2018 Clifford Paterson Medal and Prize

Dr Richard Bowman of the University of Bath for his contributions to optical microscopy, in particular to experiment automation and the creation of globally accessible, open-source hardware.

2018 Clifford Paterson Medal and Prize Richard Bowman

Dr Richard Bowman is a talented designer of microscopic instrumentation, applying techniques from physics, computing and engineering to problems across the physical and life sciences. Instruments he has designed range from high-end optical trapping systems to smart microscopes for malaria diagnostics, locally produced in Tanzania.

During his PhD at the University of Glasgow, he used fast computer holography to form multiple-laser traps, enabling several complex micro-tools to be moved and oriented simultaneously. He measured femtonewton forces as objects were manipulated using high-speed image analysis, paving the way for new interactions with the micro-world. He developed force-feedback interfaces that make microsystems tangible, and touch-screen controls to manipulate many objects at once. He demonstrated two applications of this technology – the self-assembly of microscale tubes through ion exchange and the first optical manipulation in a diamond anvil cell – now commercialised through Meadowlark Optics.

A Research Fellowship at Queens’ College, Cambridge, took him to the Cavendish Laboratory, working on optical spectroscopy of plasmonic metallic nanostructures. His flair for automation led him to increase the rate of data acquisition 100-fold, enabling statistical analysis of thousands of individual particles. Bridging the gap between labour-intensive single particle analysis and bulk spectroscopy has elucidated the physics of nanoscale cavities and shown how they can be used for chemical sensing through enhanced Raman scattering.

Highly automated experiments rely on expensive ‘black box’ hardware that is difficult to customise or integrate with other apparatus. He developed a fully-automated microscope that can be 3D printed, and released the design as open source hardware. He co-founded WaterScope, a not-for-profit company using digital microscopy to accelerate bacteriological water testing, and was included in the Forbes magazine ‘30 Under 30 Europe’ list.

Supported by fellowships from the Royal Commission and the University of Bath, he has built an extensive research programme with strong connections to industrial and medical partners in Tanzania. One project develops 3D-printed mechanisms for instrumentation, while another links automated microscopy with computer vision for malaria diagnostics. The open source, frugal nature of the hardware involved means that it can be produced anywhere – making experimental science globally accessible.

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