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Leading scientists capitalise on European funding bonanza


March 21 2015


World-leading scientists at a pioneering technology centre have capitalised on a European funding bonanza.

In the 12 months since receiving money from the European Structural Fund (ESF) via the Welsh Government’s A4B scheme, Glynd┼Ár University’s OpTIC Centre in St Asaph has made significant scientific and commercial advances.

A4B is a six-year £70million programme of ESF support which provides a portfolio of cash support for knowledge transfer from academia to business.

The Wrexham-based University’s projects have focused on delivering industrially led technologies that help businesses improve their processes and provide world-leading technical advances for next generation products

Professor Stuart Irvine, Director of the Centre for Solar Energy Research (CSER), and Head of Business Development and Funding, Mick Card, say the ESF programmes have been of huge benefit to the OpTIC Centre and their industrial clients, resulting in new processes, wider engagement with businesses nationally and internationally and collaborative developments.

Mick said: “The aim of the overall programme is to promote a high value-added economy and to maximise the economic impact of academia and business through knowledge transfer and the creation of a stronger science, engineering and technology base with clear commercial potential. 

“That’s certainly been the case here at the OpTIC Centre, where we’ve made significant scientific and technological breakthroughs, producing world-class results.

“The achievements of the team at the National Facility for Ultra Precision Surfaces is a good example of that; they’ve just produced the third prototype mirror for the £900million European-Extremely Large Telescope project, just a few months after completing the second prototype.

“It is another major success for the ESO project team and for the University, further securing our reputation as a world class optical manufacturing group.”

Led by project manager Caroline Gray, the ESO team, including Professor Paul Rees, developed a system capable of measuring the surface accuracy of the world’s most demanding optics to less than one millionth of a millimetre across a 1.5metre surface.

Professor Rees added: “As a result of the funding from A4B we achieved a world first metrology system that put us at the forefront of Wales being able to bid for producing up to 1,000 mirrors for the world’s largest telescope – a business opportunity that would generate 25 jobs for Welsh manufacturing.

“Measuring surfaces of this size to this accuracy was previously unheard of.”

Further support from the A4B programme enabled them to engage with more than 60 businesses and international research organisations, developing new processes for optics challenges in defence, space, energy and instrumentation.

Among them is Bedford-based machine manufacturer Cranfield Precision, whose spokesman Mark Stocker said: “The role that the National Facility can play in increasing the functionality, output quality, and overall process speed is critical to us achieving our market growth in a timely and risk mitigated manner.”

Professor Irvine, who, with his CSER colleagues is celebrating the facility’s success in being chosen to test its flexible PV solar cells being developed with Bodelwyddan based Qioptiq Space Technology as part of the UK Space Agency’s second CubeSat mission, said the backing of A4B and subsequent funding played a big part in securing a lead role on the programme.

The AlSat Nano is a joint project between the UK and the Algerian Space Agency (ASAL), and CSER’s successful selection - following a presentation to the Agency in Swindon by project leader Dr Dan Lamb, gives them the opportunity to “flight test” their cutting-edge Thin Film Solar Cell.

Professor Irvine said: “This is a truly exciting opportunity for us to test in space this unique ultra-light-weight solar cell that could provide the solution to next generation space propulsion and power generation.

“The AlSat Nano programme will accelerate one of our strategic goals of increasing our space technology research profile and utilise our unique capability to deposit thin film PV onto space qualified cover glass.

“The flight test will also help our outreach programme of engaging with schools, colleges and the wider public in stimulating interest in solar energy science and technology – and all of this was developed here in North Wales.”

The CubeSat is expected to generate data for at least one year which will be invaluable for producing high quality publications, securing further funding for the research and promoting the Wrexham-based University’s contribution to space science. 

Chief Scientific Advisor for Wales, Julie Williams, supported the last round of A4B funding for the OpTIC Centre and said it would enable the University to continue its research and development in the “highly-specialised” fields of opto-electronics and high technology, opening up opportunities for global collaboration.

She added: “Their work on the European-Extremely Large Telescope has already helped put Wales firmly on the map as an area of technical expertise in the optics industry, and I wish them every success with this latest phase of work.”



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