London university awarded £3m to develop smart materials

Posted on 16 May 2018 by Jonny Williamson

Queen Mary University of London has been awarded £3m to develop software defined materials, which could enable rapid development of new communication systems, intelligent technologies and infrastructures including IoT and robotics.

The Blizard Building is housing the Institute of Cell and Molecular Sciences.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has granted £1.6m to the School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science with 50% of the remaining funding coming from industrial partners and Queen Mary institutional support.

This includes £600,000 from QinetiQ, a company with expertise in innovative new technological areas providing solutions to the defence, public and private sectors; and a case studentship from Thales UK, a provider of aerospace, space, defence, security and transportation services and solutions. In addition, Queen Mary will be supporting three PhD studentships.

The money will fund an ambitious four-year research project to develop software defined materials which will enable dynamic control of electromagnetic waves over a broadband of the frequency spectrum.

Queen Mary’s Professor Yang Hao is leading the project, which is known as ANIMATE (softwAre defiNed materIals for dynaMic control of electromAgneTic wavEs).

Hao and his team are gearing up to take on new challenges to research future antenna systems known as a ‘magic black box’, whose properties are programmable according to functional requirements.

Professor Yang Hao said: “The project is inspired by the concept of Software Defined Radio. Together with the recent development of metamaterials and transformation optics, it is now possible to develop artificial materials, with properties that can be modified by software-controlled digital hardware, whilst new functionalities could be added simply by loading or updating new software.”

At the heart of future smart materials

According to a research paper in Science the tight integration of sensing, actuation, and computation that biological systems exhibit to achieve shape and appearance changes, and tactile sensing at very high dynamic range (like birds in flight), has long served as inspiration for engineered systems.

Professor Hao envisages that ANIMATE is designed at the heart of future smart materials and technologies, and his vision is to unlock contributions and expertise from multiple disciplines, to develop a core programme of science and engineering research on electromagnetic materials for applications in sensing, communications and computation.

Professor Yang Hao.

Professor Hao said: “ANIMATE will be the catalyst around which our industrial partners can ensure UK industry maintains its leading position in the marketplace and capitalise on the industrial strategy initiative, facilitating retention and growth of highly skilled jobs and supporting the UK’s knowledge economy.

“Our strategic partnership with QinetiQ will enable the design, development and integration of novel electromagnetic devices and structures and reshape the future of the UK manufacturing and electronics industry.

“Combining world-leading researchers with unique facilities to provide technical assurance, test and evaluation and training services, underpinned by long-term partnerships, this project has the potential to reinforce the UK’s competitiveness in the field of radio frequencies (RF) and microwave devices at both commercial and academic levels.”

New products

Professor Sajad Haq, from QinetiQ added: “The impact of ANIMATE’s research will be demonstrated by transitioning the technology into new products to create revenue across the wider UK supply chain, and QinetiQ is committed to this exploitation through its current and future customers, who will be engaged from the inception of the programme.”

The success of the ANIMATE project will be demonstrable through the establishment of the industrial steering group, whose mission is to incubate novel technologies and mature to product through partnership with UK industry, including Thales UK and small/medium enterprises, along with the Satellite Applications Catapult and academia.

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