Article - Issue 20, August/September 2004

Oh What a Night! The 2004 Academy Awards

Dr Claire McLoughlin

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Once again the champagne flowed, the crowds chattered excitedly and sixteen MacRobert finalists waited in anticipation of the result of the 2004 MacRobert Award. The Royal Academy of Engineering’s annual awards dinner was underway. Awardees and guests gathered in Drapers Hall on 10 June to receive their medals in a year when the Academy’s full complement of prizes was being bestowed.

The evening began with the announcement and introduction of the MacRobert finalists. The teams from Delphi Diesel Systems for the E3 electronic unit injector advanced fuel system, IBM UK for the WebSphere MQ family of software products, Pilkington plc for Activ™, the world’s first self-cleaning glass and Sharp Laboratories of Europe for Look no glasses!, their electrically switchable 2-D–3-D displays, already in the front line of the ‘War on Terror’ then had to wait anxiously for the winner’s announcement at the end of the evening.

The gold President’s Medal went to Gateshead Millennium Bridge architect Jim Eyre of Wilkinson Eyre for his initiative in promoting engineering excellence and the Public Promotion of Engineering Medal to the evening’s compère, Kate Bellingham. Kate is probably best known for her role as a presenter on BBC’s Tomorrow’s World, but is these days something of an ambassador for engineering, giving frequent talks and presentations as President of Young Engineers the UK network of engineering clubs in schools.

This year’s Sir Frank Whittle Medal was awarded to Professor Ian Young OBE FREng FRS, one of the pioneers of the diagnostic engineering technology Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). As one of the major pioneers of the engineering technology of MRI, Professor Young has worked in the field since 1976, and is still actively engaged at the age of 71.

Four Silver Medals followed. The silver medalists were Professor Christopher Snowden, FREng, CEO Filtronic ICS and a professor at the University of Leeds, for his outstanding contribution to the UK microwave Semiconductor Industry, Jonathan Holt, Drilling Technology Portfolio Leader, BP in Aberdeen, for his outstanding personal contribution to BP’s ‘No Drilling Surprises’ project, Stephen Brown, a partner in Buro Happold Consulting Engineers, London, for his innovative structural solutions and acclaimed architecture that have supported successful urban regeneration and Stuart Moran, one of the founders of Surgical Innovations, a small company based in Leeds, for his development of innovative, safe and efficient surgical laparoscopic devices.

HRH, The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh presented the last two awards of the evening. The Prince Philip medal was awarded to Professor William Bonfield CBE FREng FRS, Professor of Medical materials at the University of Cambridge. This unique award, instigated in 1989 by Prince Philip, is not made every year – only periodically to ‘an engineer of any nationality who has made an exceptional contribution to engineering as a whole through practice, management or education’.

Professor Bonfield has indeed made an outstanding contribution to science, engineering and society. Described as someone who has helped to ‘define the field of biomaterials’, he has outstanding achievements in developing and taking right through to commercialisation and clinical use the world leading ‘artificial bone’ material.

Professor Bonfield’s manipulation of the biological template, hydroxyapatite resulted in a hydroxyapatite-polyethylene composite, an analogue of bone which bonds naturally without separate cementing being required for implants.

This material has now also achieved significant application as a bone graft in a range of medical and dental applications.

The novel bone analogue has achieved clinical success as a middle ear prosthesis. Disruption of the middle ear bones leads to deafness and, to date, some 150,000 patients have benefited from such implants. This means that there are 150,000 people who were once – and still would otherwise be – deaf who can now hear and who can engage to the full in society to the enrichment of their own lives and to the lives of others.

Last, but by no means least, global IT giant IBM was announced as the winner of the MacRobert Award 2004 for the development of WebSphere MQ software which has helped businesses save billions of dollars by providing a failsafe means of exchanging business-critical information between computer systems, irrespective of their location and regardless of whatever hardware, programming language, operating system or communication protocol they use.

Dr Claire McLoughlin

The Royal Academy of Engineering

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