Four top engineering teams have been selected as the finalists for Britain’s biggest engineering prize – the Royal Academy of Engineering MacRobert Award – now the race is on to see which project will triumph in this, the Award’s 40th year:

  • a new way to detect potentially dangerous debris on airport runways?
  • the iconic Beijing Water Cube?
  • medical implants that help both soft tissue and bone to regenerate simultaneously?
  • or the low-noise engines that power the world’s largest passenger aircraft?

The finalists for the 2009 MacRobert Award represent the very best of current British innovation. Now the judging panel must compare these widely differing technologies and agree on a winner. HRH the Duke of Edinburgh will present a £50,000 prize and the MacRobert award gold medal to the winner at the Academy Awards Dinner in London on Tuesday 9 June.

"British industry has risen above the economic gloom of the last few months to submit a record number of entries for this year's 40th anniversary MacRobert Award,” says Dr Geoff Robinson, Chairman of the judging panel. The challenge of picking a winner from such a strong field is heightened by the breadthof engineering excellence on offer: from technologies that have undergone revolutionary change since 1969, to those that would then have seemed inconceivable.The diversity of the engineeringis matched by that of the organisations in which it is being developed:from those that have re-invented themselves, sometimes more than once,over the past 40 years,to thoseled by people who weren't even born when the MacRobert Award was first presented. Whichever team emerges the winner, we can be confident that British engineering innovation will emerge in winning form from the current downturn."

Shortlisted for this year’s Award are:

Arup Group Ltd for the Beijing National Aquatics Centre – the Water Cube – built for the 2008 Olympics but now providing a legacy as a vast integrated water venue, containing leisure, training and competition centres, that incurs minimal operating costs.

The team’s revolutionary use of multidisciplinary virtual prototyping and an holistic approach to performance optimisation represents a construction industry milestone: no longer does each new building need to serve as its own prototype. Instead, the technologies used to design the Water Cube allow the building industry to match manufacturing sectors like the automotive industry in terms of cost, quality, and reliability.

Conceptually, the Water Cube is an insulated greenhouse made from a lightweight structure based on the geometry of soap bubbles and clad in a space-age material called ETFE. Used as a building structure, the polyhedral space frame is extremely efficient and possibly the most earthquake-resistant building ever built.

Setting new benchmarks for environmental impact and resource consumption, the building captures 20 percent of the incident solar energy – more than would be captured by cladding the entire building in photovoltaic panels. It also requires 90 per cent less potable water than an equivalent structure and uses 55 per cent less artificial lighting.

Team members: Project Director Tristram Carfrae, Structural Engineer Mark Arkinstall, Building Modeller Stuart Bull, Sustainability Energy and Façade Engineer Haico Schepers and Fire Engineer Marianne Foley, of Arup Group in London.

Media contact: Karen Bewick, tel. 020 7636 1531

Orthomimetics Ltd for novel medical implants enabling the natural regeneration of bone and soft tissue after joint injuries, aiding recovery and avoiding or delaying the need for joint replacement surgery.

Orthomimetics has developed novel biomimetic implants for the regenerative repair of bone, cartilage, ligaments and tendons that have been damaged during sports injuries and other trauma. By helping surgeons repair these tissues more effectively, Orthomimetics' products hold the potential to restore patient mobility and reduce the risk of developing osteoarthritis. Although replacement hip and knee surgery is an effective treatment, it only lasts about 17 years on average and younger patients may have to endure further surgery if the replacement fails.

Orthomimetics’ implants – like its flagship product Chondromimetic – encourage separate yet simultaneous regeneration of both soft tissues and the bone to which they are anchored. These implants can be delivered using minimally invasive, single-step procedures, and provide a distinctive off-the-shelf approach to optimise the outcome of current surgical methods for repairing damage to articular joints. Chondromimetic has recently been approved for medical use in Europe and is currently undergoing clinical trials.

Team members: Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Dr Andrew Lynn and Co-founder and Director Professor William Bonfield CBE FREng FRS, based at Orthomimetics in Cambridge.

Media contact: Katherine Webster, tel. 01223 437470

QinetiQ Group plc for the Tarsier system which automatically detects debris on airport runways, saving time and improving safety.

Foreign objects and debris left on the runway can be catastrophic, as shown by the loss of Concorde in Paris in July 2000 after it ran over a piece of metal on take-off. Even minor incidents cost the airlines around $4 billion a year in damage to aircraft engines. Airport runways are typically inspected for foreign objects by runway patrols, from a moving vehicle, four times a day. This method is not foolproof – there are several hours between inspections and it is difficult to inspect at night.

