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Engineering fellowships for young UK photonics researchers

19 Aug 2013

Work on short-pulse visible lasers and light-harvesting materials win Royal Academy backing.

Two young photonics researchers in the UK are set to receive five-year support to develop new technologies, thanks to the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE).

Edmund Kelleher from Imperial College, London, and Freddie Withers from the University of Manchester have been awarded highly regarded research fellowships from the RAE, designed to enable scientists to establish independent careers in research areas seen as useful to industry or society, or to have genuinely high growth potential in the form of new products or services.

Kelleher and Withers are among seven winners in all. “Each of the winning research projects promises to make an outstanding impact in a critically important field, from power generation and energy storage to healthcare,” announced the RAE.

“New materials that could be used in the production of more efficient solar panels and in more reliable nuclear reactors; an intelligent, NHS-wide patient database and foundations that can heat the house are just a few of the applications envisaged for this year's round of fellowships.”

Professor Ric Parker CBE FREng, the director of research and technology at Rolls-Royce, and chairman of the RAE’s Research and Secondments Committee, added:

"Innovation is at the heart of industrial and economic growth, and the UK's engineering sector constantly needs the fresh approach to both old and new problems that comes from enthusiastic and dedicated researchers."

"The Academy is committed to encouraging excellence in all aspects of engineering. Through the Research Fellowships scheme we offer not only financial support, but mentoring and guidance as well, to help already outstanding individuals to develop their potential as research leaders."

"This year's selection was, as always, very difficult, with applications of the highest quality, but the winning candidates stood out among them. I am certain they have the potential to help technology advance in giant leaps through their hard work and passion. I wish them all the best in this next stage of their potentially stellar career."

Fellowship focus
University of Warwick graduate Kelleher, who completed a joint MSc in photonics and optoelectronic devices at St Andrews and Heriot-Watt universities before studying for a PhD at Imperial, is currently a postdoctoral research associate in Roy Taylor’s femtosecond optics group.

The RAE fellowship will support Kelleher’s work to advance short-pulse lasers operating across the visible spectrum. By combining novel amplification mechanisms and materials, he wants to develop a laser platform with the potential for “unprecedented” wavelength coverage, offering high brightness across the full spectral range.

"Current laser sources are in need of improvement as they often require complicated, expensive and inefficient set-ups," said Kelleher, whose recent publications include a novel parametric oscillator based on a polarization-maintaining photonic crystal fiber. “I want to work toward making laser systems smaller, more user-friendly and able to cover the entire visible and ultraviolet spectrum.”

“In addition, understanding how the pulse forms and reacts to its environment within the laser can improve our understanding of the movement and action of more complex systems, from giant ‘freak waves’ observed in oceanic systems, to spikes in financial markets.”

Withers, who is ideally located for graphene research at the Manchester university where the material was first discovered, will focus on the development and production of graphene variants that are designed to capture light. He is currently working in a research group led by graphene chemistry specialist Cinzia Casiraghi.

Intending to go beyond the proof-of-concept stage, Withers will be looking to develop light-harvesting panels with a surface area of up to a square meter, and in the longer term is hoping to engineer a large-scale production facility.

The RAE’s five other selections for research fellowships were David Armstrong and David Clifton, both from the University of Oxford, Fleur Loveridge from the University of Southampton, Oliver Payton at the University of Bristol and Weijia Yuan, from the University of Bath.

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