Five of the UK’s finest engineers have won the Royal Academy of Engineering’s prestigious Silver Medal this year for their outstanding personal contribution to British engineering. Academy President Lord Browne of Madingley presented the medals at the Academy Awards Dinner in London last month.

The 2009 Silver Medallists are:

Dr Rob Buckingham (Managing Director) and Andrew Graham (Technical Director) of OC Robotics

Rob and Andrew have developed a series of snake-arm robots that can work in confined and hazardous spaces where the average robot could never reach. More akin to controllable endoscopes than conventional robots, these flexible arms are made up of chains of small rigid units linked so that the arm is self-supporting and steerable along its entire length. This means they can navigate through an open space, negotiate objects and go to work in confined spaces, controlled remotely.

These radical new robots are being used for difficult tasks in inaccessible areas like nuclear reactors and inside aircraft wings. Exciting new applications beckon, for example in surgery and security. Having formed the company after working together at the University of Bristol they embarked on the snake-arm robot project only in 2000. OC Robotics has already achieved great commercial success as the market leader in this new technology.

Professor Andrew Livingston FREng, Head of the Department of Chemical Engineering at Imperial College London

Andrew has pioneered several world-leading technologies for separating different kinds of chemicals from one another and brought them into regular use in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries. His most recent work on organic solvent nanofiltration has been highly successful and he has established a company in West London, Membrane Extraction Technology Ltd, to commercialise the technology.

Andrew and his team have succeeded in developing polymer membranes that are stable in organic solvents for use in purifying products of a chemical reaction. For example, heavy metals like palladium are often used as catalysts in organic synthesis but are difficult to remove from the final mixture. Andrew’s membranes can remove over 99 per cent of the palladium and other heavy metals.

Dr Ian Pratt, Vice President of Advanced Products, Citrix Systems

Ian has revolutionised the computing world through virtualisation - a way of separating one physical computer server into multiple 'virtual' servers. He led efforts to create a more holistic approach to virtualisation, developing an approach termed 'paravirtualisation' that yields improved performance and efficiency of virtualised machines. Ian led the creation of the open source Xen hypervisor project that allows virtualization to be used to manage data centres more efficiently, saving energy, and providing greater reliability and flexibility. Xen is the engine behind many Cloud and Grid computing projects, and has been adopted by companies such as Intel, Hewlett-Packard, Sun, Oracle, Novell, Dell, Amazon as their virtualization standard.

Ian co-founded a company called XenSource to commercialise the Xen work and launched the XenServer product line. Citrix Systems acquired XenSource for $500 million in 2007 - making it one of the largest UK software company acquisitions.

Professor Nicholas Warrior, Head of Polymer Composites Group and Head of Division of Materials, Mechanics and Structures, University of Nottingham

Nick’s research into carbon fibre composite structures has shown that mass-produced vehicles can be up to 50% lighter and still maintain crash-test performance using lightweight carbon fibre composites. Weight reduction improves fuel consumption and reduces emissions. He has demonstrated that composites are now a legitimate material for use in high-volume production (up to 20,000 vehicles a year). High material costs and labour-intensive manufacturing has restricted composites to motor sports and supercars until now.

Nick has also shown that carbon fibre structures can be reused in low-cost moulding compounds, which can then be recycled. He is now working with Aston Martin on the first structurally discontinuous carbon fibre chassis components, having already helped to produce a braided windshield and A-pillar for the Vanquish and reinforced composite panels for the DBS model. He is working with Bentley on structural thermoplastic carbon fibre composites and with Boeing and Ford on the commercial viability of recycling.

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Notes for editors

  1. The Academy's Silver Medals were instigated in 1995. They are awarded annually to engineers who have made outstanding contributions to British engineering but have been working as an engineer for no more than 30 years. Up to four medals may be awarded each year.
  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
Tel. 020 7766 0636