In 2019, Dr Ying Lia Li was awarded an UK Intelligence Community Postdoctoral Research Fellowship. Awardees receive project funding for two years and mentoring from an Academy Fellow as well as an advisor from the intelligence community.
Dr Ying Lia Li (known as Lia) completed her doctorate at UCL and creates chip-scale optical inertial sensors. These are 10,000 times more sensitive than existing commercial sensors and can be applied for monitoring vibration and could ultimately be used for 3D positioning where GPS is not available.
Commercial sensors measure the motion of a test-mass as it responds to acceleration and rotation. Being able to detect and measure this displacement at sub-femtometre level is usually done with equipment that is bulky, barely portable and can cost up to £100,000. Lia has set up a spin out company, Zero Point Motion Ltd, that takes the skeleton from existing chip-size sensors and replaces the noisy capacitive read-out with an optical one; this broadens access to higher precision while keeping the cost down to under £1,000.
Lia is working with CORNERSTONE, an open source silicon rapid prototyping foundry, to miniaturise the optical read-out of the accelerometer and gyroscope in her technology. Lia’s task now, is to enable the mass production of her technology to produce the sensors in high volume, high yield, and at low cost. If this could be achieved, it would enable chip-scale integration with LIDAR, cameras, as well as cellular Bluetooth and Wifi thus enabling indoor navigation.
Future applications could include biomedical ones whereby in-situ healthcare diagnosis could be done while a patient is having an MRI scan. For Lia, the potential future applications for her technology are exciting and wide-ranging.