Article - Issue 34, March 2008

Brilliant UK computer student wins race to global prize; Saving a Victorian crane in peril; £10 million for public engagement; AMRC wins Queen’s Anniversary Prize; London Technology Fund Competition 2008 begins

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Alex Smith and the University of Birmingham’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Michael Sterling. Alex was awarded the VC’s medal as a result of winning the Wolfram 2,3 Turing Research Prize in December 2007

Alex Smith and the University of Birmingham’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Michael Sterling. Alex was awarded the VC’s medal as a result of winning the Wolfram 2,3 Turing Research Prize in December 2007

Brilliant UK computer student wins race to global prize

A former participant in the Engineering Development Trust’s (EDT) Engineering Education Scheme (England) has won the $25,000 Wolfram 2,3 Turing Machine Research Prize. Now a student at the University of Birmingham, Alex Smith was the winner of this global prize, a considerable feat for a 20-year-old undergraduate.

Alex Smith did not believe the Turing machine would be universal at first but he discovered that there was a way to prove that it was. He developed this into a 50-page document, full of comprehensive arguments and codes. He constructed a sequence of rule systems that shows the Turing machine is capable of arbitrary finite computations and used a novel approach to extend that construction to unbounded computations.

The judging panel, made up of Stephen Wolfram and other leading voices on the topic, all studied the proposal and came to a unanimous agreement that Alex Smith had indeed proved the Turing machine to be universal. Alex was subsequently announced as winner in October 2007, just six months after the challenge was set.

The young Electronics and Computer Engineering undergraduate has been interested in computers from an early age and took part in the Best Programme‘s (an Academy initiative) Engineering Education Scheme (EES) England in 2004. Alex will be awarded his prize at a ceremony to be held in Bletchley Park – the site of Alan Turing’s celebrated wartime efforts.

For more details on the problem and the prize, visit and

The Armstrong, Mitchell & Company crane as it currently stands in the Arsenale, Venice

The Armstrong, Mitchell & Company crane as it currently stands in the Arsenale, Venice

Saving a Victorian crane in peril

A hydraulic crane produced by one of the great 19th Century British manufacturers, Armstrong Mitchell & Company, has undergone much needed preservation work in the Arsenale of Venice, Italy. The British charity, Venice In Peril, which works to safeguard the splendour of Venice, managed to raise £94,000 for emergency work and a preliminary investigation to be conducted on the structure.

While there is still much to be done before the crane can be considered to be safe from falling into the water, it is hoped that the crucial intervention has done much to preserve the excellent example of Victorian engineering at its peak.

In 1883 the Italian Navy commissioned Armstrong Mitchell & Company to build a hydraulic crane in the Arsenale of Venice. These cranes were capable of lifting weights of up to 160 tons and were used in arming warships with weaponry.

The Arsenale crane is the only survivor of seven identical models that were installed around the globe. In 2004, Venice In Peril teamed up with Venice’s Marina Militare and the Superintendecy, and agreed to carry out a preliminary survey on the crane in order to establish precisely what needed to be done to make it safe. The survey, carried out by experts from the Universities of Padua, Venice Architecture and Turin, began in June 2007. At the same time ballast was removed from the counterweight – a move which should halt immediate risk of falling into the water below.

Now made safe, there is still much work to be done. The overall cost of a complete restoration of the crane, which is considered to be of vital importance to the area of the Arsenale in which it stands, has been estimated at £620,000.

All contributions to the project are welcome. For details, please contact Nicky Baly, Development Director of Venice in Peril, or visit

Beacons for Public
Engagement picture

Beacons for Public Engagement picture

£10 million for public engagement

The culture of public engagement in UK higher education institutes is to undergo a dramatic change with the help of a £9.2 million initiative called Beacons for Public Engagement. It has been recognised that until now, universities, staff and students have not been able to follow a dedicated and embedded approach to public engagement.

The initiative is the largest ever plan for supporting UK public engagement in universities and the huge financial resource is provided by contributions from the UK Funding Councils, Research Councils UK, and the Wellcome Trust.

