Dr Robert Langer, winner of the 2015 Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, has made headlines again this week with his latest in potentially life-changing drug therapies.
Hidden within the innermost section of your ear are thousands of tiny hair cells, detecting sound waves and transforming them into signals to send to our brains. These hair cells allow us to hear our favourite music, chat to our friends and listen out for the doorbell. Yet damage to these delicate cells is the leading cause of hearing loss, meaning more than 360 million people around the world miss out on these sounds.
Engineer and physicist, Eric Fossum, was born and raised in Connecticut, USA, where he spent his weekends feeding a budding interest in science at the Talcott Mountain Science Centre. Pursuing his dream, he graduated from Trinity College, Connecticut with a bachelor’s degree in physics and engineering, and later gained a Master’s and PhD in engineering and applied science from Yale University.
Leaving Yale in 1984, Dr Fossum joined the ranks of Columbia University’s electrical engineering faculty, exploring high- speed charge coupled devices (CCDs) and their resulting images. His next job, in 1990, took him across the country to the golden state of California and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. While working at the lab, NASA’s longest-serving administrator, Daniel Goldin, tasked Fossum with his own ‘Faster, Better, Cheaper’ mission; shrinking the CCD cameras destined for space travel.
Nobukazu Teranishi set out on his road to change the world when he began an undergraduate degree in physics at the University of Tokyo in 1972. Already developing an interest in semiconductors, he remained at the University of Tokyo, graduating with a Master’s degree in physics in 1978. From here, he took a job with the NEC corporation, an IT and electronics corporation in Tokyo.
While working for NEC, Teranishi was engaged in advancing image sensors and camera technology, and it was in 1980 that he invented the pinned photodiode, transforming the way we see the world.
Originally from Essex in the south-east of England, Michael left home at the end of his school days to begin an undergraduate degree in Physics at the University of Cambridge. He went on to complete a PhD in engineering at the same college, graduating as Dr Tompsett in 1966.
Shortly after leaving university, he began working at the Electric Valve Company, now called e2v, in Chelmsford. He started out into his role as an inventor, designing and making the un-cooled pyro-electric thermal imaging television camera tube. A huge advancement for its time, Tompsett’s invention provided electronic scanning at room temperature, rather than having to be cooled with liquid nitrogen. His solid-state version is now the basis for thermal imagers used today by search and rescue teams, firefighters and the military.
Born in White Plains, New York in 1930, George Smith was headed for the US Navy after graduating high school. Not ready to leave education completely, however, he decided to take a maths course while stationed at an air base in Miami.
After serving as a meteorologist with the Navy for four years, and with the financial support of the GI Bill of Rights, he successfully applied to study physics at the University of Pennsylvania, graduating with honours in 1955. He went on to gain a Master’s degree and later a PhD in physics from the University of Chicago.
It was post university as a young researcher working at the famous Bell Laboratories in New Jersey, however, that Smith really made his mark.
Four engineers responsible for the creation of digital imaging sensors were yesterday honoured with the world’s most prestigious engineering prize. The Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering is a £1million prize, celebrating world-changing engineering innovations.
Eric Fossum (USA), George Smith (USA), Nobukazu Teranishi (Japan) and Michael Tompsett (UK) were announced as the winners by Lord Browne of Madingley, in the presence of HRH The Princess Royal, at the Royal Academy of Engineering.
The closing date for applications to the UK’s top engineering innovation prize is fast approaching.
With the coveted gold medal and a cash prize of £50,000 at stake, the MacRobert Award is the most prestigious national engineering prize on offer. First presented by the MacRobert Trusts in 1969, it is also the longest running prize of its kind.
Each year, an expert panel of judges from the Royal Academy of Engineering handpicks an outstanding innovation to be honoured by the Award. In order to be worthy of such an accolade, nominations must prove themselves to be of tangible benefit to society as well as a commercial success.