December 2014: School of Engineering and Physical Sciences REF 2014 success

The increasing strength of research activity in the school is affirmed by our excellent performance in REF2014. Our research quality was assessed in 3 'Units of Assessment', namely General Engineering (joint submission with the University of Edinburgh), Physics and Chemistry.  Read more....

November 2014: Quantum Technology Hubs

Heriot-Watt University will play a leading role in the new national network of Quantum Technology Hubs that has received almost £30m funding.

Quantum mechanics The hubs will explore the properties of quantum mechanics and how they can be harnessed for use in technology and be led by the universities of Birmingham, Glasgow, Oxford and York. Heriot-Watt University is leading partner of both the York and Glasgow quantum hubs.

Heriot-Watt’s research will push the limits of single photon imaging, enabling exciting new technologies that will allow us to see round corners or even through walls. It will also further development in quantum cryptography schemes which may eventually change the way we use secure e-commerce systems.

Read more

November 2014: Strip the Cosmos - Secrets of the Black Hole

The Science Channel is currently running a series called Strip the cosmos .  An episode was aired in the US on the 12th November titled 'Secrets of the Black Hole' featuring interviews from research@hw.  This series will run in the UK February/March 2015, the date still to be confirmed.  For further information see below:

September 2014: EPSRC Science Photo Competition 2014

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has launched its second Science Photo Competition, open to all EPSRC-supported researchers and EPSRC-supported doctoral students.

EPSRC is looking for images that will demonstrate Research in Action.  For further information click here.

July 2014: @HWQuantum at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition

From the 2nd to the 7th of July, @HWQuantum joined up with @HWHorizons and @GlasgowOptics to form Creative Cameras at the 2014 Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition. The whole week was a huge success with over 15000 visitors coming to see the cutting edge science on display. We took 3D images, took video footage with single pixels, and showed the public how to image at the speed of light.

Imaging rounds corners captured peoples' imagination, and we made it into The Times and the Daily Mail. Our YouTube video has been seen almost 70 000 times! Huge thanks to the Royal Society for all the support.

July 2014: Detecting toxic hazards in a split second

A portable laser device is being developed at Heriot-Watt that can instantly identify chemical hazards, increasing the safety of emergency services and military personnel.

In an emergency scenario or military operation there can be uncertainty over whether liquids or gases are toxic, causing delays. The new laser technology could rapidly identify substances, meaning those in charge can decide whether the situation is safe or whether they need to start decontamination procedures.

Professor Reid said, “This system could rapidly sweep a person, vehicle, room or open space for the fingerprints of chemical or biological hazards. In a military scenario it could provide a commander with the information needed to continue an operation safely, but there are a number of potential civilian uses. The emergency services and airport security personnel could also find it extremely useful.

“Chemicals absorb light at different parts of the infrared spectrum depending on the bonds they have formed. When the light from our laser touches a chemical the colours of the light that bounce back show which chemicals it has interacted with.

“The colour patterns that are scattered back for any chemical are unique, like a fingerprint. The laser reads this fingerprint and the chemical is rapidly identified, whether it’s benign or toxic.” The entire apparatus could be engineered into a relatively compact, easily portable unit. Professor Reid is also investigating a higher power version that could be mounted on a platform, for example being placed on the front of a car to scan upcoming terrain.

The research has been funded by a contract for £74,000 from the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, under a Centre for Defence Enterprise themed competition. The 2012 competition sought generation-after-next chemical, biological and radiological hazard mitigation systems.

February 2014: SPIE Student Chapter

Over the past few months, Pragati Kumar and a number of other students have been working hard to start a SPIE student chapter at Heriot-Watt. After official approval from SPIE Board on 7th February 2014, elections were held on the 12th February in the presence of SPIE student members. Pragati Kumar was elected as President, Artur Kaczmarczyk as Vice-President, Peter E Kremer as Secretary and Ning Ma as Treasurer for the 2014-2015 session.

“The purpose of the Chapter shall be to promote the discipline of Optical Science and Engineering through the organized effort of this group in study, research, and discussion; to disseminate knowledge of the field of Optical Engineering; and to further the professional development of the students. The Chapter shall promote membership in SPIE by acquainting the student body with the ideas, purposes, and objectives of SPIE.”

They plan to work together with the OSA chapter to organize guest lectures, field trips, career counselling events, social events and public outreach activities. Further information can be found on their website. To know more about and to become a part of the Heriot-Watt Univ. SPIE Chapter, please get in touch with any of the officers.

February 2014: Researchers recognised by BAE Systems

A research team, led by Professor Andrew J. Moore from the School of Engineering and Physical Sciences, were awarded a BAE Systems Chairman’s Bronze award for 2013. The award 'recognises people whose ideas, actions and behaviours make BAE Systems a better, more competitive company and help us live our values.'

The award was in response to a research study carried out by the team from the Institute of Photonics and Quantum Sciences. The research, funded by BAE Systems, was to investigate the effect of cross-drafts on the shield gases that are used in welding.