The initiative will be based around six hubs, or ‘Beacons’, which will aim to drive a change in culture in public engagement. They will receive £1.2 million each over four years. The Beacons are to be in Edinburgh, Newcastle, Manchester, Norwich, Cardiff and London and will be a collaborative venture between a number of higher education institutions and partnership organisations such as museums, galleries, media companies, businesses and charities. There will also be a base in Bristol from which the nationwide operation will be co-ordinated, with the help of £2 million over four years.

For engineers, this will provide an excellent opportunity to engage the public with engineering and how it impacts on our society. The Beacons will provide much-needed support and recognition for researchers wanting to get involved
with the public, through events, festivals
and debates.

This ground-breaking initiative has received backing from many quarters. Ian Pearson MP, Science and Innovation Minister, said that adequately engaging science with the public was essential and hugely beneficial. Indeed, “by increasing active public engagement with scientists and the issues we can help enthuse our young people to become part of the next generation of scientists, engineers and technologists.”

AMRC wins Queen’s Anniversary Prize

Representatives from the highly successful University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) with Boeing attended Buckingham Palace in February to receive the prestigious Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education.

This prize was established in 1993 and has since been awarded on a biennial basis as part of the national honours system – something which is unique in the field of education. The prize itself is bestowed upon UK universities and colleges to ‘recognise and honour outstanding achievement and excellence’.

The AMRC was one of three winners in the Engineering and Technology section of the awards. It has been recognised for its collaboration between world-leading research and industry, and in particular for ‘researching and embedding new manufacturing techniques in aerospace engineering’. The other two winners were Coventry University for its continuing work in ‘educating tomorrow’s world leaders in automotive design’ and Loughborough University for ‘reducing road traffic deaths: vehicle, road and driver safety’.

The AMRC was founded in 1999 in a joint collaboration between Academy Fellow Professor Keith Ridgway OBE, a professor of Mechanical Engineering, and Adrian Allen, a commercial director of a high-tech manufacturer for the aerospace and automotive industries. The aim was to create an Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre at the centre of a specialist industrial park. This, they believed, would make the research centre the focus for the region’s industry.

In 2002 Boeing gave the AMRC their backing, which in turn brought with it the supply chain of manufacturers, designers and fabricators that are prevalent in the aerospace industry. By 2007, the AMRC family had grown to 41 companies, including Rolls-Royce, Messier Dowty, and BAE Systems which between them contributed nearly £4.6 million per year to the AMRC.

Further information:

London Technology Fund logo

London Technology Fund logo

London Technology Fund Competition 2008 beings

This month will see the launch of the London Technology Fund (LTF) Competition 2008. The LTF aims to provide financial assistance to start-up and early stage technology companies that are based in London. The winners of the competition will be announced at a ceremony at the City headquarters of the Royal Bank of Scotland in late October.

The LTF was set up to act as a
bridge between potential investors and fledgling technology companies in London, offering individual businesses up to £1.5 million which is matched by other co-investors. To date, LTF has completed
12 investments in six companies, acting as a key investor to help secure over £14million of equity funding.

The Fund focuses its resources on businesses in communications, computers and other electronics related fields, biotechnology, medical, emerging technology, energy, environmental, physical sciences and engineering, new materials and value added manufacturing. Within these businesses, the Fund tries to identify those which show the potential for rapid sustainable growth.

The competition will seek to create a shortlist of exciting London-based small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and invite them to take part in a number of workshops relating to business plans, generating sales, finance, legal issues and IPR - delivered by experts and worth over £100,000. The young companies will also take part in a speed-dating event where they will have the opportunity to meet large multinational corporates in their industry sector.

The shortlist will present their reasons for investment to a panel of expert judges. The six finalists will receive training in presentation skills and then be required to present their cases to a further panel of judges who will then decide on and award the winners that same evening.

The two winners of the competition, one from the ICT/engineering sector and one from the life sciences, will be offered the fantastic chance to receive a share of up to £1million of investment. The deadline for applications is 30 June. For more details go to

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