Tomorrow's world, today

24 February 2008

Turning milk bottles into petrol and a scanner that indicates which women with breast cancer will benefit from expensive treatments such as Herceptin are two of the ideas that the Royal Society believes will become successful products in the coming years.  The two projects are among the winners of the Royal Society's Brian Mercer Awards for Feasibility which will be presented on Thursday 28th February.

The projects along with five other winners will receive £25,000 each to develop their ideas and assess their commercial possibilities.  The annual fromlabstoriches' event will also see the award of two £250,000 Brian Mercer Awards for Innovation, which will be announced on the night.  The awards are given to encourage innovation in science and technology and promote its commercial application.

Sir Peter Williams, Vice-President of the Royal Society said: "Science has always been at the heart of economic innovation, yet in the UK we have not always made the most of our world leading scientists.  Entrepreneurship is on the rise in university departments and that can only be a good thing for our economy.  We need to invest in science education at all levels to ensure we have the people to maintain this growth and we must also ensure that we have structures in place to nurture the best ideas."  

Dr Arthur Garforth and a team at the University of Manchester School of Chemical Engineering and Analytical Science hope to be able to use a process known as hydrocracking to breakdown polymer based waste, such as plastic bottles, into a liquid suitable for use as a liquid fuel.  Hydrocracking is normally used in refineries to help convert crude oil into fuels but Dr Garforth's work will use special catalysts to turn the process to recycling.    

The HistoMag is the brainchild of Professor Quentin Pankhurst at the London Centre for Nanotechnology.  It is an extremely sensitive magnetic microscope which could lead to much faster and more accurate analysis of biopsy tissue samples.  One predicted use would be to accurately identify the 15 30% of women with breast cancer who would be most likely to benefit from taking the drug Herceptin.  This would reduce the number of women given false hope that the drug might benefit them and would also reduce unnecessary NHS spending on an expensive treatment that will offer no benefit.


Other recipients of Brian Mercer Feasibility Awards in 2008 include:

Dr Michael Belmont.  School of Engineering and Computer Science, University of Exeter

This project is to develop a simple, low cost turbine to generate energy from tidal power, a resource the UK is rich in. The prototype will increase efficiency and have less environmental impact than existing tidal power alternatives.  It is planned to be used in arrays of moored floating units which can be easily added to or moved, as required.

Dr Richard Hogg. Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering, University of Sheffield  

This research concentrates on quantum dot and laser structures for a range of applications for 3D imaging for tissue engineering, early stage cancer, and especially ophthalmology.  

Professor Andrew Livingston.  Department of Chemical Engineering, Imperial College, London  

This research will investigate new ways to produce tough nanoporous films as membranes that can be applied to molecular level separations, for impurity removal from pharmaceutical ingredients, fractionation of natural products, right through to refining of oil.  

Dr Jianming Tang.  School of Electronic Engineering, Bangor University  

This project will look to demonstrate low cost, advanced optical modems which support speeds far beyond the transmission performance achieved by all existing techniques. This offers the prospect of faster, more reliable internet, telephone and data services being delivered to people's homes.  

Professor Roy Taylor.  Department of Physics, Imperial College London  

This research looks to integrate high powered lasers with novel structured photonic crystal fibres for uses such as biomedical imaging, nano-diagnostics and micromachining.