‘Future Vision’ roadshow funded

Wednesday 19 July 2006

Technology which could see through terrorists’ clothing, spot a volcano on the verge of eruption or see wounds under bandages is to be showcased as part of a new initiative that will be rolled out across the UK.

Next year, University of St Andrews scientists are taking the groundbreaking technology from the lab to the masses – via school workshops, public lectures, science festivals, discussions and exhibitions. To achieve this, they have selected award-winning company FifeX, who specialise in developing interactive science exhibits, as their project partner.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Partnership for Public Engagement (PPE) project ‘Millimetre Waves: the Vision for the Future’ will showcase the many applications of ‘millimetre wave sensing technology’, ranging from medical and security imaging to atmospheric sensing. The project will also provide an arena in which topical issues relating to privacy, security and trust can be discussed with scientists and the public.

The project will be led by Dr Graham Smith, head of the Millimetre Wave and High-Field ESR Group in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of St Andrews, together with Drs David Macfarlane and Duncan Robertson.

Dr David Macfarlane believes it’s a subject that will enthral students: “This technology has wide-ranging and very exciting applications. Millimetre waves are already used to scan for debris on a runway to help avoid aviation damage, and for cruise control and collision avoidance in car radar systems. There are also several companies worldwide that are developing mm-wave imaging technologies for airport security and other similar applications”.

He continued, “Despite wide media coverage of privacy and security issues such as the current debate over the provision of ID cards and the ‘war on terror’, imaging technologies and their implications are not widely understood by the public. There is often a significant amount of distrust and misconception about safety as well as questions about privacy and cost.

“This combination of cutting edge science and topical issues makes the development of such technology an interesting and important subject for a public engagement programme. In our experience, many people are somewhat unsure of what role research plays in their daily life and seem largely unaware of the contribution physics makes to their hospitals, airports and security. This project will make use of some fascinating examples of real-life applications of physics as well as some state of the art instruments, to which our audiences would never normally have access.

“This will not only bring the science to life, but will prompt discussions on the application of such technologies and promote science as an academic subject and hobby”.

The centerpiece of the hands-on exhibition will be a real-time mm- wave imager which will illustrate, amongst other applications, how mm- waves can be used to ‘see’ through clothing. In addition, a series of demonstrations, videos, and interactive exhibits will help to increase the public’s understanding of imaging techniques, focusing on mm-wave technology and its many and varied applications. Old or young, male or female, the exhibition will have something for everyone.

FifeX has already been highly successful in managing an earlier St Andrews PPE programme ‘Tripping the Light Fantastic’ which has entertained thousands of school pupils and members of the public since its launch in 2004, and helped to educate its audiences about the role of light in everything from non-invasive medical procedures to the next generation of space travel.

Kenneth Boyd from FifeX believes they are well-equipped to embark on this new project which will build on the success of their previous work with the University.

“We are hugely excited about this project. It has all the ingredients of a great show, the science is cutting edge and highly topical whist covering a variety of subject areas – I can’t see anyone being able to walk past this without taking at least a small interest in some part of it!

“We have worked well with this department in the past and look forward to our new relationship with this group; they are enthusiastic and have some superb ideas that we are hoping to develop into what should be an iconic and unforgettable experience for the public”.

Work has commenced on the creation of the exhibits and the team’s first public event is expected to take place in around nine months.



In its 20 year history, the Millimetre Wave and High-Field ESR Group at St Andrews has managed nearly 100 separate research and science contracts, many with industry. The group currently has over £3M in research funding, with recent projects including the AVTIS volcano imager, a portable mm-wave instrument that monitors changes in size, shape and temperature of volcanic lava domes, the MISTM thermal imager for measuring subcutaneous skin temperature (currently undergoing trials at Ninewells Hospital, Dundee) and the HIPER project, an advanced mm-wave magnetic resonance spectrometer for probing the electron structure in materials, particularly useful in biochemistry, protein studies, and drug development. HIPER was the top rated Basic Technology Grant in 2003.

The group is also involved in collaborations to develop Dynamic Nuclear Polarisation (DNP), a technique for dramatically enhancing the sensitivity of Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) measurements via mm-wave ESR.

FifeX is an award-winning exhibit development company, based just metres away from the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of St Andrews. They specialise in the development of interactive science exhibits, exhibitions and school laboratory products.

Formed in 2002 by two Physics graduates from St Andrews, they have already won numerous awards including Winner – Shell Livewire Young Entrepreneur of the Year, Fife 2004; Winner – Shell Livewire Young Entrepreneur of the Year, Best Business Demonstrating Sustainability in Scotland 2004; Winner – PSYBT and Royal Bank of Scotland Business Awards, Fife 2004; Last 6 – PSYBT and Royal Bank of Scotland Business Awards, Scotland 2004.

They have been involved in developing and co- ordinating the delivery of exhibits, workshops and exhibitions to all ages of school children and the general public. Their products are being used in schools, science centres and museums throughout the UK and abroad. FifeX have developed three exhibitions that featured at the Royal Society Summer Exhibition (a possible venue for this project) and managed the previous and highly successful PPE award ‘Tripping the Light Fantastic’ which won Best Outreach Project and Best Presentation at SASOL SciFest 2004 – the first group ever to win two awards at this festival. NOTE TO EDITORS

For more information – please contact:

Dr David Macfarlane – telephone 01334 463156/467307 or email [email protected]


Kenneth Boyd at FifeX – 01334 477733 or email [email protected]

Issued by Beattie Media – www.beattiegroup.com – on behalf of the University of St Andrews.

For more information, please contact Claire Grainger, Press Officer – 01334 462530, 07730 415 015 or [email protected];

Ref: press releases/mmwavefifex

View the latest University news at http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk

Category Public interest stories

Related topics

Share this story