Awards for physics-based innovation across the UK

9 July 2015

Five companies receive Innovation Awards from the Institute of Physics (IOP) today, Thursday 9 July, to recognise the success that they have built on the application of physics.

From north to south of the UK, the companies are being awarded for, respectively, a super-compact laser kit for the exploration of new phenomena in quantum and material science technology; a non-intrusive inspection instrument for subsea pipelines; a standing equine Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanner; a Ferromagnetic Detection System to increase MRI safety and prison security; and a high-resolution seismic-imaging instrument used in oil wells and carbon capture reservoirs.

M Squared

Glasgow’s M Squared Lasers Ltd have picked up an Innovation Award for their contribution to laser technology with the development of SolsTiS, a compact and fully automated laser toolkit offering unprecedented tuning range and unrivalled power.

SolsTiS is a highly detailed instrument and helps scientists probe deeper into the secrets of science by providing the ultra-pure light needed in experiments with cold atoms. Before SolsTiS, light was not pure enough and lasers could not provide the ultra-narrow line-width, low-noise output required to probe complex quantum systems. Research in atomic clocks, teleportation demonstrations and antimatter experiments are some examples of where leading researchers around the world are using this breakthrough technology.

Founded in 2006, M Squared Lasers Ltd now has more than 150 customers globally, has reached over £14 m through sales and has created 50 full-time jobs in Scotland.

Tracerco

Tracerco, based in Billingham, receive, an Innovation Award from the Institute of Physics (IOP) for developing Discovery™, an instrument that has revolutionised the oil and gas industry by being able to non-intrusively inspect complex sub-sea structures. Before the invention of Discovery™, it was incredibly difficult to inspect subsea pipelines and determine the cause of a blockage without the need to stop production or remove protective coatings. 

Discovery operates at depths of up to 3000 m, under immense pressures and harsh offshore conditions and uses gamma ray tomography to produce high resolution images, allowing customers to make informed decisions regarding issues such as blockages, build-up and corrosion of pipes.

Discovery has generated sales of over £3 m and created more than 30 jobs to grow the R&D product team. Two Discovery instruments are currently in operation and four more are being manufactured this year to meet growing demand. This is the second Innovation Award for Tracerco, who first won an award 2013 for a product called Optimus™, a gamma radiation-based thickness measurement system that significantly increased efficiency in the petrochemical industry.

Hallmarq

The unique standing equine MRI scanner developed by Guildford’s Hallmarq Veterinary Imaging Ltd has won an Innovation Award from the IOP.

Conventional veterinary diagnostic methods can locate the cause of pain in a lame horse to a particular region, but further diagnosis is notoriously difficult. MRI can visualise both bone and soft tissue, making it the gold standard imaging modality. However, laying a horse down under anaesthesia carries significant risk, making standard cylindrical magnets unsuitable for routine MRI of horses.

Hallmarq's standing equine MRI and associated motion correction software brings to specialist veterinary clinics the ability to characterise pathology in bone and soft tissue. The unique pulse sequences and image reconstruction software interact in real time with the data acquisition to produce diagnostic images, even if there has been significant patient motion.

Hallmarq’s MRI scanner has revolutionised equine lameness diagnosis in the veterinary market with more than 77 installations in 22 countries.

Metrasens

Malvern’s Metrasens Ltd receive an Innovation Award from the Institute of Physics (IOP) for their innovative Ferromagnetic Detection Systems (FMDS) that can significantly reduce dangerous projectile and pacemaker failure accidents in MRI scanners. 

Under the strong magnetic attraction of an MRI scanner, ferromagnetic objects such as scissors or medical gas cylinders may become dangerous projectiles; while unexpected implants such as pacemakers, brain stimulators and shunt valves may have their functions severely affected, leading to patient harm. FMDS can sensitively detect tiny fluctuations in large ambient magnetic fields caused by ferromagnetic moving objects and so detect the presence of such ferromagnetic "risk items" before they approach the MRI and result in a serious patient accident.

This technology is also being used successfully for contraband detection in prisons. FMDS have superior detection performance for mobile phones and can be used flexibly anywhere within a prison, in contrast to conventional metal detectors and X-ray technologies.

Metrasens Ltd has successfully created markets in MRI safety and prison security and as a result has seen a strong consistent annual revenue growth since the company was founded in 2005.

Silixa

Silixa Limited based in Hertfordshire, has received an Innovation Award for developing the Intelligent Distributed Acoustic Sensor (iDAS), a seismic-imaging instrument which turns a length of standard optical fibre into a string of precision microphones.

iDAS technology records the full acoustic signal simultaneously at every 1m over up to 40,000 data points and is used to collect uniquely high-resolution seismic data from within oil wells and from carbon capture and storage reservoirs. Optical fibres are often found in wells to provide communications to pressure and temperature gauges and Silixa’s technology turns the fibre into an optimum sensor array, at no additional cost or complexity to the customer. The iDAS relies on Rayleigh Scattering and launches pulses of light down the fibre and analyses the small amount of light backscattered to determine the change in fibre strain at every metre down the fibre.

Silixa was founded in 2007 in the garage of one of the three iDAS inventors, who then went on to develop and commercialise the iDAS technology and its applications. Silixa has attracted significant investment and now employs 60 full-time staff. Silixa was recognised in the Deloitte Fast 50 index as the fastest growing UK electronics company in 2013, and the second fastest in 2014.

Frances Saunders, president of the Institute of Physics, said: “Congratulations to all of our winners and their award-winning innovations.

“From veterinary MRI scanning to subsea pipeline inspection and from all over the UK, this year’s impressive selection of winners proves once again that the successful application of physics can create businesses and transform industries. I wish them all continuing success for the future.”

The IOP Innovation Awards are a unique celebration of commercial success built on physics. For more information, go to www.iop.org/innovation

All five winning companies will be showcasing their innovations at a parliamentary reception on 28 October and will also attend an awards ceremony in London on 5 November.

To find out more about how physics is driving economic growth across the UK, including a regional breakdown, see The Importance of Physics to Economic Growth - https://www.iop.org/publications/iop/2013/file_60318.pdf