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Strengthening physics-based R&D for business

Most business are feeling the impact of the COVID-19 crisis. In this period of uncertainty, we at the IOP are doing everything we can to support our business members, including moving the recent Business Innovation and Growth Summit to a new online format.

Dr James McKenzie, IOP’s Vice-president for Business, reflects on the Summit and the outlook for physics-based R&D.


At the beginning of July, the UK Government published a national Research and Development (R&D) Roadmap, setting out its vision for the UK as a science superpower. Investment in science and research will deliver economic growth and societal benefits across the UK for decades to come.

Businesses driving physics-based R&D will play a significant part in delivering this roadmap, so it is timely that this month also saw the 2020 IOP Business Innovation and Growth [BIG] Summit. The event brings together business leaders, policy makers, funders and support organisations to highlight the impact of physics-based R&D and identify strengths and challenges facing the sector, as well as raise issues that need to be addressed if we are to cement the UK’s reputation as a science and innovation superpower.

This year’s BIG Summit was fully online, presented as a series of webinars exploring the role that physics-based innovation plays in our economy. Summit sessions included talks, panel discussions and technology showcases.

The first BIG panel discussion on 10 July set the tone for the events that followed. Miles Adcock (Teledyne e2v), Chris Dorman (Coherent), Marta Garcia-Santamaria (Jaguar Land Rover) and Nick Misselbrook (Thornton Tommaseti) had a frank and insightful discussion, led by the panel chair, Margaret Harris of IOPP who is a member of the IOP Business Innovation and Growth group committee. The panel shared experiences of driving physics-based innovation. In these trying times, I think it’s fair to say that they were inspiring, helping us all to rebuild our business confidence.

One of the satisfying roles I have as the Vice-president for Business is to chair the IOP Business Awards judging panel, where I am joined by a brilliant panel of Fellows and experts with a track record of taking physics-based innovation to market. The IOP Business Awards are going from strength to strength, with three award categories – Business Innovation, Business start-up and, from this year, the Lee Lucas Award for very early stage companies taking innovative products into the medical and healthcare sector. This new award is supported by a generous donation from Ann and Mike Lee. We are grateful to Ann and Mike for supporting innovation in this way.

This is the ninth year of the IOP Business Awards, and my fourth. I was delighted to see another increase in the number of high-quality nominations. Selecting winners is becoming ever more difficult for the judging panel, but after thorough deliberation, we selected 13 very worthy winners, who presented at two BIG Summit webinars on 15 and 16 July. It was really impressive to hear how these businesses are excelling in physics-based R&D and innovation, working in areas such as quantum computing, compound semiconductor magnetic sensors, acoustic nebuliser technology, magnetics technology and novel imaging solutions. I’m proud to say that our IOP Business Awards winners network now includes 69 outstanding businesses.

In light of the COVID-19 crisis, the importance of being able to find ingenious, practical and timely solutions to the most challenging problems is even clearer. Research and development will be critical to economic and social recovery from the impacts of COVID-19, enabling us to build a greener, healthier and more resilient UK.

Indeed, in the IOP’s response to the Government’s roadmap, IOP CEO Paul Hardaker noted that: ”Our research base is such an important national capability, and is central to the future prosperity of the UK, to the creation of new jobs, and to tackling the biggest challenges we face in society, COVID-19 included.”

As Vice-president for Business, I and the IOP team look forward to working with Government and the physics community to put the roadmap into practice, and will be strengthening this vision by developing a roadmap for physics-based business R&D with our community and expanding network of high growth SMEs and corporates.

Our goal is to further strengthen science, research and innovation across the UK, making them central to tackling the major challenges we face, and taking advantage of opportunities. I urge you to get further involved and if you haven’t already, please join the IOP's Business Innovation and Growth Group and be a part of this active community.