EPSRC Prosperity Partnerships - University of Exeter and QinetiQ

Supplementary content information

A short video on the new Prosperity Partnership project between the University of Exeter and QinetiQ.

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Geoff Nash - Professor of Engineering Physics, University of Exeter (GN):

My name is Geoff Nash and I’m from the University of Exeter.  We have teamed with Chris Lawrence and colleagues at QinetiQ to look at new ways of controlling electromagnetic and acoustic radiation using a new generation of materials, including metamaterials and other systems.

There are a broad range of applications for the type of techniques and technology we are developing.  These range from using parts electromagnetic spectrum for applications in medicine and dentistry and we’re also working on new types of materials that would absorb radar for both defence and security applications.  We are using these new materials to create new sources of light particularly wavelengths which are very hard to use conventional techniques. Applications include defence security applications, but also gas sensing for atmospheric pollution.

Professor Chris Lawrence - Head of Research, QinetiQ (CL):

QinetiQ is an international company.  We work primarily on security and defence projects.  My particular part of the company focusses on material solutions for things, smart materials, stealth materials, and trying to generate materials that adapt and control the flow of heat, light, ultraviolet and radio frequencies.  So for example, we have developed thermal paints that help to hide people from thermal images, but equally they are applicable to make sure that you are comfortable in your car. We have got materials that will stop the heat from the engine going through to the cabin.  We can develop packaging and we have in the past to keep ice cream colder for longer than is normally possible and that’s part of the fun, finding those links between the two and then learning from one and bringing it back to the other.

GN: In this lab we test and characterise a whole load of different devices including those designed to emit and detect light at infrared wavelengths.  Infrared light is incredibly important but it’s very hard to get hold of sources and detectors.  Its light that we can’t see with our eyes, but you can use it for applications such as gas sensing.  So many important atmospheric pollutants, including CO2 and methane, have absorption wavelengths in the mid infrared and if you had suitable components and suitable devices you could use those to sense these important gases and perhaps control their emissions. 

One thing we are really incredibly excited about working with QinetiQ, is how do we take the research that we have done on infrared sources and new generations of those and really take the devices from the laboratory into applications.

CL: What we can bring to the University is the problems, so in some cases it isn’t necessarily resteering

their research, but it’s them recognizing the value of what they have got, that they have got something that is thinner, lighter, less power requirements than what is already on the market. What we wanted to do with this project though is to try and develop something a bit more strategic, educate our staff and develop new ideas by understanding what the cutting edge of research is.

GN: I think for me one of the most significant outputs actually is training a whole new generation of researchers who understand what it takes to take the science of laboratory engineering into technology and out into UK plc.

CL: What we want to do is to try and develop something that’s mutually beneficial, which is a culture of innovation and understanding of what the problems are that need to be solved.  So we are going to have postdocs and PhD students here working with the academic staff, but we are also going to have some based at QinetiQ.  One of the things that excites me most about the project is that we are going to introduce our customers to this collaborative group of people. Working together, that’s going to be a much stronger offering.

GN: It’s much more vision than a project. It’s an opportunity to redo something for the longer term to create a partnership that is sustainable, that will produce new income, which will feed the science base and generally contribute to the prosperity of particularly the southwest and Exeter and hopefully more generally the UK.