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UK photonics firms win innovation accolades

08 Jul 2013

Institute of Physics lists Coherent Scotland and lidar specialist Zephir among five awardees.

Photonics technology featured prominently as the UK-headquartered Institute of Physics (IOP) handed out five innovation awards to companies who have developed “transformative” physics-based products.

Among the winners were the US laser giant Coherent’s UK wing, Coherent Scotland, for its ultrafast Chameleon laser. The Ti:sapphire laser oscillator is now used widely in multiphoton microscopy applications across the field of biological research, and is said to have created 100 jobs for the company over the past decade.

Chris Dorman, the general manager at Coherent Scotland, said: “It is a great reward and vindication of our efforts to create products that not only push the boundaries of photonics science, but employ the technologies in an accessible manner, so that they may address real-world applications and problems.”

Also recognized was Ledbury-based Zephir, which has developed a portable lidar system that helps to identify the best locations for siting wind turbines by monitoring wind speeds at heights of 100 meters from the ground.

Zephir launched its first commercial lidar system for the wind power industry back in 2004, since when the technology has also been deployed off-shore on both fixed and floating platforms. Managing director Ian Locker said:

"Zephir started as a small company but it has made a big impact in the renewable energy field, demonstrating how a dedicated team’s practical exploitation of some exciting physics can make a small but significant difference to the world."

Generating wealth
Exeter-based Simpleware received an award for its development of software that converts three-dimensional images into models suitable for computer-aided design (CAD) files, and which is now being used by NASA among others.

The other winners were Tracerco, based in the industrial region of Billingham in north-east England, for a gamma-radiation tool used in pipe measurement by petrochemical firms, and Elekta in the south of England, whose ‘Agility’ beam-shaping device is employed in radiotherapy to target tumors more accurately.

Professor Sir Peter Knight, the current president of IOP, commented: “Many congratulations to all of these companies for successfully applying physics to meet some of the biggest challenges of our age and generating significant wealth for themselves, their employees and the regions they work in.”

“It’s very pleasing to see these innovations coming from companies from many parts of the UK, generating wealth in parts of the country that have been hit hardest by the economic downturn. Physics really does transform lives.”

In its publication The Importance of Physics to Economic Growth, the IOP estimates that physics-based businesses contribute some 8.5% of the UK’s economic output – much of which relates to the oil and gas industry – and employs around a million people, or 4% of the total workforce.

All five winning companies are set to showcase their technologies at the Houses of Parliament later this year.

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