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Six engineering researchers awarded grants to advance national security

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Robot swarms and quantum sensors are among the new technologies set to advance the future of UK intelligence, with six engineering researchers being supported in the latest round of UK Intelligence Community (IC) Postdoctoral Research Fellowships.

Focusing on areas of basic research, the research fellowships support cutting edge developments in topics that can assist the intelligence community while providing mentoring to a new generation of engineers.

The research fellowships, which are offered by the Government Office for Science and administered by the Royal Academy of Engineering, provide a vital link between academia and the intelligence community. Each awardee receives funding for at least two years of their project and mentorship from a Fellow of the Academy as well as an advisor from the intelligence community.

Professor Anthony Finkelstein CBE FREng, Chief Scientific Adviser for National Security to HM government and a Fellow of the Academy, said: “We in the national security community were very impressed by the quality of response to the UK IC Postdocs call earlier this year. The research fellows who were appointed cover areas of science and engineering with a growing importance for security, from graph theory and novel chemical analysis to quantum sensors. Past experience has shown us that these research fellows do great work in topics that really matter to government stakeholders, and the research fellows themselves gain valuable experience of working with colleagues from a range of different government departments. We welcome the 2019 research fellows to the programme.”

The new postdoctoral researchers are:

Radio frequency and microwave trapped-ion quantum sensor for counter-eavesdropping

Dr Harry Bostock, University of Sussex

Dr Bostock’s research focuses on quantum sensing using trapped ions. This emerging technology offers a new and better way to sense radio frequency and microwave radiation using trapped Ytterbium ions trapped on two-dimensional micro-fabricated chip traps. Thanks to its very precise frequency tuning and low sensitivity, applications include the detection of eavesdropping devices, narcotic and explosive sensing as well as RADAR.

Risk-sensitive robot swarms for effective environmental monitoring

Dr Edmund Hunt, University of Bristol

A robot swarm could be used to deploy a dynamic network of sensors in a hazardous environment with a subset of robots that move closer to detected anomalies to inspect them at a higher resolution. Dr Hunt aims to use insights from behavioural biology and financial risk management to develop risk-sensitive swarm control algorithms.

Scalable partitioning of large complex networks

Dr Luce le Gorrec, University of Strathclyde

Dr le Gorrec’s research focuses on extracting and processing information from complex networks, which have become a key tool in many fields. With the complexity of systems growing exponentially, manual analysis is becoming more difficult. Dr le Gorrec’s research will develop tools to handle large-scale networks.

Optomechanical sensors: rapid prototyping for navigation and quantum technologies

Dr Ying Lia Li (Lia), University College London

Dr Li develops chip-scale optomechanical sensors that improve navigation accuracy through improved measurements of acceleration and rotation. Where GPS is not available, these inertial sensors could replace the technologies currently used for providing dead-time measurements and stabilisation in quantum navigation systems. Rapid prototyping is achievable based on prior field-testing of a prototype accelerometer.

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Identification of illegal threat manufacturing activity via wastewater markers (ThreatMARK)

Dr Keng Tiong Ng (Kelvin), King’s College London

Early identification of the illicit manufacture of chemical and biological threat agents is critical for public safety. Dr Ng is developing new methods to identify and monitor illegal activity by monitoring sewer systems for synthesised compounds, their markers, precursors, by-products and transformation products.

Novel Methods for Automated Error Detection in Diverse Data Types

Dr Cédric Spire, Brunel University London

Accurate data and information is often not available to train computer systems to model real-world problems. In order to relieve analysts from cleaning the data by hand, Dr Spire’s research advances a novel Bayesian methodology to automatically detect and correct errors. His direct application will be on data provided by law-enforcement bodies.

Notes to editors

  1. The Government Office for Science offers UK Intelligence Community (IC) Postdoctoral Research Fellowships to outstanding early career science or engineering researchers. These Fellowships are designed to promote unclassified basic research in areas of interest to the intelligence, security and defence community. Fellowships are capped at a maximum grant of £200,000 over a two-year period. An optional third year of research may be funded. For more information on the fellowships, visit:
  1. Submissions for the UK Intelligence Community (IC) Postdoctoral Research Fellowships will reopen on 20 January 2020.
  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:

Jane Sutton at the Royal Academy of Engineering

T: 020 7766 0636

E: Jane Sutton

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