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Physics-based businesses at the cutting edge of the UK and Ireland's scientific research and development recognised at Institute of Physics Business Awards 2020

The winning companies at this year’s Institute of Physics Business Awards have applied and employed physics and physicists to make world-leading technological achievements. The 2020 awardees include a range of established and breakthrough companies, many of which will have a significant impact on our economic and societal wellbeing.


In these times of uncertainty, business innovation and entrepreneurship have never been so important. ‘Physics-based’ businesses, and those companies that apply and employ physics and physicists, make a significant contribution to industries across all sectors and at all stages.

For this reason, the IOP is determined to build on its rich history of supporting innovation and growth in physics-based businesses committed to delivering societal and economic impact.

Intended to showcase, celebrate and reward entrepreneurship, excellence in innovation and the successful implementation of physics into a product or service, IOP’s Business Awards are unique in the UK and Ireland.

The Awards recognise the significant contribution that physicists and physics make in industry and business, and the recipients are notable in their commitment, vision and ingenuity.

There are three categories of awards – Business Innovation Award, Business Start-Up Award and the new Lee Lucas Award.

The Business Innovation Award recognises and celebrates small, medium and large companies that have excelled in innovation, delivering significant economic and/or societal impact through the application of physics.

The Business Start-up Award highlights young companies with a great business idea founded on a physics invention, with the potential for business growth and significant societal impact.

And the new Lee Lucas Award focuses specifically on very early stage companies taking innovative products into the medical and healthcare sector – rewarding businesses with significant potential impact on the pressing health challenges facing us today.

By showcasing and celebrating some of the most innovative and promising physics-based businesses in the UK and Ireland, the IOP hopes to foster, support and connect physicists working in industry, and to enable physics-based businesses to thrive and deliver the kind of impact that is vital to our continued economic and societal health.  

This year’s winners will be showcasing their technology at the IOP Business Awards 2020 Live Webinars on 15 and 16 July. 

Jonathan Flint CBE, IOP President, said: “The IOP Business Awards recognise and reward the achievements of physics-based businesses of all sizes; innovative companies that have developed new technologies or repurposed existing ones, and that are at the cutting edge of the UK and Ireland’s scientific research and development.

“These companies, old and new, large and small, have the power to drive the economy. They use the applications of physics to create positive individual, social, industrial and economic change, both at home and overseas.

“Rarely has the need to recognise and encourage our scientists been more apparent. We must continue to encourage, reward and invest in our researchers. Their commitment, drive and imaginations help to keep us comfortable, healthy and safe.”

This year’s winners are...

Business Innovation winners

Advanced Hall Sensors (Cheadle)

For pioneering work in the commercialisation of novel, ultra-high sensitivity compound semiconductor magnetic sensors

Advanced Hall Sensors has developed and commercialised a highly novel compound semiconductor magnetic sensor based on the quantum well Hall effect (QWHE). Delivering huge gains over competing sensor technology in terms of dynamic range, sensitivity and temperature stability, the company’s QWHE sensor enables cost-effective, accessible nanotesla-scale magnetometry, unlocking numerous novel real-world applications.

Hirst Magnetic Instruments (Falmouth)

For developing and industrialising innovative magnetics technology and scientific processes

Hirst’s recently developed permanent field magnet self-demagnetisation field function (SDFF) units allow closed-circuit magnetic measurements to be made in open-circuit circumstances for the first time.

Representing a critical step in the characterisation of actual production magnets prior to assembly and magnetisation, SDFF equipment has a high potential impact on magnetics in green energy technologies, particularly high-yield electric vehicle motor production.   

Promethean Particles (Nottingham)

For solving the key fluid mechanics problem that held back the use of supercritical fluids in the production of nanomaterials

Promethean Particles solved one of the greatest engineering challenges facing continuous hydrothermal synthesis: the physical mixing of supercritical fluids. With this know-how, they have gone on to design, build and operate the world’s largest multi-material continuous hydrothermal plant, capable of making the world’s most sophisticated nanomaterials – including metals, metal oxides, hydroxides, sulphides and complex nanoporous materials like layered double hydroxides and metal–organic frameworks – at a fraction of the cost of competitor production methods.

Thornton Tomasetti Defence (Fife)

For the development of an innovative shock testing machine

Thornton Tomasetti has developed a highly innovative, patented system for shock testing live munitions that is both cost-effective and safe. The JASSO airgun-driven shock test machine is revolutionising live munition tests by delivering an essentially disposable shock test machine that replicates the shock environment experienced by a ship and its weapons following an underwater explosion from a torpedo or mine.

The technology thereby significantly improves the combat safety of Royal Navy warships and sailors.

