Atom bombs & silicon chips

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Imagine, if you can, that an atomic bomb has gone off.

Do you think you could escape its force without the aid of cars, buses, trains, or planes, or even during its impact be able to make an emergency call on your mobile phone?

No idea?

Well, Dr Rona Belford has the answer to protect microelectronic and electronic equipment and communication devices.

Dr Rona Belford, an electrical engineering PhD graduate from Edinburgh University and a chemistry graduate from Heriot-Watt in 1978 has invented a way to make electronic equipment work faster and, at the same time, to protect it from radiation.

If an atomic bomb struck a city, a single radiation pulse would destroy all microelectronic and electronic equipment within a 300 mile radius. This is a huge area – much larger than the blast zone.

This invention saves communications and other electronic equipment from that ‘single event’.

Other applications for the technology

Although the atom bomb scenario is, thankfully unlikely, there are many applications for the technology. Rona’s invention makes microchips thinner and better protected, through the use of a type of strained-silicon. She has worked hard from 1999 to 2009 producing saleable products for the microelectronics industry and has collaborated with many of the “big boys", including Intel and Honeywell.

Microchip producers today now incorporate many of the techniques that Rona developed during her 10 years running Belford research from her laboratories in South Carolina, USA.

Rona is quite non-plussed that international microchip giants are benefiting from her work.

A keen academic mind

She owns the patents to her inventions. But looking back over her career in the higher education sector and lecturing at Edinburgh and Napier universities, where she ran a number of large research teams, she is the epitome of the keen academic mind, combined with a prudent business brain.

One of her mottos for life is, “doing well in business is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration” and the 12 hour days she worked in South Carolina are proof of that.

Her time spent at Heriot-Watt, completing her first degree in chemistry was a time that Rona sees as formative in her path to success. “To this day I still refer to my fourth year chemistry notes, as I like to go back to the very basics of a problem, so that I can find the solution.”

She recalls how the options on the course allowed her to study accountancy and finance: “This has really helped me in business, as I always think about whether an idea will actually make any money or not.”

The importance of grant funding

One other key skill that Rona picked up from her days in academia is the ability to obtain money from funding bodies. Grant funding has proved to be an essential income stream over the ten year life span of Belford research.

“I have a one in two success rate in securing grants from the point of application. The essentials for a good application are communicating what you want to get across clearly and then delivering on what you promise. If you deliver, then future applications become more likely to succeed.”

There is confidence in her tried and tested system, Rona has even turned down a $1million grant she was recently offered by the US national Science Foundation, as she prepared to leave South Carolina, earlier this year.

What will Rona do next?

“I have returned to Scotland and I am interested in working with a Scottish University to secure funding for more valuable research.

"I am actually interested in a current role in Business Development. If not that, then I’d like to move into the renewable energy field.

"I have what I think is a revolutionary idea for wind power generation.”

We doubt that even an atomic bomb would stop Rona in whatever she decides to do next.