Great research and innovation have collaboration at their core

Posted by Professor Mark Beach, Donal Finegan and Professor John Fisher on 08 December 2017

The Engineer’s Collaborate to Innovate (C2I) Awards are now in their second year and EPSRC were again pleased to support this initiative. The Awards recognise the importance of bringing together different disciplines, mind-sets and areas of expertise to solve complex challenges, and through the Innovator categories they celebrate the people and skills needed to make innovation happen. The leads for three of the winning categories highlight their work here.

Information, Data & Connectivity - Setting World Records in 5G Wireless Spectrum Efficiency, Professor Mark Beach

It is becoming increasingly more and more difficult for the telecommunications industry to meet the increasing demand for, and rapid consumption of, wireless data. To address this, researchers collaborated at the University of Bristol and Lund University, using the NI Multiple Input, Multiple Output (MIMO) Prototyping System to rapidly innovate and advance 5G cellular networks through massive MIMO, also known as Large-Scale Antenna Systems, techniques.

The research team, led by Professor Mark Beach, included five PhD students from Bristol’s EPSRC Centre for Doctorial Training in Communications and a researcher from Lund University. They worked alongside the expertise of the BT research team, led by Ian Mings, to assess the performance of a 128-element Massive MIMO system operating at 3.5 GHz at BT’s Adastral Park campus, Suffolk in February 2017.

Massive MIMO promises to reduce costs and improve energy efficiency compared with current LTE (4G) networks. Using the NI MIMO Prototyping System, the team focused on applying the theoretical principles of massive MIMO under real-world conditions, demonstrating tether-free transmission of 10 video streams alongside 2 data bearers at BT’s large exhibition hall using the same radio channel at the same time – a technique known as Spatial Multiplexing. This collaborative activity builds-on the on-going joint research between Bristol and Lund and their previous demonstration of the 128-antenna massive MIMO testbed alongside the setting a world-record in spectral efficiency of 145 b/s/Hz over a 20 MHz bandwidth at 3.5 GHz.

Safety & Security – Securing the future of lithium ion battery safety, Donal Finegan

Informed engineering is the most efficient means of advancing the design of lithium ion batteries for improved safety and performance. The EPSRC Electrochemical Vehicle Advanced Technology (ELEVATE) and Multi-scale Analysis for Facilities for Energy Storage (MANIFEST) projects supported the use of UK and European synchrotron facilities for advanced diagnostic studies of lithium-ion batteries during catastrophic failure.

In extreme conditions, lithium ion batteries can violently fail in the blink of an eye which makes the process exceedingly difficult to capture and characterize. High-speed synchrotron X-ray imaging allows visualisation of the short-lived phenomena in real time. This project began as a CASE award between University College London (UCL) and the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), and has led to collaborations with US institutions, the NASA Johnson Space Center and the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Over the past four years this joint effort has shed light on the primary causes of catastrophic failure of commercial lithium-ion cells.

At UCL and the NPL, the teams led preparations for high-speed X-ray imaging experiments at The European Synchrotron (ESRF) and Diamond Light Source, while at NASA and NREL researchers worked with industry to prepare commercially relevant battery designs implanted with an internal short circuiting device to induce ‘worst-case’ failure scenarios. During the experiments, the teams from the US and UK would come together at the respective European synchrotron to characterize battery failure as well as discuss plans for future investigations. Work is now underway to test novel cell designs to counteract the events that lead to catastrophic failure, with the aim of securing the future of battery safety and reducing the risk of failure for lithium-ion cell and module operators.

Academic Innovator, Professor John Fisher

One of the most important, long-term challenges for the medical device industry is to improve the longevity and function of implants and devices, by increasing the precision of interventions. This global market is estimated to grow to $75 billion by 2020 which presents an opportunity of over £2 billion per year for UK manufacturing.

The EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacture in Medical Devices (MeDe Innovation) was co-created with five founding universities – Leeds, Bradford, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield – and 17 industry, clinical and regulatory partners. Four years on, our position as the national research centre for innovative manufacturing in medical devices has been consolidated, with 42 UK and global universities now on board, working with 39 partners from industry and health care providers. Through our extensive development programme and over 100 collaborative projects, 105 post-doctoral research associates and PhD students have received enhanced training opportunities, covering translation, innovation management and wider career development.

We are working with industry to support the future stratification of medical devices, developing the means to achieve more effectively targeted product ranges and working on personalised approaches to enable the right product to be designed and manufactured for each patient. Our research is also supporting industry to respond to emerging opportunities offered by new technologies and materials, including scaffolds, regenerative devices, and 3D printed manufacture at the point of need, and through collaborative development and convergence of different technologies: creating new innovative products and services which address well defined clinical and commercial market needs.

Innovation depends on collaboration

Innovation is not a linear process but instead is iterative and complex and depends on collaboration between all those involved. It is often the surprising and unlikely partnerships that lead to the most novel and transformative results. Celebrating these partnerships through the Collaborate to Innovate Awards reinforces the need for cross-disciplinary working and encourages more individuals, research groups and businesses to give it a go. We need to continue to invest in the fundamental research that creates novel ideas and encourage the collaboration that takes them forward.


In the following table, contact information relevant to the page. The first column is for visual reference only. Data is in the right column.

Name: Professor Mark Beach
Organisation: University of Bristol

Mark Beach is a full Professor at the University of Bristol (UK). He currently manages the delivery of the CDT in Communications, leads research in the field of enabling technologies for the delivery of 5G and beyond wireless connectivity, as well as his role as the School Research Impact Director. He has over 25 years of physical layer wireless research embracing the application of Spread Spectrum technology for cellular systems, adaptive or smart antenna for capacity and range extension in wireless networks, MIMO aided connectivity for through-put and spectrum efficiency enhancement, Millimetre Wave technologies as well as flexible RF technologies for SDR modems.

In the following table, contact information relevant to the page. The first column is for visual reference only. Data is in the right column.

Name: Donal Finegan
Job title: Post Doctoral Researcher
Department: US Department of Energy
Organisation: National Renewable Energy Lab

Donal Finegan is a postdoctoral researcher at the US Department of Energy, National Renewable Energy Laboratory. He received his PhD in Chemical Engineering from University College London (UCL) in 2016 where his research focused on the use of X-ray imaging as a diagnostic tool for Li-ion batteries. His current research involves characterization of materials used in electrochemical energy devices, as well as abuse testing and improving the safety of Li-ion batteries. His work on battery safety is in conjunction with the NASA Johnson Space Center where safety considerations are implemented and tested on the system scale. In 2015, his work was recognized by the Royal Society of Chemistry having received the Sheelagh Campbell Memorial Award.

In the following table, contact information relevant to the page. The first column is for visual reference only. Data is in the right column.

Name: Professor John Fisher, CBE

Prof Fisher has an active role as a leading researcher in Medical and Biological Engineering, as Director of the EPSRC Medical Technologies Innovation and Knowledge Centre, the EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Medical Devices and the HEFCE Catalyst-funded Translate programme.

As the former Director of the Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (plus formerly Director of Wellcome Trust Centre of Excellence in Medical Engineering ‘WELMEC’, former Director of White Rose Doctoral Training Centre in Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine, and former Co-Director of NIHR Leeds Musculoskeletal Biomedical Research Unit), he provided leadership to over 200 academic researchers in Medical Engineering at Leeds. Professor Fisher’s research interests include Medical Engineering, Joint Replacement, Biomaterials, Regenerative Devices and Simulation.