INets launch to stimulate SW innovation

February 10, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
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Five iNets have been officially launched in the SouthWest to encourage innovation. The five cover Microelectronics, Biomedical, Environmental Technologies, Aerospace and Advanced Engineering and Creative Industries, and one of the aims is to have more cross-disciplinary working (see Innovation Lab story).

“It’s very easy for small companies to be left behind in innovation,” said Baroness Hanham, undersecretary of state for Communities and Local Government which oversees the European funding in the projects. “We are very good in this country at innovation and then hiding it under a stone and there is so much innovation going on here.”

The iNets are backed by £12.5m from the outgoing South West Regional Development Agency, £6.1m from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and other partner investments.

“We are committed to creating real opportunities for people in the South West, and it is easy to see from the entrepreneurs and businesses what a difference a support network like this can make to the local economy,” said Baroness Hanham. “The iNets project is helping local businesses realise their potential through sharing expertise and knowledge and opening up life-changing opportunities for many people.”

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Imaging beauty down to 1nm in Bristol

February 9, 2011 by · 1 Comment
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Scientists at the University of Bristol now have a new tool that will yield yet more and unprecedented levels of information without disturbing the physical state of the object under scrutiny.

Monmorillonite particles, cut apart to reveal that one of them is hollow.

Physicists at Bristol’s Interface Analysis Centre have been using the Helios dualbeam instrument, which “unlocks the key to a whole new world,” says Centre Director Dr Tom Scott. The dualbeam looks at surface structures with a resolution of less than a nanometre – the equivalent of ten millionths of the thickness of a human hair.  The resolution of the images produced is just one nanometre, one millionth of a millimetre.

The dualbeam uses a focused ion beam (FIB) and a high spec field emission scanning electron microscope (SEM) with gallium ions derived from a liquid metal ion source that are directed at the surface in a tightly controlled beam . The ion beam can be precisely controlled to remove material from tightly defined areas – essentially performing micro and even nano-surgery on almost any material.

Unlike other techniques used for dissecting materials, the dualbeam can extract information and capture images without causing any detectable damage except over a tiny area.  It can also deposit materials such as gold and platinum, known for their conductivity, on to the surface structure, providing insights into the composition and behaviour of materials.

For physicists looking for quantum wells, biologists looking at the structure of membranes in the ears of tree crickets, and engineers keen to understand the nanostructure of exotic alloys, the dualbeam is invaluable.

A nano-wire made using ion beam milling for gas sensing applications. It also happens to look like a small-scale version of the Clifton suspension bridge in Bristol

“It makes things possible which were previously considered impossible, it’s at the heart of what makes science beautiful,” says Dr Scott.  “It can do things in such a precisely defined way to such a high degree of accuracy that it really is incredible.  In fact, it’s difficult to comprehend just how small a scale this thing works on.”

Some of the project proposals under consideration that would make use of the dualbeam include an examination of the ears of Indian tree crickets, where the dualbeam could be used to slice and view in three dimensions reconstructions of cricket ears.  The findings could ultimately inform medical advancements in hearing devices for humans.

The dualbeam could also be used in quantum cryptography, to devise ways of transmitting messages in a way that is resistant to attempts to tap into the source, using emitters constructed from a single photonic light source so small and so intricately encoded as to be virtually undetectable.

In biochemistry, researchers are looking at making actuators – “gold sandwiches” with a polymer filling which could swim through the bloodstream, collecting information that could be used to inform medical approaches to human disease.

Dr Scott is keen to seek out other collaborations that will test the boundaries of every discipline:  “The dualbeam instrument is a clear example of the University’s commitment to groundbreaking developments in research,” he said. “If we are going to be the leaders in the UK and internationally in terms of research we need to be pushing the boundaries of what is technically possible, and this new piece of equipment will certainly enable us to do that.”

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Bloodhound construction starts

February 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
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Work has started on constructing the Bloodhound SSC, the latest bid for the World Land Speed record. Designed in Bristol, the BLOODHOUND Project is an international education initiative focused around a 1000mph Land Speed Record attempt at the end of next year.

The car is being built by Hampson Industries in Birmingham, Cosworth in Northampton and the Advanced Composites Group (ACG) in Derbyshire and 90% of BLOODHOUND SSC’s primary structure is now in the manufacturing stage.

Brian_Coombs_at_Hampson
BLOODHOUND SSC Engineer Brian Coombs formally hands over one of the drawings (picture above left)

The steel-lattice rear chassis not only has to contain 47,000lbs of combined thrust (equivalent to 133,000 hp) from the car’s Eurojet EJ200 jet and Falcon Project hybrid rocket, it must also cope with 30 tonne suspension loadings, air pressures on the bodywork of up to 13 tonnes per square metre and substantial additional loads generated by the tail fin, air brakes and parachutes.

Hampson_first_look
Hampson’s engineers get their first look at the drawings

Advanced Composite Group (ACG) is creating the front section of the car for Q1 2012. Using ACG’s high performance ‘prepreg’ materials, the Group’s engineering division will manufacture the entire front section of the car. It will also construct the master models and tooling from which critical elements of the car’s bodywork and structural components, such as the monocoque and nose, will be produced. The air intake and rear wheel fairings, both areas vital to the aerodynamic performance of the car and subject to extreme stress loadings, will likewise be made by ACE.

“It was clear very early on that we could build a strong and creative partnership with the ACG team,” said Mark Chapman. “We valued their input from the start when they helped us optimise our designs to make best use of composite’s capabilities. We’re looking forward to working with them closely in the coming months as we move beyond the design phase and start to build”.

