December 2013: World’s first International Max-Planck Partnership launched by Scots universities

The world’s first International Max-Planck Partnership (IMPP) was launched by five Scottish universities on 19th December 2013.  The Scottish Universities of Heriot-Watt, Glasgow, Strathclyde, St Andrews and Edinburgh have partnered with the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics (Albert Einstein Institute) Hannover; the MPI for the Science of Light, Erlangen; the MPI for Quantum Optics, Garching; the MPI for Chemical Physics, Dresden; and the MPI for Solid State Physics, Stuttgart.

The initiative will significantly strengthen research links between Scotland and Germany – and enhance Scotland’s reputation as a world leader in fundamental, or ‘discovery’, science that forms the foundations of emerging and future technologies. The IMPP will specifically support research around the theme of ‘Measurement and Observation at the Quantum Limit’ (MOQL), which has relevance for a variety of new and emerging hi-tech industry sectors including metrology, cyber-security and quantum information processing. IPaQS already has a number of academics with strong research links to these Max Planck Institutes and we envisage many more links developing over the next five years as Partnership evolves.

By facilitating research collaborations and knowledge exchange between leading domestic and international institutes, Scotland is now in a position to establish itself as an international hub for the discovery and exploitation of cutting-edge science and technology – and a magnet for the world’s best researchers in the field.

The IMPP Partnership is supported by funding from the Scottish Funding Council, and a joint grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Science & Technology Facilities Council. The Scottish universities involved will also contribute to the initial funding package of up to £10million over five years.

See the BBC report of the IMPP: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-25447334

November 2013: Novel fibres hold promise for laser surgery

IPaQS researchers report development of fibre optic based beam delivery for surgical applications.

Work by led Dr Jonathan Shephard in the Institute of Photonics and Quantum Sciences at Heriot-Watt University and collaborators at the University of Bath has been highlighted in an article “Moving Past the Articulated Arm” in the latest edition of Biophotonics.

Under an EPSRC funded project they have developed novel hollow core fibres which have excellent power handling capability whilst being small in diameter and highly flexible in comparison to existing technologies used to deliver surgical lasers such as articulated arms. Using these fibres Artur Urich, a researcher in the High Power Laser Applications group at Heriot-Watt, has produced a flexible “laser scalpel” demonstrating the potential of these fibres to improve the usability of surgical lasers in minimally invasive procedures.

They are now working with clinicians to develop novel procedures to address particular medical conditions where restricted access inhibits traditional surgical techniques.

For more information please contact Dr Jon Shephard.

November 2013: EPSRC announces funding for a new Centre for Doctoral Training in Applied Photonics

On Friday 22 November the EPSRC and cabinet minister David Willetts announced 72 new Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) across the UK, including the Centre for Doctoral Training in Applied Photonics led by Heriot-Watt University. Delivered in partnership with the Universities of St Andrews, Strathclyde, Glasgow and Dundee, this CDT combines taught courses in photonics and electronics along with MBA business modules to produce graduates with an understanding of photonic-electronic-engineering design, fabrication and systems integration, together with high-level business, management and communication skills. The emphasis of the new Centre reflects the fact that photonics and electronics are highly integrated across a multitude of modern devices and systems.

Twenty-three industrial partners have committed to sponsoring 50 EngD and a further15 PhD places aligned to the Centre. Their cash contributions and those of the EPSRC and the university partners combine to make the total value of the Centre £8.9M, not including an estimated £7M of further in-kind support.

For further information please contact the Centre Director, Prof. Derryck T. Reid.

April 2013: New camera system creates high-resolution 3-D images from up to a kilometre away

A team of Heriot-Watt physicists has advanced laser technology so that high-resolution, 3-D images precise to the millimetre can be taken from up to a kilometre away.

While a standard camera takes flat, 2-D pictures the team obtains 3-D information, such as the distance to a far-away object, by bouncing a laser beam off the object and measuring how long it takes the light to travel back to a detector. The technique, called time-of-flight (ToF), is already used in machine vision navigation systems for autonomous vehicles and other applications, but many current ToF systems have a relatively short range and struggle to image certain objects.

