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Innovative science for commercial applications

Oxford Instruments was awarded the Queen's Award for Enterprise in the Innovation category in recognition of its continuing culture of encouraging innovation and technical excellence

The first commercial spin-out from Oxford University, Oxford Instruments started out in a garden shed, where the world?s first superconducting magnet was invented. This, in turn, led to the development of the MRI machine, which changed the face of medical diagnostics. There are now over 30,000 MRI systems in the world, and Oxford Instruments was involved in supplying one third of them. The company is now a worldwide business, supplying commercially successful, high-tech tools and systems into diverse markets which include industry, research, education, space, energy, defence, life science research and health. Oxford Instruments has a global reputation for its technical skills and expertise, focusing its science and technology on providing the scientific and commercial communities with the right tools to support their work. This expertise includes the creation of low temperature and high magnetic field environments; X-ray, electron and optical based metrology; nuclear magnetic resonance and advanced semiconductor processing technologies.

Its high-technology tools, instruments and systems are enabling nanotechnology to progress from fundamental research through to commercial applications in the most exciting and significant areas. With a unique set of technologies to enable the manipulation and observation of matter at the smallest scales, Oxford Instruments offers solutions for the fabrication and characterisation of nanoscale materials, structures and devices.

It also offers environments in which to perform fundamental nanoscience. Even in situations where the final application may not be obviously ?nano?, the ability provided by Oxford Instruments? tools to observe and characterise materials at the nanoscale is fundamental to their realisation. Just as the gold prospectors of old needed picks and shovels to search for that elusive nugget, so the scientists and businessmen of today need the right tools to support their work. Oxford Instruments provides those tools.

The preservation and protection of our environment and the conservation of energy is of vital importance. Oxford Instruments is working with governments and manufacturers who are addressing these issues.

High brightness light emitting diodes (HB LEDs) are becoming increasingly commonplace as low energy, long lifetime lighting. Already finding use in high-end automotive head and tail-lights, and in advertising and architectural lighting, the low power and long life of HB LEDs fulfil both cost and environmental goals. Indeed HB LED technology will be much in evidence in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The production of economic, high efficiency HB LEDs relies on engineering materials at the nanometre scale. Oxford Instruments? processing tools are used by global HB LED manufacturers to grow these materials and create their structures.

Undoubtedly the biggest and longest-term project to solve the global energy crisis is the International Experimental ThermoNuclear Reactor (ITER). Present nuclear power stations operate on nuclear fission, splitting heavy radioactive nuclei to create energy, with all the attendant problems of radioactive waste. In contrast, ITER is a joint international project aiming to demonstrate the scientific and technical feasibility of fusion power, mimicking the energy processes of the sun, in which hydrogen atoms are fused to create harmless helium ? offering the potential of limitless clean energy.

Described by the ITER Director-General as ?the greatest scientific adventure of our time,? the ITER reactor will be built in Cadarache, France. Oxford Instruments will be supplying superconducting wire for the magnets which are a central part of the ITER design. Although produced in hundreds of kilometres, the wires rely on control of the superconducting material?s nano-scale structure, an area of key expertise in Oxford Instruments? wire manufacturing plant.

The 21st century has seen a greater need for personal, financial and national security than ever before. Oxford Instruments? expertise at extremely low temperatures and at the microscopic level supports those working to ensure the world is a safe place to live. Its tools are used by nanotechnology researchers in world-leading institutes to develop and understand new nano-materials and devices. For example, low temperature systems from Oxford Instruments are being used in the development of quantum computers, which are able to process massive amounts of data.

Quantum dots are nanoscale particles which typically contain around 100 to 1,000 atoms of a given material. Because of their nanometre size, a quantum dot behaves in many ways like a single atom, with strict ?rules? for adding and removing electrons. These unique features allow their physical properties to be tailored to desired applications, creating products with unique optical and electronic properties. For example, a whole spectrum of colours can be emitted from a single material simply by controlling the quantum dot size. Using the ability to fine-tune fluorescent properties, inks and paints are being developed for security and anti-counterfeiting applications. Oxford Instruments? tools are used in both the growth and analysis of quantum dots.

In life science, quantum dots have significant potential for the study of intracellular singlemolecule processes, high-resolution cellular imaging, tumour targeting and diagnostics. Healthcare issues continue to make headlines. Research into future diagnostic methods, pharmaceuticals and imaging devices is a high priority and Oxford Instruments? leading-edge technology is playing a part in this research. Novel systems like HyperSense®, which uses dynamic nuclear polarisation and nuclear magnetic resonance is used to significantly improve certain areas of drug discovery research and support early diagnosis of diseases.

There are concerns about the level of hazardous substances in the environment which can adversely affect health. Oxford Instruments? hand-held analysers are used to detect the presence of these substances, for example in soil on reclaimed land and lead in toys. Oxford Instruments? business divisions operate as one highly focused, global enterprise, specialising in turning innovative science into successful, commercial tools and systems. There is a continuous flow of new ideas driven by the demands of the markets and the focus on developing commercially successful products.

This focus on producing high quality, leading edge instrumentation means that the company?s reputation for technical excellence built up over 50 years continues to attract customers and investors from all corners of the world.

For more information, contact:
Oxford Instruments
Tubney Wood, Abingdon, Oxon OX13 5QX UK
Tel: +44 (0) 1865 393200

Added the 11 September 2008 in category Innovation UK Vol4-1

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