2008 Paterson medal and prize

Professor Russell Cowburn

Imperial College London

For outstanding contributions to nano-magnetism and nano-photonics, and his internationally recognised success in commercially exploiting his research through spin-out companies.

The Paterson medal and prize for distinguished research in applied physics has been awarded to Professor Russell Cowburn, Professor of Nanotechnology in the Physics Department at Imperial College London, for outstanding contributions to nano-magnetism and nano-photonics, and his internationally recognised success in commercially exploiting his research through spin-out companies.

Professor Cowburn is an extraordinarily able and talented physicist. He was appointed Professor of Nanotechnology at Imperial College London in 2005 at the age of 34, having previously been appointed to a Readership in physics at the University of Durham at the age of 29.

He has made a number of remarkable contributions to the study of magnetic materials, demonstrating innovative ‘spintronic’ logic and storage schemes based on moving interfaces between magnetic domains. He has proposed a memory device built from nano-magnetic logic gates that would offer 100 times improvement on currently available information storage densities - for a world market potentially worth 34 billion euros a year.

Cowburn has already exploited his magnetism research via a spin-out company, Durham Magneto Optics Ltd, which sells magneto-optical magnetometers for studying magnetic nanostructures. More recently, he started another company, Ingenia Technology Ltd, based on an innovative use of laser scattering. The speckle-like nature of scattered laser light provides a unique fingerprint of any surface and can be used to characterise objects made from paper, plastic or metal. The company has launched its first product (Laser Surface Authentication) which detects forged or counterfeit items such as passports, pharmaceuticals and other consumer products. It has already attracted a great deal of commercial interest, winning several business awards. Successful trials have already been carried out in the US.

Professor Cowburn is an exceptional scientist who has combined high profile academic research with successful commercial exploitation