Despite the shortcomings of visual inspections, there has never been a technical alternative. Tarsier changes that, allowing runways to be monitored continuously, day and night. It is based on a novel millimetre wave radar, designed specifically to detect foreign objects and debris. With a fidelity, sensitivity and resolution unmatched by any airport radar, it can image an item the size of a cotton reel up to a kilometre away. Tarsier also includes a special camera system to enable the operator to evaluate an object detected by the radar. This has a high magnification lens with colour and near infra-red cameras plus a unique infra-red illuminator for use at night. The IR illuminator has to be safe to the naked eye yet powerful enough to ‘light up’ objects just a few centimetres in size at up to a kilometre distant.

Tarsier is revolutionising runway inspection around the world and is already in use at several major airports, including London Heathrow. It provides continuous inspection, enabling more efficient debris retrieval, and could lead to greener airports, as it reduces the time landing aircraft have to hold in a stack.

Team members: Chief Engineer Graham Binns, Senior Radar Engineer Patrick Beasley and Senior Optics/Systems Engineer Antony Walker, based at QinetiQ in Malvern.

Media contact: Claire Scotter, tel. 01252 393500

Rolls-Royce plc for the Trent 900 gas turbine aero engine, providing efficient power for the Airbus A380, the world’s largest passenger aircraft.

From the launch in 2001, it was a challenge to support the inherent high public expectations and operational demands of the A380 programme. Having achieved the prestige of being the launch engine on this flagship programme, environmental considerations were placed at the core of the engine’s development. Rolls-Royce married the successful engineering heritage of the established Trent engine family with an extensive suite of innovative new technologies.

Novel swept fan blades produce highly efficient propulsion whilst minimising noise and advanced analytical techniques improve noise control within the engine ducts. Coupled with a low-pressure turbine design, these innovations have enabled the A380 to carry about three times the number of passengers compared to an aircraft of the 1980's and 90's at similar approach and flyover noise levels.

The Trent 900 performs four per cent better at cruise altitude on fuel consumption and emissions, thanks to advances such as optimisation of the 3D compressor and development of a tiled combustor. This performance improvement could save $1.3 million in fuel costs and reduce carbon emissions by 6150 tonnes per aircraft each year. The Trent 900 also produces ten per cent less NOx on the A380 than its competitor.

The Trent 900 entered service with the launch customer, Singapore Airlines, in October 2007 and continues to be the engine of choice for the A380. Since then the engine has accumulated over 120,000 hours of operation with Singapore Airlines and, more recently, Qantas. Entry into service has been exceptional with operational statistics leading the launch airline to comment on the programme experiencing the “smoothest ever” entry into service.

Team members: Former Chief Engineer Robert Savidge, Chief Engineer Luke Logan, Chief Design Engineer Graham Upton, former Chief Development Engineer Ian Child, and former Chief Design Engineer Jeremy Dunn.

Media contact: Bill O’Sullivan, Rolls-Royce communications department, tel: 01332 269720

Notes for editors

  1. First presented in 1969, the MacRobert Award honours the winning company with a gold medal and up to five team members with a tax-free prize of £50,000 between them. HRH the Duke of Edinburgh, Senior Fellow of the Academy, takes a close interest in the MacRobert Award and has presented it almost every year since it was created.
  2. Founded by the MacRobert Trusts, the Award is now presented by the Academy after a prize fund was established with donations from the MacRobert Trusts, the Academy and British industry.
  3. The judging panel for the MacRobert Award 2009 is as follows:
    Dr Geoffrey Robinson CBE FREng (Chairman)
    Formerly Director of Technology, IBM UK
    Professor Adrian Long OBE FREng
    Formerly Professor of Civil Engineering at Queen's University Belfast
    Professor Malcolm Mackley FREng
    Professor of Process Innovation, University of Cambridge
    Mr Richard Parry-Jones CBE FREng
    Formerly Vice President of World-Wide R&D for the Ford Motor Group
    Ian Ritchie CBE FREng FRSE
    Chairman: Interactive University, Sonaptic Ltd, F7 Technology
    John Robinson FREng
    Chairman, Bespak Plc
    Professor Peter Selway FREng
    Formerly Director of Operations for Nortel, Research Fellow, Imperial College London
    Dr Michael Shears CBE FREng
    Chairman, Arup Trustees, Charter Visiting Professor in Principles of Engineering Design, University of Bristol
    Professor Chris Taylor FREng
    Formerly Vice Chancellor and Principal, University of Bradford
    Keith Davis (MacRobert Trustee)
    Director, Engineering Affairs, The Royal Academy of Engineering
    Philip Greenish CBE
    Chief Executive, The Royal Academy of Engineering
  4. 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. +44 (0)20 7766 0636