Based on the research, BAE Systems has been able to reduce the amount of shield gas they use at one site by 50% (cost saving of approximately £300,000 per annum) and providing an improved carbon footprint for the welding process. Roll-out to other BAE sites is planned in 2014.

January 2014: Laser cuts a way to the stars

Research from the Institute of Photonics and Quantum Sciences (IPaQS) at Heriot-Watt, has the potential to revolutionise how we observe the universe using telescopes, with a new approach that exploits ultrashort pulses of laser light to manufacture optical circuits called ‘photonic lanterns’.

Dr Robert Thomson, an expert in ultrafast laser inscription from the Institute of Photonics and Quantum Sciences (IPaQS) at Heriot-Watt University, has developed a new device technology for future telescopes, such as the proposed €1 billion European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), which may facilitate more efficient analysis of the celestial light captured, enabling them to produce more scientific information.

Thomson’s devices are fabricated using ultrashort laser pulses, each only about 1 million millionth of a second long. He uses these pulses to inscribe laser modified ‘tracks’ into a substrate material which then act as optical circuits called ‘photonic lanterns’, and guide photons (particles of light) in much the same way as electronic circuits guide electrons. Dr Thomson said “Since its invention some 400 years ago, the telescope has become larger and more precise, but its basic design principles have essentially remained the same. Developing new instrument concepts for large-scale telescopes and space-based instruments can be achieved using photonic technologies which, put simply, are the optical equivalent of electronics and enable the flow of light to be precisely controlled and shaped.

“Compared to the traditional optics used in telescopes, such as mirrors and lenses, photonic technologies have the potential to be more efficient and reduce costs. With just one night on a world-leading telescope costing tens of thousands of pounds, it is essential that the instruments on the telescope deliver the maximum scientific output. This is where ‘astrophotonics’ may have the edge over conventional optical technologies.

“By reducing the amount of light that is ‘lost’, and by more efficiently controlling the light that is collected, photonic devices may help increase what can be observed on a telescope, meaning we should be able to learn more about the nature of the universe around us.”

The devices also have more earthly applications, and the technology is already been commercialised for next-generation data communications by Optoscribe Ltd, a spin-out from Heriot-Watt, co-founded by Thomson and his colleagues.

Dr Thomson’s research is funded by the European Union and the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC).

January 2014: First Minister Alex Salmond visited the newly-launched Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Laser-based Production Processes

First Minister Alex Salmond visited the newly-launched Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Laser-based Production Processes, a 5 university collaboration led by Professor Duncan Hand of Heriot-Watt.  The First Minister was briefed by Duncan, and met with a number of Research Associates and PhD students associated with the Centre  He saw at first hand a range of the Centre’s facilities and manufacturing applications, and showed particular interest in the research being carried out using high average power ultra-short pulsed lasers; also in the strong industrial engagement demonstrated by the Centre.

January 2014: New lasers that could help find smaller planets

A team of Heriot-Watt scientists is developing a new kind of laser that could help astronomers to find small, ‘Earth-like’ planets outside our solar system or detect the presence of hazardous chemicals at a safe distance. The team is working as part of an international consortium that’s secured €2m to develop optical parametric oscillator (OPO) frequency comb lasers which will deliver a far greater degree of accuracy than has been previously possible.

Frequency comb laser

Known as a 'frequency comb’ laser, because its output in frequency can be thought of as a pattern of closely spaced comb teeth, the new laser operates in the infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum which conventional frequency-comb lasers cannot, making it particularly useful for applications such as infrared gas sensing, metrology and spectroscopy. OPO lasers offer enormous opportunities for exploitation in metrology (measurement) and broad spectrum detection, in instruments ranging from telescopes to hyperspectral imagers. Now the Heriot-Watt team, which invented the femtosecond OPO comb technology at the core of the international Metrocomb project, will work with colleagues in other universities to explore new ways of making OPO frequency comb lasers operate in a more versatile, more reliable and user-friendly way.

Using OPOs in astronomy

One application for the new laser will be in astronomy and the hunt for planets orbiting stars outside our solar system.While larger planets (Jupiter sized and above) can now be detected and measured quite easily with precision spectrographs, astronomers looking for smaller 'Earth-like' stars need more sensitive techniques which the new laser will facilitate.

The Heriot-Watt team has this month secured additional funding of £250,000 from the Science and Technology Facilities Council to develop frequency combs for astronomy. Speaking about the work Professor Derryck Reid, Director of the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Applied Photonics, School of Engineering and Physical Sciences, Heriot-Watt University, said, “The new laser we are developing will offer unprecedented detection sensitivity and measurement accuracy. “It has the potential to transform spectroscopy in the 'molecular fingerprint' region, to deliver real-time imaging with molecular identification, trace chemical detection and medical breath analysis. It also has particularly exciting applications in astronomy which we are delighted to have secured further funding to explore.”