Matthew Murray and his inimitable plasma codes

Plasma labelling to spot fakes wins development boost from RAEng

A technique for labelling glass containers to tackle counterfeiters, a filtration system to remove malaria from blood, ultra-high resolution nano-displays for wearables and a citizen science molecular biology lab have all won funding from the Royal Academy of Engineering.

The successful entrants for the RAEng’s ERA Foundation Entrepreneurs Award will join the Academy’s Enterprise Hub to receive support and mentoring to help them develop their ideas into successful businesses.

The overall winner, Matthew Murray from the University of Leeds, impressed the judges with his patented technology called Alpin that allows inimitable plasma signatures to be implanted into glass, creating unique patterns that can be used to identify individual batches of bottled products such as medicine, perfume or alcohol.

“Matthew’s plasma technology will help to add another layer of protection against counterfeit products worldwide; an issue of growing importance, particularly in developing countries,” said Arnoud Jullens, head of enterprise at the Royal Academy of Engineering. “The support offered by the Enterprise Hub’s network of business leaders will help Matthew to find the right partners and customers to take his product to the global market.”

Murray developed a novel technique, which he called the ultrafast laser plasma implantation (ULPI), which allows him to implant any glass with femtosecond-laser generated plasma.

The plasma, a highly charged and energetic gas, such as one containing optically active elements, can be used to create visible or UV light-activated colouring that could form a stencil or a barcode making each bottle unique.

George Frodsham from University College London placed behind Murray with his magnetic haemofiltration technique that allows treating malaria by removing infected cells from the patient’s blood.

Without harsh pharmaceutical treatments, the magnetic blood sieve can very quickly reduce the amount of malaria parasites in the patient’s body, improving outlook even for drug-resistant or otherwise ‘untreatable’ cases.

Similar in principle to dialysis for kidney failure sufferers, the method, called the MediSieve, is set for medical trials and Frodsham hopes to make it commercially available in the next few years.

Also joining the Enterprise Hub will be Peiman Hosseini who succeeded with his nano-display technology for use in wearable devices. The Oxford University researcher created what is believed to be the first nano-display device using both optical and electronic property in Phase Change Materials. His invention could pave the way for an entirely new class of ultra-thin, ultra-high resolution displays with nanosecond access speed and no power consumption.

Hosseini foresees the technology could be used in devices such as Google Glass and hopes to test first prototypes in 12 months.

University College London researchers Bethan Wolfenden and Philipp Boeing will also join the Enterprise Hub with their personal molecular biology laboratory. Designed to boost education and citizen science, the lab will allow anybody to carry out basic genetic experiments from the comfort of their homes. The toolkit weighs only 3kg, fits on an A4 footprint, and contains all the basic equipment required to carry out research in molecular biology. The lab will allow enthusiasts to participate in large-scale genetics-related research projects. First units are expected to reach customers within a year.

“This year’s candidates showcase how far and wide electro-technology can be used to solve contemporary issues,” said Professor Sir Richard Brook OBE FREng, Chairman of the selection panel. “All of the individuals involved have shown a high level of commitment and entrepreneurship and with the support of the Enterprise Hub will be able to take their ideas to the next level.”

The ERA Foundation Award supports activities that have a potential to bridge the gap between research and utilisation of electrotechnology. The annual award is open to early-career scientists that and engineers working in UK universities.

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