Seven exceptional engineering researchers have been awarded prestigious Royal Academy of Engineering Research Fellowships.

The fellowships, which are highly competitive, provide significant support for five years to outstanding researchers, to enable them to establish independent careers in research that is useful to industry or society, or has genuinely high growth potential in the form of new products or services.

Each of the winning research projects promises to make an outstanding impact in a critically important field, from power generation and energy storage to healthcare. New materials that could be used in the production of more efficient solar panels and in more reliable nuclear reactors; an intelligent, NHS-wide patient database and foundations that can heat the house are just a few of the applications envisaged for this year’s round of fellowships.

Welcoming the new awardees, Professor Ric Parker CBE FREng, Director of Research and Technology, Rolls-Royce Group, and Chair of the Academy’s Research and Secondments Committee, said:

“Innovation is at the heart of industrial and economic growth, and the UK’s engineering sector constantly needs the fresh approach to both old and new problems that comes from enthusiastic and dedicated researchers.”

“The Academy is committed to encouraging excellence in all aspects of engineering. Through the Research Fellowships scheme we offer not only financial support, but mentoring and guidance as well, to help already outstanding individuals to develop their potential as research leaders.”

“This year’s selection was as always very difficult, with applications of the highest quality, but the winning candidates stood out among them. I am certain they have the potential to help technology advance in giant leaps through their hard work and passion. I wish them all the best in this next stage of their potentially stellar career.”

This year’s new research fellows are Dr David Armstrong, University of Oxford; Dr David Clifton, University of Oxford; Dr Edmund Kelleher, Imperial College London, Dr Fleur Loveridge, University of Southampton, Dr Oliver Payton, University of Bristol, ;Dr Weijia Yuan, University of Bath, and Dr Freddie Withers, University of Manchester.

Dr David Armstrong - Micro-engineering advanced alloys for extreme nuclear power environments.

University of Oxford

Nuclear power has been identified as key for the future of UK electricity generation; however more efficient power stations demand improvements in measuring the performance of existing materials and in the development of new and better ones.

For the duration of the fellowship, Dr Armstrong will develop new and faster ways to test the materials to be used in high radiation environments such as nuclear reactors. The aim of his research project is accurately to simulate the type of damage occurring in those environments over decades in a matter of days and understand the effects that this damage has on mechanical integrity of the materials.

This will significantly accelerate the speed at which new materials can be processed, assessed and developed and have a major impact on the design and timely deployment of advanced nuclear systems.

Dr David Clifton - Machine learning for the intelligent patient record

University of Oxford

Healthcare systems worldwide are starting to acquire and record an ever-increasing amount of complex data within electronic patient records, concerning all aspects of patient care throughout a patient’s lifetime. This growing amount of data is set to exceed the capabilities of clinical experts and could be left unexploited.

Dr Clifton’s research focuses on the development of complex computer models able to learn from experience and cope with this large sea of different and seemingly incompatible data. The final algorithms will be able to extract clinically useful information from very large healthcare datasets by analysing and comparing data ranging from genomic information to a beat-by-beat electrocardiogram.

The fellowship will enable Dr Clifton to develop this interaction between machine learning and healthcare technology and help secure the UK’s world leadership in “big data” healthcare technologies, starting with the first Intelligent Patient Record.

Dr Edmund Kelleher - Next generation short-pulse lasers for the visible and ultraviolet

Imperial College London

Visible light lasers are used in a variety of applications, including very precise measurements and medical technology. Current laser sources, emitting ultra-short flashes of light in the visible spectrum, require complicated, expensive and inefficient set-ups.

To date, the most versatile solution is the so-called “white-light laser”, which contains all the wavelengths of light covering the visible and near-infrared. Unfortunately, the brightness of the beam at any one colour is relatively weak, and the light generated is often not very stable.

Dr Kelleher will use his fellowship to explore a new way of developing lasers in the visible light region, combining novel amplification mechanisms and materials. The result will be a laser platform with the potential for unprecedented wavelength coverage.

His project also holds potential for commercial exploitation: the new light sources developed will significantly impact on advanced instrumentation in biomedical, metrological and lithographic applications, among others.

Dr Fleur Loveridge - New thermal and geotechnical facility for ground heat exchangers

University of Southampton

Space heating and cooling accounts for almost half of the UK’s annual energy use, about 100 million tonnes of oil equivalent. Reducing the energy demand for heating and air conditioning is a key priority for reducing the country’s energy demand and CO2 emissions.

Ground heat exchangers and ground source heat pumps can reduce this energy consumption by up to 75%. Engineering building foundations that double as heat exchangers can represent a solution, but more research is required to improve their design and performance.

Dr Loveridge aims to address these issues in her fellowship via a series of controlled experiments in a new large scale laboratory facility. Her research will test both the materials used in the foundations and the response of the ground to them.

This novel study will provide comprehensive data on the behaviour of foundations as heat exchangers and aims to lead to major advances in the development of new models and design tools for industry.

Dr Oliver Payton - Mapping, measuring and manufacturing nanostructures via high-speed atomic force microscopy

University of Bristol

Technological advances in fabrication techniques are allowing the building of new materials and devices on an atomic or molecular scale. These structures can bring many advantages such as increased energy efficiency, strength, or antibacterial properties. These engineered materials are valuable in industry sectors ranging from medicine to jet aircraft manufacture.

In order to make use of and further advance these nano-engineered materials, the industry requires tools that can efficiently measure and characterise their properties.

The aim of Dr Payton’s fellowship is to transform an atomic force microscopy (AFM) technique high-speed atomic force microscopy (HSAFM), into a diagnostic and fabrication tool that is up to the challenge posed by imaging nano scale structures over sample areas which are industrially relevant. HSAFM is capable of imaging areas several thousand times faster than conventional AFM. His research will provide a tool that will not only produce terra-pixel sized 3D images of surfaces but which will also be capable of rapidly prototyping nano structures over centimetre sized areas in a matter of hours.

Dr Weijia Yuan - Advancing renewable energy integration by innovative superconductor - battery storage systems

University of Bath

To meet its target of an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050, the UK will need to generate 20-40% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. To achieve this target, the national electricity grid will require storage facilities compatible with the fluctuating generation of energy coming from renewable sources, which can vary on time scales from seconds to days.

A key innovation that could help towards hitting this target is the use of electric vehicles in a smart grid. This solution is very attractive because their batteries could be used to store energy when they are connected to the grid but not in use and the energy redistributed at will. Unfortunately, at the moment, the fast charge and discharge process of these batteries limits their efficiency and life.

Dr Yuan will use his fellowship to carry out fundamental research into developing a superconductor energy storage system that can be hybridised with batteries and hence allow the full exploitation of such storage in future to increase the penetration of renewable sources.

Dr Freddie Withers - light harvesting hybrid – graphene based devices

University of Manchester

Solar energy is the most abundant source of renewable energy. Despite its availability, it is difficult to collect solar power efficiently and, as with many other types of renewable energy, there are pressing demands to develop materials and techniques to maximise energy production.

Dr Withers’ project focuses on the development and production of a new generation of materials based on graphene that are designed to capture light.

The project goes beyond proof of concept: as well as developing the technology for the production of light harvesting panels with a surface up to a square metre, Dr Withers plans to engineer a large scale production facility

Notes for editors

  1. 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

Giorgio De Faveri at The Royal Academy of Engineering
Tel. 020 7766 0655; email: Giorgio De Faveri