EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Industry-Inspired Photonic Imaging, Sensing and Analysis

Lead Research Organisation: Heriot-Watt University
Department Name: Sch of Engineering and Physical Science

Abstract

In a consortium led by Heriot-Watt with St Andrews, Glasgow, Strathclyde, Edinburgh and Dundee, this proposal for an "EPSRC CDT in Industry-Inspired Photonic Imaging, Sensing and Analysis" responds to the priority area in Imaging, Sensing and Analysis. It recognises the foundational role of photonics in many imaging and sensing technologies, while also noting the exciting opportunities to enhance their performance using emerging computational techniques like machine learning.

Photonics' role in sensing and imaging is hard to overstate. Smart and autonomous systems are driving growth in lasers for automotive lidar and smartphone gesture recognition; photonic structural-health monitoring protects our road, rail, air and energy infrastructure; and spectroscopy continues to find new applications from identifying forgeries to detecting chemical-warfare agents. UK photonics companies addressing the sensing and imaging market are vital to our economy (see CfS) but their success is threatened by a lack of doctoral-level researchers with a breadth of knowledge and understanding of photonic imaging, sensing and analysis, coupled with high-level business, management and communication skills. By ensuring a supply of these individuals, our CDT will consolidate the UK industrial knowledge base, driving the high-growth export-led sectors of the economy whose photonics-enabled products and services have far-reaching impacts on society, from consumer technology and mobile computing devices to healthcare and security.

Building on the success of our CDT in Applied Photonics, the proposed CDT will be configured with most (40) students pursuing an EngD degree, characterised by a research project originated by a company and hosted on their site. Recognizing that companies' interests span all technology readiness levels, we are introducing a PhD stream where some (15) students will pursue industrially relevant research in university labs, with more flexibility and technical risk than would be possible in an EngD project.

Overwhelming industry commitment for over 100 projects represents a nearly 100% industrial oversubscription, with £4.38M cash and £5.56M in-kind support offered by major stakeholders including Fraunhofer UK, NPL, Renishaw, Thales, Gooch and Housego and Leonardo, as well as a number of SMEs. Our request to EPSRC for £4.86M will support 35 students, from a total of 40 EngD and 15 PhD researchers. The remaining students will be funded by industrial (£2.3M) and university (£0.93M) contributions, giving an exceptional 2:3 cash gearing of EPSRC funding, with more students trained and at a lower cost / head to the taxpayer than in our current CDT.

For our centre to be reactive to industry's needs a diverse pool of supervisors is required. Across the consortium we have identified 72 core supervisors and a further 58 available for project supervision, whose 1679 papers since 2013 include 154 in Science / Nature / PRL, and whose active RCUK PI funding is £97M. All academics are experienced supervisors, with many current or former CDT supervisors.

An 8-month frontloaded residential phase in St Andrews and Edinburgh will ensure the cohort gels strongly, and will equip students with the knowledge and skills they need before beginning their research projects. Business modules (x3) will bring each cohort back to Heriot-Watt for 1-week periods, and weekend skills workshops will be used to regularly reunite the cohort, further consolidating the peer-to-peer network.

Core taught courses augmented with specialist options will total 120 credits, and will be supplemented by professional skills and responsible innovation training delivered by our industry partners and external providers.

Governance will follow our current model, with a mixed academic-industry Management Committee and an independent International Advisory Board of world-leading experts.

Planned Impact

Complementing our Pathways to Impact document, here we state the expected real-world impact, which is of course the leading priority for our industrial partners. Their confidence that the proposed CDT will deliver valuable scientific, engineering and commercial impact is emphasized by their overwhelming financial support (£4.38M from industry in the form of cash contributions, and further in-kind support of £5.56M).

Here we summarize what will be the impacts expected from the proposed CDT.

(1) Impact on People
(a) Students
The CDT will have its major impact on the students themselves, by providing them with new understanding, skills and abilities (technical, business, professional), and by enhancing their employability.
(b) The UK public
The engagement planned in the CDT will educate and inform the general public about the high quality science and engineering being pursued by researchers in the CDT, and will also contribute to raising the profile of this mode of doctoral training -- particularly important since the public have limited awareness of the mechanisms through which research scientists are trained.

(2) Impact on Knowledge
New scientific knowledge and engineering know-how will be generated by the CDT. Theses, conference / journal papers and patents will be published to disseminate this knowledge.

(3) Impact on UK industry and economy
UK companies will gain a competitive advantage by using know-how and new techniques generated by CDT researchers.
Companies will also gain from improved recruitment and retention of high quality staff.
Longer term economic impacts will be felt as increased turnover and profitability for companies, and perhaps other impacts such as the generation / segmentation of new markets, and companies receiving inward investment for new products.

(4) Impact on Society
Photonic imaging, sensing and related devices and analytical techniques underpin many of products and services that UK industry markets either to consumers or to otr businesses. Reskilling of the workforce with an emphasis on promoting technical leadership is central to EPSRC's Productive Nation prosperity outcome, and our CDT will achieve exactly this through its development of future industrially engaged scientists, engineers and innovators. The impact that these individuals will have on society will be manifested through their contribution to the creation of new products and services that improve the quality of life in sectors like transport, dependable energy networks, security and communications.

Greater internationalisation of the cohort of CDT researchers is expected from some of the CDT activities (e.g. international summer schools), with the potential impact of greater collaboration in the future between the next generations of UK and international researchers.

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