A Belfast engineer, who is working to pioneer networks which will carry mobile phone signals between human bodies, has won the UK’s premier award for early-career engineering.

Dr Simon Cotton, a Research Fellow at The Queen’s University of Belfast, has won the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Sir George Macfarlane Award for outstanding technical and scientific attainment in his work.

The 34-year-old from Greenisland in Co. Antrim, has made a significant impression on engineering in Northern Ireland and across the UK since starting an HND in electrical and electronic engineering in 2000. He graduated from the University of Ulster in 2004 before taking a PhD in Wireless Communications at Queen’s, where he went on to become a Postdoctoral Research Fellow. He is currently a Royal Academy of Engineering Research Fellow.

Dr Cotton’s work is focused on wireless communications, particularly on how wireless signals transmit around the human body; from person to manmade infrastructure and also from person to person. His research has allowed him to develop innovative short-range applications designed to advance society. The goal is to create “body-to-body” networks in densely populated areas, where wireless devices positioned on people could replace mobile base stations to facilitate voice, video and data traffic.

Recognised as an international expert in his field, Dr Cotton has published papers in several leading engineering journals and has featured in the national press. As well as his academic work, Dr Cotton has recently co-founded ACT Wireless Ltd, a company to take his products into the marketplace. He also regularly gives practical engineering demonstrations in schools.

Commenting on the award, Professor John McCanny CBE FREng FRS, Director of the Institute of Electronics, Communications and Information Technology, based at Belfast’s Northern Ireland Science Park, said: “The growth of communications continues apace and pervasive body-area networks are an intriguing future possibility.

“Here we have a top-rate engineer who is establishing a worldwide reputation. He is also an inspirational advocate of engineering and is able to translate cutting edge research into easily-accessible messages to help capture the imagination of the next generation of engineers.”

Professor Stephen McLaughlin FREng, Dean for Research at the College of Science and Engineering at the University of Edinburgh, added: “Dr Cotton clearly has a first rate intellect and this is coupled with a desire to see his ideas converted into something practical and useful; key attributes for an engineer.”

Notes for editors

  1. The Sir George Macfarlane Award

    The Award is in memory of Sir George Macfarlane (1916-2007), one of the founding Fellows of the Royal Academy of Engineering. It recognises the potential of younger UK engineers, who have demonstrated excellence in the early stage of their career (fewer than eight years since graduation from a first degree in engineering). This excellence is marked by a quality of leadership and/or technical and scientific attainment that is clearly seen to be outstanding by their employers and organisation.
  2. The Royal Academy of Engineering

    Founded in 1976, The Royal Academy of Engineering promotes the engineering and technological welfare of the country. Our fellowship – comprising the UK’s most eminent engineers – provides the leadership and expertise for our activities, which focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. As a national academy, we provide independent and impartial advice to Government; work to secure the next generation of engineers; and provide a voice for Britain’s engineering community.

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Ed Holmes on 0207 766 0655