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UK Awards Funds for Light-Based Manufacturing

GLASGOW, Scotland, Jan. 8, 2014 — Research projects that explore how light can be used in new ways to improve manufacturing in the pharmaceutical, chemical, electronics and security industries has received £3.6 million (about $6 million) in government funding.

The money, provided through the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), will be used to fund 14 18-month feasibility studies that aim to advance photonics applications in manufacturing. EPSRC is the main UK government agency for funding research and training in engineering and the physical sciences.

The announcement was made this week by Vince Cable, secretary of state for business, innovation and skills, as he toured M Squared, a developer and manufacturer of next-generation lasers and photonic instruments for industrial and scientific applications.

"This new funding will develop research to support the UK's growing manufacturing sector, which already employs around 2.5 million people," Cable said. "This early-stage research will give businesses such as M Squared a great opportunity to develop new technologies to create more effective and efficient manufacturing processes" that will deliver skilled jobs and drive growth across the UK, he added.

"These projects demonstrate how research into the fundamental science and engineering of optical phenomena can have a significant impact in manufacturing and also shows how well the UK academic base works with industry to enable the UK to benefit from fundamental discoveries," said David Delpy, chief executive of the EPSRC.

One project receiving funding is Lasers Making Lasers, led by Robert Eason of the University of Southampton's Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) in England, which aims to use lasers themselves as a growth technique to create high-power laser devices for manufacturing. Specifically, it will explore using pulsed laser deposition (PLD) as a route to manufacturing high optical quality, single-crystal lasing waveguides. Although PLD is an established technique for deposition of a range of materials, few have used it to date to grow single-crystal structures for use as thin-film lasers. This project aims to do just that, with the goals of high-power (>100 W CW) lasing operation from compact (<1 cm2) devices at laser wavelengths in the 1 to 2 µm region, as well as Q-switched and mode-locked pulsed laser operation. Industry partners on the project include M Squared and ELforLight.

"The UK remains a major manufacturing nation, and this new EPSRC initiative will help us stay ahead of the competition," said professor Sir David Payne, director of ORC and a founder of SPI Lasers. "Photonics — where light meets electronics — is a key UK strength, and these new projects demonstrate the astonishing range of innovative ideas that emerge when scientists and engineers think about manufacturing. The key is to work with industry and understand the opportunity not only to improve existing manufacturing methods, but to develop entirely new ways to make things."

Some of the other projects receiving funding include:

Laser-induced nucleation for crystallization of high-value materials
in continuous manufacturing processes

Led by Andrew Alexander of the University of Edinburgh, this project aims to improve current crystallization methods for making high-value solid chemicals in continuous flow by using short, intense light pulses to induce nucleation at specific points in the tubes of a continuous flow reactor. This continuous flow process would replace batch processing in tanks, which can have large variations between batches and is difficult to scale up to larger volumes.

Digital multimirror devices for laser-based manufacturing

Robert Eason of the University of Southampton is leading this project, which will investigate the use of digital multimirror devices (DMDs) to perform controlled laser ablative machining and multiphoton polymerization for subtractive and additive laser-based manufacturing for security, safety, anti-counterfeiting, MEMS and silicon photonics. The team will use DMDs to process a range of materials, such as metals, semiconductors, paper, gemstones, polymers and biocompatible polymers.

Rapid assembly of living microtissues with holographic optical tweezers;
cell 'LEGO' for regenerative medicine

For his project, Lee Buttery and his team at the University of Nottingham in England are driven by the increasing need to produce living human tissues in the lab that can mimic as closely as possible the structure and function of those in the body. The tissues could more effectively help test, develop and improve new medicines and therapies, and minimize the use of animals in research. The reserachers propose using holographic optical tweezers to exert currently unattainable levels of control over the movements and positioning of live cells.

Internally lit photobioreactors for enhanced product formation from algae using LED systems: Energy transformed into high-value chemical products

This multidisciplinary collaboration of biologists, physicists and engineers, led by Rob Lovitt of Swansea University in Wales, aims to investigate internally lit organisms such as algae to create genetically engineered organisms for use in LED lighting.

For more information, visit: www.epsrc.ac.uk/newsevents/news/2014/Pages/lightfantasticfunding.aspx 



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