Lancaster University PhD student Michael Aspinall has won a prestigious new training award from The Royal Academy of Engineering. He will receive a £5,000 grant for personal development projects as part of his PhD work developing a new way to detect concealed explosives.

Michael works on the Distinguish Project, a homeland security collaboration between Lancaster, Manchester and Liverpool Universities. The consortium aims to build a system that enables efficient screening of goods in transit, both domestic baggage and international cargo. Using nuclear engineering research suspect items will be exposed to a beam of pulsed neutrons. This will cause the item to emit gamma radiation, which will reveal what elements are inside and whether they are explosive.

The Academy’s award, one of five given this year for the first time, will enable Michael to attend relevant conferences and present the latest results of his work. He hopes to represent Great Britain in the 2012 Olympic Marathon. Michael is currently ranked 17th nationally for the Marathon and ran the fastest UK 20 miles time last year. In March he will spend two weeks at one of Kenya’s high altitude training camps to boost his athletic performance before his next series of races. Whilst in Kenya he will also do voluntary work with local communities.

“Michael is a most exceptional character and one of the best research students I have encountered in ten years,” says his PhD supervisor Dr Malcolm Joyce, who leads the Distinguish consortium. “He has quickly become a significant force in our high-profile project – and still finds time to run 90 miles a week! Somehow he combines these diverse interests and excels at both.”

“Managing a full-time PhD is complex and demands a lot of planning,” says Michael. “Mix a full-time PhD with a high intensity training programme, consisting of twice-a-day training, and you have an arduous challenge. I thrive off challenges and love being busy. I wouldn’t want it any other way, though I do dream of being a full-time athlete. I feel studying and training complement each other perfectly. You need that ‘escape’ time. When I’ve had a hard day in the office unwinding on a run is great. It works the other way too – sometimes all I want to do it sit down and read an academic paper!”

“Having the opportunity to continue my PhD/athletic activities with the funds made available to me through the RAE Student Fellowship Award is an encouraging and exciting time, in particular my trip to Kenya.“

"The winners of the Royal Academy of Engineering Research Student Development Fellowships are a highly innovative group of young researchers studying important topics such as medicine, energy, security and sport,” says Professor Peter Deasley FREng, Lead Assessor for the awards. “The Fellowships will enable them to initiate technical collaborations with overseas universities and industry and broarden their perspectives by learning languages and developing their individual skills, both technical and cultural."

Notes for editors

  1. The Research Student Development Fellowships have been set up to add value to the research-oriented education of PhD and EngD students, in fields related to electrotechnology, who submit the best personal development plans at the start of their second year of study. After completing their doctoral studies they are eligible to apply for a further £5,000 prize provided they go on to pursue a career in either academic or industrial engineering research in the UK.
  2. 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.

For more information please contact

Jane Sutton at The Royal Academy of Engineering