Business Start-up winners

FeTu (Elland)

For the development of a step-change ‘positive displacement turbine’

FeTu’s novel ‘positive displacement turbine’ is a new compressor based on a unique energy architecture that combines the best of radial, axial and reciprocal techniques into a single high-efficiency solution.

Both high-pressure and high-volume, as well as light, compact and quiet, FeTu’s technology can achieve 99.99% volumetric efficiency and +80% thermal efficiency, oil free. In a sector desperate for energy and CO2 savings, FeTu’s innovative compressor design has the potential to disrupt the entire compressor market.

Geoptic Infrastructure Investigations (Durham)

For innovative contributions to the rail industry via the development of non-invasive imaging instrumentation and techniques

A spin-out from the Universities of Durham, Sheffield and St Mary's, Geoptic has built novel instrumentation and analysis tools that exploit naturally occurring cosmic ray muons to form images of otherwise hard-to-access objects.

This patented ‘muon radiography’ technique is capable of non-invasive rapid imaging of critical infrastructure, such as railway tunnels, to check infrastructure integrity and identify areas of concern, offering considerable cost and health & safety benefits.

ORCA Computing (London)

For pioneering a new, optical fibre-based method of quantum computing

ORCA quantum optics experts have established a completely new approach towards quantum computing, building a quantum optical memory device that allows broadband single photons and multiple entangled photon states to be stored and retrieved on demand within rubidium gas.

Requiring far fewer components and free to operate within optical fibre rather than silicon, ORCA’s approach offers a viable route to future high-performance, highly connected and scalable quantum computing.

Oxford HighQ (Oxford)

For developing a novel characterisation solution to measure loading of drug-delivery nanoparticles at single particle level

University of Oxford spin-out Oxford HighQ was formed to bring to market optical microcavity analysis (OMCA) for application in nanoparticle and chemical sensing. Highly sensitive and capable of operating with a sample of just a handful of molecules, optical microcavity sensors are robust and inexpensive, and can be readily manufactured in volume.

Oxford HighQ’s first application of their OMCA devices allows particle-by-particle measurement of the quantity of active drug loaded into drug-delivery nanoparticles, delivering results in real time at much lower cost.

OxMet Technologies (Yarnton)

For the development of new superior alloys using innovative proprietary technology

OxMet’s alloys-by-design technology combines physical models based on leading-edge scientific insight, proprietary software and computational power to allow alloy design to be analytical, predictive and fast, reducing development time from years to months.

The alloys, powders and components OxMet produces using this technology have a wide range of applications, making rockets, planes and cars more fuel efficient, and reducing medical implant problems.

Photon Force (Edinburgh)

For developing ground-breaking sensors enabling ultrafast single-photon-sensitive imaging

Brought to market in 2016, University of Edinburgh spin-out Photon Force’s PF32 is the world’s first ultra-fast, single-photon sensitive, time-resolved camera product. The PF32 has been used to accelerate single-photon imaging applications across science and industry, spanning quantum physics, communications, experimental lidar imaging, and biomedical modalities.

Photon Force is now developing new sensor architectures and introducing variants offering 15x improved sensitivity and 10x reduced noise.

QLM Technology (Bristol)

For developing long-range gas leak imaging systems based on semiconductor lasers and infrared single-photon detection

Founded at the University of Bristol, QLM aims to produce a low-cost platform of gas imagers that enable continuous and fully automatic greenhouse gas emission monitoring to help natural gas producers, distributors, service providers and environmental agencies limit climate change.

The company’s tuneable diode lidar imagers are based on mature telecommunication technology and innovative high-speed infrared single-photon detectors, providing long range, accurate and continuous gas imaging and leak measurement in industrial environments over a wide range of conditions.

Lee Lucas Award winners

Cellular Highways (Melbourn)

For inventing a cell sorter based on the physics of inertial microfluidics, and the resulting development of new cell therapy tools

Cellular Highways’ new technology for cell sorting – named VACS (vortex-actuated cell sorting) – is the fastest chip-based cell sorter yet invented. VACS has the potential to achieve fast, scalable and sterile cell sorting for therapeutic, diagnostic and life science research applications.

Recently, the company applied its VACS technology to develop it first commercial instrument – Highway1 – intended for use by cell therapy companies and research groups.

Nebu~Flow (Glasgow)

For their exceptional efforts in developing and commercialising a new generation of acoustic nebuliser technology, enabling new treatment for lung disease to be delivered efficiently and improving the lives of millions of sufferers

University of Glasgow spin-out Nebu~Flow has created an acoustic aerosol formation technology to disperse liquids in the form of aerosols. Based on the control of the mechanical energy carried by acoustic waves, it provides unique control of aerosol droplet size within the clinically effective range for efficient respiratory drug delivery.

The technology is able to nebulise a much wider range of therapeutics than existing techniques, including existing drugs and emerging high-value biologics and nanomedicines.

Read more about this year's winners.