Oxford Instruments announced as finalists for national prize

Oxford Instruments have been announced as finalists for the Royal Academy of Engineering MacRobert A

Oxford Instruments have been announced as finalists for the Royal Academy of Engineering MacRobert Award - Credit: Archant

Oxford Instruments have been announced as finalists for the UK’s longest-running national prize for engineering innovation, the MacRobert Award

Innovations in flexible cement, software allowing computer screens to be controlled remotely and a highly sensitive chemical detector have been shortlisted for the UK’s premier engineering prize.

The UK’s longest running and most prestigious national prize for engineering innovation, the Royal Academy of Engineering MacRobert Award, is designed to celebrate outstanding innovation, commercial success and societal benefit.

The three finalists are Concrete Canvas, which manufactures fabric impregnated with a quick set concrete powder; Oxford Instruments, for their X-Max large area detector that chemically analyses samples no thicker than a human hair; and RealVNC, whose software allows a computer, smartphone or tablet screen to be remotely accessed and controlled.

All three technologies were developed in the UK to create future-facing products, which the judging panel believe have opened up new markets and achieved international sales success.

John Robinson FREng, chair of the MacRobert Award judging panel, says, “These three innovative and successful companies demonstrate that engineering is thriving in the UK in very different sectors, from ground-breaking start-ups to established world-leaders.

“We have an incredible research base that leads to successful pioneering companies and we are delighted to have shortlisted for the MacRobert Award this year three great examples of the kind of companies that the Academy is championing through its Engineering for Growth campaign.”

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The Oxford Instruments X-Max large area detector is used for Energy Dispersive Spectrometry (EDS), a technique used to chemically analyse tiny samples inside a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM). Examples include the analysis of semiconductor contaminants, gunshot residues, nanomaterials and even meteorite samples. X-Max detectors can be found in over 1,000 universities and research institutions and is also used by mining companies to analyse ore samples for trace elements and consequently to calculate their economic potential. Before X-Max, most EDS detectors required liquid nitrogen cooling, and while early versions of Silicon Drift Detector (SDD) technology eliminated the need for dangerous and expensive cooling, typically their performance was not that high. The X-Max detector introduced several key innovations including a thin vacuum seal window that is more transparent to X-rays, a more efficient electron trap and a large area sensor eight times bigger than before that can capture more X-rays. The result was a tremendous increase in speed, enabling measurements to take minutes instead of hours without the loss of image quality or spatial resolution.

The winner will be announced on July 17 at the Academy’s Awards Dinner and receive a gold medal plus a £50,000 cash prize.

Previous recipients include Microsoft Research’s Xbox Kinect human motion-capture system, Arup’s ‘Water Cube’, the dramatic centrepiece of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and last year’s winner, Jaguar Land Rover’s Evoque SUV.

The 2013 finalists were chosen by a panel of Academy Fellows who have expertise across the range of engineering disciplines as well as personal entrepreneurial experience.