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05 November 2010 University of Glasgow

Nanotechnology research delivering big results for business

In its first year of operation, the University has committed just over £1 million of KTA money on 20 projects
In its first year of operation, the University has committed just over £1 million of KTA money on 20 projects.
Image Credit: University of Glasgow.

Working in partnership with industry, the University of Glasgow has funded 20 research projects in the past 12 months in the field of nanotechnology which will lead to four new businesses being set-up.

Last year, the University was awarded £3.1 million from the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC) to create a Knowledge Transfer Account (KTA) to encourage closer collaboration between industry and the world-renowned nanotechnology research being carried out at the University.

In its first year of operation, the University has committed just over £1 million of KTA money on 20 projects – 16 in partnership with industry and four focussed on the formation of new high technology businesses

The projects have explored subjects such as applying optical devices and digital camera technology to create high precision equipment that can accurately measure distances thousands of times smaller than the width of a human hair, and a world-leading model for predicting future performance of miniature transistors in silicon chips.

The KTA at Glasgow will run until 2012, and will now broaden its scope to support industry collaboration with academics across the whole of the College of Science and Engineering. It is designed to maximise the economic impact of EPSRC funded research to benefit the UK economy and society. The Glasgow KTA is only one of two KTAs awarded in Scotland.

Dr Neil Bowering, KTA manager at the University of Glasgow, said: “It is clear that the University has a lot to offer industry and other end users of research. For the first time, the KTA gives us the flexibility to respond to the dynamic needs of business in a way that suits them, so that they can build on our initial research and turn ideas into new profitable businesses.

“With public finances stretched so tightly at the moment, the public sector is under intense pressure to deliver value for money for tax-payers. Our KTA project is the ideal vehicle to create real value for Scottish companies and the wider economy by helping turn great ideas into solid businesses.”

The UK Government recognises that a closer working relationship between universities and industry will be vital for the future of the British economy. Prime Minister David Cameron last week announced £200 million funding for high tech centres that will support British technology companies to “bridge the gap between universities and businesses, helping to commercialise the outputs of Britain’s world-class research base”. The number of bodies has not been confirmed yet.

Professor David Cumming of the School of Engineering is leading the strategic direction of the KTA at Glasgow, which is a collaborative project also involving the Schools of Physics and Astronomy, Computing Science, Chemistry, Geographical and Earth Sciences, Mathematics and Statistics, Psychology, and Research and Enterprise.

KTA money is being used to support Professor Asen Asenov for one year to allow him to run a start-up company, Gold Standard Simulations (GSS), which could save the semiconductor industry billions of pounds from silicon chip failure by predicting how performance will be affected in future generations of miniature transistors. A typical silicon chip contains one billion transistors – electrical switches at the heart of microchip complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) circuits - that have led to an explosion in the capability of devices such iPods, mobile phones, computers and games.

However, as transistors have gotten ever smaller, their performance at nanoscale has started to vary due to atomic imperfections in their structure – a phenomenon known as ‘statistical variability’. This has led to decreasing yield and increasing rates of chip failure for the $300 billion a year semiconductor industry.

GSS, which was set up in July this year (www.goldstandardsimulations.com), has three employees and is already leading the world in predicting “statistical variability” in micro chip performance. It secured two contracts in its first quarter of business and is predicting a turnover of £400,000 in its first year.

Professor Asenov said: “GSS is offering a world-leading simulation service to chip developers and manufacturers. The University of Glasgow is at the forefront of this technology."

Dr Phil Dobson and Dr David Burt together with Dr Stephen Thoms and Professor John Weaver of the School of Engineering are planning to start up a new high tech company to commercialise high precision measuring technology they have developed which could deliver much improved performance in scientific and industrial equipment at a fraction of the cost of existing systems.

The system uses an optical device that creates an extraordinarily precise projection onto a digital camera. Computer software then analyses the resulting image and calculates the position of the optical device with a precision thousands of times smaller than the width of a human hair.

The Compostella system they have developed will be applied to a range of uses, including manufacturing tools, microscopes, robotics and telescopes. In the future it could also be used to help civil engineers monitor cracks in buildings or bridges, allowing them to intervene and take preventative action before the structure becomes dangerous.

Glasgow researchers involved in two other projects are currently in confidential discussions with industry partners about setting up two other companies to commercialise their research.

Source: University of Glasgow /...

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