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Tom Howard with one of the locks
Tom Howard with one of the locks

Press Release - 03 October 2005

New device to stop theft of paintings wins Bath student prize

A University of Bath student has taken a prize in a prestigious European scientific and engineering award for designing a locking system to stop the theft of valuable paintings.

Tom Howard, a student in Mechanical Engineering, won third prize in the Scientific Award BMW Group 2005 prize for his design of an anti-theft device for art galleries.

He was one of only six entrants out of 230 from 26 countries to receive a prize, and he will share part of the 70,000 Euros (£47,700) prize money. Tom, who graduated last year with an MEng in Innovation and Engineering Design, was awarded the prize recently at a ceremony in the BMW plant in Leipzig.

His “ArtSmart” dissertation investigated various ways of stopping thieves from stealing paintings from the walls of art galleries. He eventually selected one using a novel locking system using a mechanically coded plastic chip as a key.

The advantages of his system are that the paintings can be unlocked quickly by the card holder if there is a fire, and the system is flexible enough to allow each museum and gallery to have its own specially coded card.

The system is designed so that the entire mechanism can be placed inside the paintings’ frames so that visitors’ visual appreciation is not disturbed.

The system is now being tested in two galleries and is at final prototype stage for mass production.

Tom is now working on his PhD at Bath, and his thesis is entitled: “The role of information, knowledge and creativity in the design process.”

“It’s a very exciting time because the system is now actually being used,” said Tom. “Although it’s hard work producing the final product and doing a doctorate at the same time, it’s well worth the effort to see something that will be of practical use for galleries being developed.”

His MEng supervisor, Professor Tony Mileham, Head of Mechanical Engineering, said: “This is both a demonstration of Tom’s skill as a creative designer and the Department’s and University’s ability to bring on new talent that is internationally recognised.”

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