Intelligent and resilient ocean engineering, new kinds of batteries and more precise x-ray scans are among the disruptive innovations being developed by the Royal Academy of Engineering’s latest Chairs in Emerging Technologies announced today. The Academy has made awards totalling over £22 million in research funding through its Chairs in Emerging Technologies programme, providing long-term support to eight world-leading engineers across the UK to advance emerging technologies.

The innovations being developed by the Chairs in Emerging Technologies have the potential to considerably benefit society and the UK economy, and enable the nation to remain at the global forefront of engineering innovation. The areas of research funded reflect the UK’s wider technological priorities, with many of the projects directly aligned to the government’s Industrial Strategy and designed to tackle some of the biggest industrial and societal challenges of our time.

The ten-year support provided to the Chairs will enable them to progress their pioneering ideas from basic science through to full deployment and commercialisation.

Professor Sir Jim McDonald FREng FRSE, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said: “Engineering is critical to the research and innovation process, enabling the generation of tangible economic benefits for the nation. Emerging technologies offer enormous opportunities for the UK, both economically and socially. Investment in these areas will help us to stay competitive in the global marketplace and to establish a foothold in developing future markets. The quality and vision of those receiving the awards are testament to the outstanding research talent in the UK. It is essential that we support both the innovations and the pioneering individuals who will transform their ideas into fully commercialised technologies with important and widespread applications.”

Dr Dame Frances Saunders DBE CB FREng, who leads the Chairs in Emerging Technologies steering group, said “We have had a large number of fantastic research proposals from very talented individuals across a wide range of engineering disciplines, which has made our job of choosing the final eight awardees particularly challenging. We have been delighted to see ideas coming forward in this round to apply emerging technologies that could revolutionise some more traditional fields of engineering as well as those that could open new areas of application. This is an exciting set of proposals and we look forward to seeing their progress in the years to come.”

The eight Chairs in Emerging Technologies are supported through the UK government’s Investment in Research Talent initiative. In recognition of the importance of engineering research to the UK, the government has provided the Royal Academy of Engineering with a significant increase in funding to attract and retain the best research talent to the UK and support their work.

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The eight Chairs in Emerging Technologies and their research projects are:

Professor Richard Dinsdale, University of South Wales

Bio-Electrochemical Process Engineering for Carbon Reduction and Resource Recovery

Professor Dinsdale aims to develop and commercialise microbial bioelectrochemical systems for waste treatment and resource recovery. This innovative area of biotechnology manipulates the electrochemical properties of microbial cells to make industrial processes more efficient. This could enhance wastewater treatment, improve metal recovery and help convert carbon dioxide into renewable green platform chemicals. He will work with key industrial stakeholders to facilitate these developments.

Professor Susan Gourvenec, University of Southampton

Intelligent and Resilient Ocean Engineering

Professor Gourvenec’s research will address technology gaps at each stage of the engineered life cycle of ocean structures, from forecasting ocean and seafloor behaviour, to designing and operating novel platforms for ocean facilities. By harnessing the intelligence of sensing, robotics and autonomy, this next generation of resilient engineered systems will unlock ocean resources more efficiently and more sustainably, with less risk to life.

Professor Natalio Krasnogor, Newcastle University

Engineering Data Structure Organoids

Professor Krasnogor will investigate innovative ways of scaling up the volume of data that can be stored in living cells by storing, searching, sorting and retrieving data encoded in the genetic materials DNA or RNA. Tremendous advances in DNA information coding, synthetic biology and nanotechnology have made it possible to develop practical and scalable in vivo data structure organoids. Professor Krasnogor, together with his team and his industrial partners, will look at the opportunities for commercialising this emerging technology and also analyse its long-term social implications.

Professor Ian Saxley Metcalfe, Newcastle University

Engineering chemical reactor technologies for a low-carbon energy future

Professor Metcalfe will develop new chemical reactor technologies to help achieve the energy conversions needed to support a low-carbon energy future including, but not limited to, low-carbon hydrogen production. Reaction engineering lies at the heart of such chemical conversions. Professor Metcalfe plans to exploit recent innovations in the cyclic operation (or chemical looping) of chemical reactors to deliver transformational chemical processes for the energy sector.

Professor Alessandro Olivo, University College London

Micro-radian x-ray scattering: transformative technology for industrial and medical diagnostics

Professor Olivo’s work will change the way x-rays are used in a variety of fields, including medicine, industrial inspections and security scans. Since Roentgen’s discovery of x-rays in 1895, their use has been based on differences in attenuation, the way the intensity reduces as the beam passes through a material. Professor Olivo will develop new systems based on his observation that all x-rays emerging from a sample deviate from their original path by very small amounts, providing a wealth of untapped information about the sample they have passed through.

Professor Themis Prodromakis, University of Southampton

Memristive Technologies for Lifelong Learning Embedded AI Hardware

Professor Prodromakis will use innovations in nanotechnology to create a new electronic fabric that merges memory with computing power while maintaining extreme power efficiency – like the human brain. His research, using memristors or memory chips based on transition metal-oxides, will focus on enabling electronic systems to sense, recognise, learn and reason, with the goal of embedding artificial intelligence.

Professor Danail Stoyanov, University College London

Robotic Actuated Imaging Skins

Professor Stoyanov will develop robotic surface structures with embedded sensors that can adapt their shape and size using artificial intelligence algorithms to control and interpret sensory information. Using this data, Professor Stoyanov’s new systems will help to enhance imaging capabilities during minimally invasive surgery and enable safer and more precise procedures to treat diseases across different anatomical regions.

Professor Magda Titirici, Imperial College London

Sustainable Energy Materials for Emerging Technologies

Professor Magda Titirici will develop sustainable future energy technologies, particularly new kinds of batteries to replace Lithium, clean and low-cost production of Hydrogen from biomass or plastic waste and its use in fuel cells free from precious metals. These technologies will enable more use of renewable energy in future, from grid-balancing for intermittent energy supply to producing customized compostable electronics.

The next Chairs in Emerging Technologies call will open on 7 October 2019 with a deadline of 11 February 2020. The award value is £2,780,000 over ten years.


Notes for Editors

  1. Royal Academy of Engineering Chairs in Emerging Technologies

The Academy’s Chair in Emerging Technologies scheme aims to identify global research visionaries and provide them with long term support to lead on developing emerging technology areas with high potential to deliver economic and social benefit to the UK.

Applications for the next round are open from October 2019 – the Academy particularly welcomes and encourages applications from women and other groups underrepresented in the engineering profession. To find out more, please visit: https://www.raeng.org.uk/grants-and-prizes/grants/support-for-research/chair-in-emerging-technology

  1. Royal Academy of Engineering

As the UK’s national academy for engineering and technology, we bring together the most successful and talented engineers from academia and business – our Fellows – to advance and promote excellence in engineering for the benefit of society.

We harness their experience and expertise to provide independent advice to government, to deliver programmes that help exceptional engineering researchers and innovators realise their potential, to engage the public with engineering and to provide leadership for the profession.

We have three strategic priorities:

  • Make the UK the leading nation for engineering innovation and businesses
  • Address the engineering skills and diversity challenge
  • Position engineering at the heart of society

We bring together engineers, policy makers, entrepreneurs, business leaders, academics, educators and the public in pursuit of these goals.

Engineering is a global profession, so we work with partners across the world to advance engineering’s contribution to society on an international, as well as a national scale.

For more information please contact:

Keir Bonnar at the Royal Academy of Engineering

  • T: 020 7766 0606
  • E: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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