Article - Issue 48, September 2011

Lord Kelvin at the Hunterian; Low-Cost location sensing systems; Technology Horizons Award

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Exhibits in the Lord Kelvin exhibition area including the Pitch Glacier experiment (second from left) © The Hunterian, University of Glasgow 2011

Exhibits in the Lord Kelvin exhibition area including the Pitch Glacier experiment (second from left) © The Hunterian, University of Glasgow 2011

Lord Kelvin at the Hunterian

In September 2011, after almost two years of closure, the University of Glasgow’s Hunterian Museum will re-open. A new permanent gallery devoted to the Roman frontier in Scotland, the Antonine Wall, has been created and a substantial amount of previously unseen objects will be showcased.

The Hunterian houses a wide range of items relating to engineering and industry, including a large collection of experimental apparatus and the early patents of William Thomson (Lord Kelvin). Lord Kelvin was one of the founding fathers of modern physics. President of the Royal Society from 1890 to 1895, the Kelvin temperature scale and its corresponding SI unit are named after him.

Among the exhibits on show in the refurbished ‘Lord Kelvin: Revolutionary Scientist’ exhibition is the Pitch Glacier, one of the world’s oldest continuously running experiments (dating from 1887) which shows that small, persistently applied, forces are sufficient to produce unlimited changes in the shape of a substance over long periods of time. There are also portions of the submarine telegraph cable that was laid across the Atlantic Ocean allowing messages that previously took weeks to be relayed in minutes. And the mirror galvanometer that Kelvin used to detect the ocean’s currents is also in the exhibition.

The Hunterian’s Scientific Instruments collection is home to two model engines. One of them is the model Newcomen steam engine from the mid 18th-century, when James Watt was engaged as Mathematical Instrument Maker to the university. It was during the winter of 1763 that he was tasked to mend a broken model engine used in teaching. It was Watt’s failure to coax this machine back to optimum working capacity that led to his invention of the separate condenser chamber, a development that went on to power rapid expansion in British industry.

For more information about the re-opened museum go to:

Dr Sithamparanathan Sabesan and Dr Michael Crisp

Dr Sithamparanathan Sabesan and Dr Michael Crisp

Low-Cost location sensing systems

A ground-breaking radio tagging system, which could save airlines and retailers millions of pounds, has won its creators a leading engineering entrepreneurs’ award.

Dr Sithamparanathan Sabesan and Dr Michael Crisp, both from Cambridge University’s engineering department, picked up The Royal Academy of Engineering ERA Foundation Entrepreneurs Award for their research into a low-cost location sensing system, which could have major benefits for a wide range of businesses.

The Real Time Location System (RTLS) will allow businesses such as high street retailers and airlines which use tagging on high-end goods and passengers’ luggage, to cheaply and effectively monitor the location of these items to within one metre. Current systems only allow for around 60% of tagged items to be detected and are not able to locate tags accurately in real time, while the new system could be 100% accurate.

It is estimated the RTLS could save airlines in excess of £400 million. Retail groups have also been engaged in the project, not just for tagging items but also for the advancement of self-service checkouts.

The pair collected a £10,000 personal prize, with a further £30,000 to invest in the development of the winning idea, at the Academy’s Awards ceremony at London’s Guildhall in June.

The ERA Foundation Entrepreneurs Award has been set up to identify entrepreneurial researchers, working in the UK universities, in the field of electro-technology. The application process for the 2012 prize is now open and can be accessed at

Technology Horizons Award

The Bosch Technology Horizons award, an essay writing competition for young people between the ages of 12 and 24, aims to raise the profile of engineering and technology. The 2011 winners were given their prizes at the Academy’s Awards evening at London’s Guildhall.

A separate presentation day was hosted by Peter Fouquet, the President of Bosch UK, to award prizes and certificates to all 14 finalists. In light of the company celebrating its 125 year anniversary this year, the entrants were asked to write a short essay in answer to such questions as “How will engineering and technology change the way we live in the next 125 years?” and “What role can engineers play to ensure a greener world in the next 125 years?”.

In the 14-18 year age group, the winner, Felicity Harer, from Leicester University was awarded £700. Felicity chose to write about implementing a closed-loop process, where some or all of the output is fed back into the input, within the manufacturing industry. This would ensure that resources are reused or composted rather than discarded when the product stops working.

Norman Ng, from Imperial College London, won the first prize of £1,000 in the 19-24 year age group. Norman chose to write a fictional story set in 2136 that has a character, Captain Samuel, driving a futuristic super fast train across continents. Norman used his own research to create sustainable products such as smart packaging that decomposes down to plastic spheres and a diet consisting of reconstituted protein from plants that helps to ease the pressure on commercial farming and fishing.

The next Bosch Technology Horizons Award is open for entries from September 2011 at

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