Cosworth CA2010
The Cosworth CA2010 engine

Cosworth is supplying BLOODHOUND with vital data logging and telemetry systems, as well as their state-of-the-art CA2010 F1 engine. This will drive the Falcon rocket oxidiser pump via a BLOODHOUND-designed gearbox featuring gears by Xtrac and an AP Racing clutch.

With construction now underway, the aim is to have BLOODHOUND SSC ready to roll out for UK runway trials in Q2 2012 ahead of the start of high speed runs in South Africa and the climb to a new World Land Speed Record in late 2012 – 2013.

“After three years of working on a virtual car, Hampson, Cosworth, ACG and our other technical partners are helping us make it a reality at last,” said Chapman. “It’s a great moment for a team which has invested the equivalent of thirty years getting the programme to this stage.”

balloon_cars_at_Hampsons
Children from a local school enjoy making balloon cars at Hampson Industries

Over 4,000 UK schools have already signed up to the BLOODHOUND Education Programme, which provides curriculum-ready resources to help bring science and maths lessons to life. This number is expected to grow dramatically once the car has been built. In addition, six million teachers worldwide will have access to the Project via Intel’s ‘Skoool’ initiative.

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Bath’s ‘green’ buildings in £8m TSB study

February 7, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
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Two of the University of Bath’s innovative buildings are to be tested for their green credentials.

The Technology Strategy Board (TSB) is funding a total of 17 developments in the first phase of a four-year, £8m programme that aims to help the construction industry as a whole to better understand the performance of different building types, design strategies, construction methods and occupancy patterns, and the relative contribution of various factors to the eventual performance of the buildings.

Dr Andy Shea, from the University’s Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering, will be undertaking an in-depth, two-year study of the buildings within his research group BRE Centre for Innovative Construction Materials. “This research will allow us to look in very fine detail at exactly how each of the buildings is performing,” he said. “Typically there is a significant difference between the calculated environmental standard of a building on paper and that achieved once a development is in use. This research will be enormously helpful in not only advising the University of any changes that could be made to the two buildings, but also in providing the industry as a whole with information that can be applied to future developments.”

The research will involve a team of people examining in detail the exact way both buildings are used, the functions performed in them and the equipment used.

“The findings of our research into energy consumption and building usage of Woodland Court will be quite unique and have the potential for impacting on student accommodation design across the country,” said Dr Shea.

Research at the University of Bath will begin in April and continue for two years

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Bristol opens new £2m research data centre

February 7, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
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‘BluePeta’ to safeguard research data

Bristol University has worked with IBM to develop a £2m data facility that holds approximately one petabyte of information — the equivalent of 20 million four-drawer filing cabinets filled with text or 13.3 years worth of HD-video footage. The ‘BluePeta’ project is to safeguard the research data assets of the University, which is one of the first higher education institutions in the UK to install a high-capacity data storage facility on this scale.

BluePeta has been specifically designed for the University through a collaboration with technology suppliers SCC and IBM in response to the increasing volumes of research data being created and the need to curate this information securely over the long term.  The facility will enable researchers from a wide range of disciplines to improve the security and efficiency with which their data is accessed, stored and retrieved.

“Bristol is a leading research-intensive university and our academics are involved in some of the world’s most challenging and groundbreaking research,” said Professor Guy Orpen, Pro Vice Chancellor for Research at the University. “The data we generate is fundamental to our operation. We have invested substantially in an enterprise-grade storage solution which will ensure the knowledge our researchers create is preserved in a resilient, cost-effective, scalable and secure environment.”

Users of BluePeta will come from all disciplines, from scientists working on aspects of climate change to physicists using the Large Hadron Collider. The facility will also be used by arts and social sciences researchers who need to archive images, video files and datasets.

Research funding bodies are increasingly asking universities to retain research data to allow its use, reuse and repurposing over the long term,” said Dr Ian Stewart, Director of the University’s Advanced Computing Research Centre. “BluePeta allows this process to take place in a central and secure environment, enabling researchers to maintain data integrity — the accuracy and consistency with which they store their data.”

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Working with Chinese avionics firms

February 7, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
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The presentations from last month’s visit to the region by Chinese avionics companies are up at the West of England Aerospace Forum.

Chinese Aerospace Supply Chain and Partnering Mission – Event Slides

China Missions – Paul Calver

Working With Chinese Partners – Vince Cunningham

Briefing on AVIC & COMAC – Douglas Barnes

Chinese Aerospace Market – Paul Calver

Bristol: Europe’s Silicon Gorge

February 4, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
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Silicon Gorge – the high-tech triangle between Bristol, Swindon and Gloucester – has already proved itself on the world stage, according to the World Economic Forum, who describe the area as ‘a hot spring of innovation’. Clare Reddington of Bristol’s Watershed looks at the convergence of the hot spots for technology and creative media as a guest on the Department of Culture, Media and Sport blog.

SouthWest electronics firms shine in Barcelona

February 4, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
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Deltenna in Chippenham is highlighted in the Computer Weekly roundup of UK firms making a splash at the global gathering of mobile phone companies in Barcelona, Mobile World Congress, later this month. The story at  looks at what Deltenna is doing with a specialist antenna system for the home to boost reception and provide broadband WiFi access in rural areas.

But there are several others from the region: chip makers picoChip in Bath, Icera in Bristol and Nujira, which has a design centre in Bath, are also at the show showing the latest mobile phone technology, while equipment makers Ubiquisys of Swindon and AceAxis, with a radio design centre in Bristol, are also present at the show and chip and system maker IPWireless is also driving mobile phone technology forward from Chippenham  with deals with Ericsson and Apple.

SW Microelectronics iNet

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