Ultimately it has the potential to scan and image objects located as far as 10 kilometre away

Dr Aongus McCarthy

Led by Professor Gerald Buller from the School of Engineering and Physical Sciences, the Heriot-Watt team has developed a new system that captures laser pulses from ‘uncooperative’ objects that do not easily reflect laser pulses, such as fabric, making it useful in a wide variety of field situations. The new system works by sweeping a low-power infrared laser beam rapidly over an object. It then records, pixel-by-pixel, the round-trip flight time of the photons in the beam as they bounce off the object and arrive back at the source. The system can resolve depth on the millimetre scale over long distances using a detector that can ‘count’ individual photons. The primary use of the system is likely to be scanning static, human-made objects, such as vehicles. With some modifications to the image-processing software, it could also determine their speed and direction.

Dr Aongus McCarthy, Research Fellow at Heriot-Watt University said “Our approach gives a low-power route to the depth imaging of ordinary, small targets at very long range. “While it is possible that other depth-ranging techniques will match or out-perform some characteristics of these measurements, this single-photon counting approach gives a unique trade-off between depth resolution, range, data-acquisition time and laser-power levels.”

The scanner is particularly good at identifying objects hidden behind clutter, such as foliage. However, it cannot render human faces, instead drawing them as dark, featureless areas as, at the long wavelength used by the system, human skin does not bounce back a large enough number of transmitted photons to obtain a depth measurement.

The light the team has chosen has a wavelength of 1,560 nanometres, longer, or ’redder’, than visible light, and thus it travels more easily through the atmosphere, is not drowned out by sunlight, and is safe for eyes. Many previous ToF systems could not detect the extra-long wavelengths that the team's device is specially designed to sense. Outside of object identification, photon-counting depth imaging could be used for a number of scientific purposes, including the remote examination of the health and volume of vegetation and the movement of rock faces, to assess potential hazards.

Ultimately, McCarthy says, it has the potential to scan and image objects located as far as 10 kilometre away. “It is clear that the system would have to be miniaturised and made more rugged, but we believe that a lightweight, fully portable scanning depth imager is possible and could be a product in less than five years.”

For more information please contact the head of institute Prof. Gerald Buller.

March 2013: Heriot-Watt University leads EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Laser-based Production Processes

A new £12m national centre, led by Heriot-Watt University, will develop new ways of using lasers in manufacturing, enabling industry to take advantage of the latest innovations and developments in this rapidly growing field.

Laser-based manufacturing is a global multi-billion dollar industry with significant business opportunities. The past 25 years have seen industrial lasers replace many 'conventional' tools in many diverse areas of modern manufacture, enabling increased productivity, functionality and quality.

The Heriot-Watt University-based EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Laser-based Production Processes, supported by £5.6m of funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and £4.8m from UK manufacturing industry and involving other key UK research centres and industrial partners, will open the door to a diverse range of new laser-based production processes and technologies, helping UK industry to take maximum advantage of these major advances by bringing together a multi-disciplinary team of leading UK researchers and key industry partners.

A major goal of the new Centre is to double the use of lasers in UK manufacturing industry in the next five years.

Prof. Duncan Hand

The Centre's team of leading academics and UK industry partners will run a wide-ranging programme of coordinated research and network building which will enable significant business growth opportunities, stimulate the broader UK community, provide leadership in developing public policy, infrastructure access for SMEs, and education and training for the industry.

Professor Duncan Hand, Director of the new Centre, said, "Lasers have a major role in high value production, and are essential tools for a developed economy such as the UK to successfully compete on the world manufacturing stage. Laser processes provide high quality, high precision readily-automated manufacturing solutions, with excellent repeatability whilst retaining a high degree of flexibility, which allows mass customisation and design modifications."

EPSRC’s Chief Executive, Professor David Delpy said, “EPSRC Centres of Innovative Manufacturing are building on previous investments we have made in the research base and combining academic innovation with industry knowledge. These new centres are in areas that are strategically important to the UK and the work there will push research boundaries and drive growth."

For more information please contact Prof. Duncan Hand.

For previous news items please see our news archive page.