours MPhys degree. Soon after graduation he began an engineering doctorate with the Applied Optics Group at the University of Nottingham and Renishaw, leaders in the field of precision measurement and motion control.
He is currently working with Renishaw, the University of Nottingham and the Research Centre for Non-Destructive Evaluation on a technique for measuring metal components at a microscopic level to maximise their efficiency, particularly within the aerospace industry.
“My industrial fellowship aims to develop and commercialise a laser ultrasonic based, materials characterisation technique called spatially resolved acoustic spectroscopy (SRAS),” he explains. “When high-performance components, such as gas turbine blades and high-pressure power-plant parts are working at full capacity they reach a point where they start to fail. It can be hard to see why this is happening with existing technology. My project is aimed at fulfilling an increasing need in industry for determining the microstructure of these components rapidly and quantitatively.”
The biggest challenge Jethro has faced so far has stemmed from his move from academia to industry, as he’s had to embrace a very different working style.
“Work at Nottingham revolved around gaining a better understanding of the fundamental physical processes behind the SRAS technique and required a significant amount of experimental work. So far at Renishaw the work has been focused on instrument design and as a result I have been working in very different disciplines: mechanical engineering, product design and electrical engineering to name a few,” he says.
Jethro’s work at Renishaw looks set to continue for another two to three years, however he’s very interested in continuing to work closely with the company in the future, looking at emerging technologies.
James Dimmock – Developing next-gen solar cells
James first became interested in condensed matter physics at university and was particularly interested to explore solar energy. Since graduating he has worked at Sharp Laboratories of Europe in the field of next generation solar cells. This has involved working in solar cell factories both in the UK and Japan, providing theoretical and simulation assistance to improve cell yields and efficiencies.
“My project involves working with Imperial College London to develop high efficiency solar cells,” he explains. “Because the solar spectrum comprises many wavelengths of light there is normally a trade-off in the material we use for photovoltaic cells; using a material which can absorb long wavelength light results in a cell with a high current but a low voltage, but using a material which absorbs short wavelength light gives a high voltage but a low current. The normal optimum is to choose something which absorbs wavelengths of light up to ~900-1100nm which results in a maximum efficiency of 31 per cent (these are materials like Silicon and GaAs).
“We have developed a cell that can overcome this limit by extracting electrons from a material so quickly after they have been excited by light that they don’t have time to lose any energy as heat. This is the so-called “hot carrier” solar cell, which has a maximum efficiency of 66 per cent under solar illumination and 85 per cent under fully concentrated sunlight,” he continues.
“We have demonstrated, in a paper to be published shortly in Progress in Photovoltaics, that using our cell we can extract carriers more quickly than they can lose their energy as heat, the next step is to develop the economic and commercial viability of the cells for power generation.
We asked James about the biggest challenges he’s faced in his project so far.
“One of the biggest initial problems was devising experiments and photovoltaic cell structures to conclusively verify the existence of this fast electron extraction. Some good ideas for this came on my cycle commute to and from work; it’s a great way to let your mind wander. The biggest challenge at the moment is how to absorb large amounts of light in very thin layers; the layers have to be thin so that we can extract the electrons very quickly. I’m currently thinking about this with my supervisors and we have a few ideas.”