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Wales Tech Week

Submarines, avocadoes, whisky and the Rosetta spacecraft. These are some of the topics discussed by The Open University’s (OU) at this summer’s Wales Tech Week 2021. The five day virtual event focused on how technology is impacting, enabling and improving our lives. Two OU researchers – Dr Geraint Morgan, Research Fellow and Knowledge Exchange Lead at the School of Physical Sciences, and Professor Satheesh Krishnamurthy, Professor of Energy at the Faculty of STEM – talked about how OU tech innovation is contributing to solving some of the big challenges facing society today. These innovations are helping make society greener, healthier and safer.

In his early career, Morgan was part of a multi-disciplinary team developing instruments for the Rosetta and Beagle 2 space mission. Now, his focus is on using his skills, knowledge and experience to develop technology for use closer to home, again as part of a multi-disciplinary team. “Space missions push the boundaries of science and engineering,” he said. “You need to build big teams to allow you to turn the big scientific questions into requirement specification for instruments. The last 15 years or so I’ve been leading the agenda to translate our space technology knowhow to develop solutions to challenges back here on earth.”

One innovation Morgan has worked on while at the OU is valve technology, building on technology used in the Rosetta mission. The result is a small, light, plastic free valve, with a very low leak rate. It has been patented by the OU and is attracting a lot of interest, both for satellite propulsion systems and also the growing hydrogen economy. Morgan hopes the valve will be used as an enabling technology to support the replacement of petrol and diesel vehicles, helping the UK and the rest of the world achieve net zero goals.

Some of the other projects Morgan and his fellow researchers have been working on include:

  • an air monitoring system that will be used in all future UK submarines, breaking a US monopoly of the market
  • a portable field instrument designed to help detect bovine TB in and around badger setts. If successful, the tool will help in the management of TB and will reduce the need to slaughter cattle
  • a collaboration with the Scotch Whisky Research Institute to detect fake or adulterated whisky, using AI and machine learning screening methods
  • sniffing technology that identifies when an avocado is brown on the inside
  • sniffing technology that detects bacteria in chicken that could lead to food poisoning

Morgan concluded his part of the session by talking about the importance of partnership working and how the OU can help Welsh SMEs. “We have extensive reach and we have a significant number of partnerships. We’re always looking for new partners. We’re always looking for new projects, interesting challenges to be addressed and we also potentially have funding.”

Krishnamurthy also talked about the importance of partnership working. “Our research will directly change the way we live by creating a huge value chain and socially-orientated research that will have direct benefit to society. We want to train engineers and scientists and tech entrepreneurs. We want future graduates to be prepared for challenges. Our research groups are open for collaboration to do this.”

While it has been extremely challenging at times, having completed 3 tours of Afghanistan during my time studying, along with the usual wife, family and general life to compete with my attention, it has also been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Huge thanks to the OU.

Matt Beard, Law student

A materials expert, Krishnamurthy is part of a multi-disciplinary team from the UK, India and the US, looking at how advanced materials and nanotechnology can help address climate change issues.

In particular, there are two big challenges he is working on: energy and water. In his talk, Krishnamrthy discussed several research areas he has been working on:

  • using graphene technology and sunlight as a reusable energy, to purify water so that it can be reused
  • an EU-funded project exploring nanoparticles can be used as a tool to clean water. That project is now moving out of the lab into the commercial stage
  • a plasma printing device that has been developed and patented in-house at the OU
  • a circular economy project to extract materials from end-of-life lithium ion batteries

Rhys Griffiths, Business Relationship Manager (Wales) at the OU, closed the session with a few words about some of the core services offered by the OU.

“The OU is having an impact across a range of industries and on the international stage. If research and innovation interest you, get in touch. We also work with employers to unlock the potential of their workforce.”

Anyone who is interested in finding out more can email Rhys at Rhys.Griffiths@open.ac.uk or visit open.ac.uk/business

 

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