Four innovative engineering academics who are global leaders in their fields have each been awarded a Royal Academy of Engineering Chair in Emerging Technologies. They will share a total of £10 million in funding over ten years to lead on developing emerging technologies with high potential to deliver economic and social benefits to the UK.
Their research shows promise for biorenewable alternatives to petrochemical products; more sustainable and naturally derived biomaterials to replace traditional pigments in manufacturing; using light for noise-robust quantum communication and networking; and porous compound semiconductor materials to support a new generation of energy-efficient devices with novel applications.
Funded by the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Academy’s Chair in Emerging Technologies scheme aims to identify global research visionaries and provide them with long-term support. Each £2,500,000 award covers employment and research costs, enabling each researcher to focus on advancing their technology to application in a strategic manner over a period of up to 10 years. Since 2017, the programme has awarded a total of over £90 million to 38 Chairs.
Professor Sir Jim McDonald FREng FRSE, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said: “I am truly delighted that we are able to support such outstanding engineers and visionary individuals who will champion these emerging technologies and the significant opportunities they offer to make the world a better place for everyone. The Academy places huge importance on supporting excellence in engineering and often the key to engineers fulfilling their potential in tackling global challenges is the gift of time and continuity of support to bring the most disruptive and impactful ideas to fruition.”
The four Chairs and their research projects are:
Professor Jason Hallett, Imperial College London
Sustainable IntegRated BiOrefining for a Circular BioeCOnomy (SIROCCO)
Professor Jason Hallett will develop new technologies to help build a more sustainable chemical and materials manufacturing sector. His research focuses on novel solvent-based approaches within a circular bioeconomy, easing the transition away from traditional petrochemical products and toward biorenewable alternatives that are cost-competitive and environmentally friendly. By developing these competitive new alternative products, he will demonstrate the power of a circular manufacturing approach and the advantages of renewable feedstocks. He will work closely with his portfolio of spin-out companies to create a technology transfer blueprint for academic-to-industrial activity in the cleantech sector.
Professor Mehul Malik, Heriot-Watt University
High-dimensional quantum technologies
Professor Malik aims to harness the spatial and temporal structure of light for robust quantum communication and networking. Quantum technologies today offer society the promise of unconditional data security and unparalleled processing power. However, they are notoriously susceptible to noise and are set to face significant data bottlenecks in the future. Professor Malik will develop an emergent photonics platform that leverages high-dimensional quantum states of light to maximise the information capacity of future quantum networks and simultaneously enable them to operate in a noisy, real-world environment.
Professor Rachel Oliver FREng, University of Cambridge
Porous GaN: An emerging materials platform for electronics and optoelectronics
Professor Oliver aims to engineer new properties in compound semiconductor materials by creating porous structures, thus enabling new device concepts. Porosity enhances efficiency in current technologies, such as the light emitting diodes (LEDs) at the heart of energy-efficient lightbulbs, and could open up new opportunities for compound semiconductors in quantum technologies, sensing, displays, healthcare and beyond.
Professor Silvia Vignolini, University of Cambridge
Exploiting the circular economy for sustainable cellulose photonic pigments engineering
Professor Vignolini’s group discovered that plants produce bright and vibrant colouration without pigments by organising cellulose into periodic nanostructures. By exploiting the same material and architecture that plants use to make colours, Prof Silvia Vignolini will develop a new generation of manufacturing processes to produce pigments using only naturally derived biomaterials. Her vision is that such bio-based pigments will replace current alternatives made with energy-intensive and problematic materials.