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Internal News - 29 November 2005

Award helps develop low cost cockroach technology

Julian Vincent from the Centre for Biomimetic and Natural Technologies has received a prestigious award from the Royal Society to help develop novel dehumidifier technology inspired by the desert cockroach.

The £30,000 Mercer Award will be used to test the feasibility of producing the new device, which absorbs water from the air and transports it as a liquid in the same way as a cockroach.

If successful, the device will use a thousandth of the energy required by currently available technology.

Professor Vincent said: “The award will also bridge a chronic gap in the realisation of technologies in the UK - developing a research idea into a working prototype.

“If the project is successful it will generate sufficient income for me to be able to finance the same pathway for my other projects”.

Professor Vincent initially contacted the University’s Research and Innovation Services unit, and following its assessment of the invention, £20,000 of Enterprise Development Funds was allocated to the project to enable the technical feasibility to be demonstrated. Further funds are also being allocated to protect the invention with a patent application.

David Coleman, the Technology Transfer Manager responsible for commercialisation of intellectual property within engineering and physical sciences, said: “While working on this application, it became apparent that there was a crucial need for much improved dehumidification devices as existing ones are not efficient.

“This novel invention would appear to meet a clear need and is an excellent example of intellectual property generated at the University with great commercial potential.”

Because the device was so novel, RIS realised that additional funding would be required and so Jon Hunt, Research and Innovation Manager for Engineering and Physical Sciences, led the application process for the Mercer award.

Since the establishment of Research and Innovation Services, and funding provided by the Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF) in 2004, the University is now able to commit funds to secure protection of such inventions with patents.

The Enterprise Development Fund was established to provide financial support at the very early stage of turning a research idea into a business proposition. The money is used to cover costs of commercial evaluations, market research, preparing a business plan and evaluate technical feasibility of ideas.

The Awards are funded through a bequest by the late Dr Brian Mercer and aim to emulate Dr Mercer’s enthusiasm and entrepreneurship and encourage these qualities in the next generation of scientists.

The Awards provide funding to test the viability of an idea or concept through to near market commercialisation within the area of the built environment.