Four early-career engineering researchers are set to advance the future of UK intelligence research and technology after being awarded the first UK Intelligence Community (IC) Postdoctoral Research Fellowships.

From quantum sensors and advances in battery design to improved tools for security screening and behavioural analysis, the four projects will investigate some of the biggest issues facing the intelligence, security and defence communities in the UK.

Focusing on areas of basic research, the fellowships aim to enable cutting edge developments in topics relevant to the intelligence community while providing mentoring to a new generation of engineers.

The fellowships, which are offered by the Government Office for Science and administered by the Royal Academy of Engineering, provide a critical link between academia and the intelligence community. Each awardee receives funding for at least two years of their project and mentorship from a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering as well as an advisor from the intelligence community.

Professor Dame Ann Dowling OM DBE FREng FRS, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said: “Engineering innovation is vital to the development and success of many sectors in the UK, including the intelligence, security and defence communities. These four awardees reflect the very best of what the UK’s excellent researchers have to offer and recognise the crucial role engineering plays in shaping the UK’s security future.

“Research is an essential part of innovation and the new IC Postdoctoral Research Fellowships strengthen the necessary relationship between universities and the intelligence community, ensuring that the UK stays at the forefront of development and can address the new security challenges of our modern world.” 

Professor Anthony Finkelstein FREng, Chief Scientific Advisor for National Security, said: “The four postdoctoral researchers who have been awarded fellowships in this inaugural year will bring fresh insights to the UK’s national security community. They will help the UK remain at the forefront of intelligence and security research in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The Government Office for Science was very impressed by the calibre of all the proposals received and by the quality of support from the Royal Academy of Engineering. I look forward to the results of all four fellowships making a difference to the field of intelligence and security research.”

The post-doctoral researchers and their projects are:

Calculus of privacyDr David Haynes, City, University of London

Through the analysis of real-life user behaviour, Dr David Haynes will investigate the way individuals reveal personal information when using the internet. Examining the interactions and risks people take when online, the proposed project will provide information on how to predict behaviour online and how this can be used to improve public safety.

Environmentally stable rechargeable batteries for flexible wearable electronics – Dr James Robinson, UCL

There is currently a major push in the consumer, medical and military sectors for the development of flexible and rechargeable batteries for wearable electronics. Addressing issues of durability, longevity and safety, James will work on the development of novel flexible battery cells that are powered using non-toxic zinc metal and oxygen from the air.

Quantum and Optical Sensors – Dr Jonathan Silver, National Physical Laboratory (NPL) & City, University of London

Optical microresonators are tiny glass rings in which light is stored by travelling around up to a million times or more. These long storage times, combined with the small volumes in which the light is confined, allow optical intensities in the billions of watts per square centimetre to build up inside the material with just a few milliwatts of input power. This project will utilise the phenomena that occur with such large intensities to develop a new generation of hyper-accurate chip-size sensors that can be used for trace gas sensing, particularly in airport security.

Stored energy detection in complex environmentsDr Fabio Alessio Vittoria, UCL

Non-destructive scanning techniques are a valuable tool for security screening but current x-ray images do not give enough information to fully reveal if an object is dangerous. The method proposed by Dr Vittoria will bring together two types of x-ray collection, XPCI and EDXRD, with machine learning algorithms for the first time to provide more detailed information on the physical, chemical and structural properties of a sample.

Notes to editors

  1. The UK Intelligence Community (IC) Postdoctoral Research Fellowships are based on a similar scheme that has been running successfully in the US since 2000, see the IC Postdoc Programme website.
  2. Submissions for the UK Intelligence Community (IC) Postdoctoral Research Fellowships will reopen in January 2018.
  3. Royal Academy of Engineering. As the UK’s national academy for engineering, we bring together the most successful and talented engineers for a shared purpose: to advance and promote excellence in engineering. We provide analysis and policy support to promote the UK’s role as a great place to do business. We take a lead on engineering education and we invest in the UK’s world-class research base to underpin innovation. We work to improve public awareness and understanding of engineering. We are a national academy with a global outlook.

We have four strategic challenges:
- Make the UK the leading nation for engineering innovation
- Address the engineering skills crisis
- Position engineering at the heart of society
- Lead the profession 

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