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24 September, 2020 - 09:52 By Tony Quested

Owlstone Medical founder among Cambridge alumni honoured by Royal Academy

Cambridge entrepreneur Billy Boyle, who founded Owlstone Medical and helped create a breathalyser to detect disease earlier, has been named a 2020 Fellow by the Royal Academy of Engineering.

Boyle is one of a number of engineers with a Cambridge link to be so honoured in the latest cohort.

He told Business Weekly: “I think engineers and engineering can tackle some of the most difficult problems we face today – from healthcare to the future of energy. 

“It is a great privilege to become a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, an institution at the forefront of working to tackle the greatest challenges of our age.

“As a student, the Department of Engineering at Cambridge opened my eyes to what engineering can do for society and since then I've been incredibly lucky to be part of the fantastic Cambridge community and eco-system and to be helped by so many talented entrepreneurs and engineers in helping to build Owlstone Medical.” 

Cambridge engineers and alumni have been announced Fellows in recognition of their outstanding and continuing contributions to the profession. They join an Academy on a mission to use the power of engineering to build a sustainable society and create an inclusive economy that works for everyone.

A total of 53 new Fellows were formally admitted to Fellowship at the Academy’s online AGM. 

Another notable inclusion was Professor John Robertson – an expert in electronic materials. He has undertaken seminal work to develop industrially valuable electronic materials such as HfO2 (Hafnium dioxide), diamond-like carbon (DLC) and carbon nanotubes. 

His prediction of the conduction band offset of HfO2 allowed it to replace SiO2 (Silicon dioxide) as the gate oxide in complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) transistors, and so to continue CMOS scaling. 

His further work on its defects and interfaces with metals allowed its successful implementation. His work on the deposition process and characterisation of DLC allowed the development of the thinnest and smoothest protective films, and the continued scaling of hard-disk drive memory densities. 

Professor Robertson graduated from Cambridge in Physics in 1971 and with a PhD in 1975. He then worked for the Central Electricity Generating Board on corrosion in nuclear power stations and electricity generation and transmission economics from 1975 to 1994, before joining the Department of Engineering at Cambridge in 1994.

Boyle is described as a serial inventor, entrepreneur and a Royal Academy of Engineering Silver Medallist. At Cambridge, he co-founded Owlstone Nanotech, marketing a programmable microchip sensor with applications ranging from toxic gas detection to disease diagnostics and deployed globally in the defence, oil, food, water and health sectors. 

Owlstone has raised over $38 million, with more than $32 million in military contracts, and was a 2008 MacRobert Award finalist. In 2016, Billy led the spin-out of Owlstone Medical whose non-invasive breathalyser for disease won the 2018 MacRobert Award. As CEO, he leads more than 170 researchers, has raised over $80 million and his products are deployed in over 150 clinical sites globally.

Also feted is Dr Rajapillai Ahilan, a technology and business leader with three decades of experience, including 20 years at board level in Noble Denton, GL Garrad Hassan, DNV GL and LOC, leading more than 1,000 people. 

He chairs Innosea and is on the advisory board of WaveEC. He has led projects which set international standards for jack-ups, marine transportation and moorings. 

He helped develop the marine operations guidelines at industry-leading firm, Noble Denton. He steers the DigiTwin Project, advises the ORE SuperGen and is a Trustee of the Marine Technology Trust. His experience spans both oil and gas and renewables.

Cambridge alumnus Andrew Bud is a distinguished telecommunications engineer and a notable entrepreneur. He is known for his contribution to the development of mobile communications technology, networks and applications, and is currently undertaking pioneering work in the area of biometrics. 

He led the design of key aspects of the Digital European Cordless Telecommunications (DECT) standard, including its network protocols and its data capabilities. This was the foundation for the world market in cordless communications. 

He made an important engineering contribution to the mobile applications industry through mBlox Inc. The company, which he founded, became the world’s largest provider of enterprise-to-consumer text messaging.

Clare College Alumnus Air Marshal Richard Knighton has had a distinguished career as an engineer in the Royal Air Force. He has achieved outstanding success in the fields of military aviation engineering, acquisition and strategic and programme management. 

As Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff (Finance and Military Capability), he is responsible for UK strategic force development and for the strategic balance of investment process and setting the overall UK Defence Programme.

Cambridge alumnus Professor Kai Hong Luo has made contributions to engineering research, education and practices for three decades. 

He has been responsible for the development of cutting-edge models and numerical methods across scales that have transformed energy system diagnostics, design and optimisation, evidenced by his significant research funding, publications, software codes, inventions, products, awards, and fellowships. 

He has established and led major national and international consortia and collaborations, generating innovative advances in engineering with significant industrial impact. 

He has a unique expertise in mesoscale modelling and simulation that bridges the science and engineering boundary, making groundbreaking advances in both spheres.

Dr Lucy Rogers is known for her fun adventures with new technology, in which she combines multiple practical and academic skills with a love of learning. 

She makes bespoke items that solve her clients’ practical problems – from installing a Raspberry Pi into a robot dinosaur to 3D printing miniature mannequins. 

She has a worldwide reputation for public engagement and an ability to turn science into plain English and break complex tasks into simple steps. She’s a judge on BBC’s Robot Wars and has written two books and numerous articles for the European Space Agency, BBC and Guardian newspaper, amongst others.

Dr Norman Smith is co-founder and CEO of Vision RT, which manufactures surface-guided radiotherapy (SGRT) equipment. He conceived the underlying concept in collaboration with co-founders and clinical experts. 

The patient position is tracked in real time without the need for permanent tattoos (which can cause psychological trauma) or for positioning equipment to be attached to the patient. The equipment is interfaced directly to the radiotherapy machine and controls the beam, resulting in greater throughput, increased comfort and less trauma for the patient, and in some cases reduced morbidity. VisionRT are the dominant producers of SGRT with a turnover (2018) of £55 million.

Professor Richard Stone has made significant contributions to the international engineering community as an educator, researcher, administrator and problem-solver. 

His name is one of the most widely recognised in the field of automotive engineering and internal combustion engines (ICE): the two textbooks he has authored have guided generations of students across the world. 

His research has always been done in close collaboration with British automotive and energy industries and has contributed to practically relevant advances in our understanding of many aspects of ICE, vehicle systems and combustion fundamentals.

Dr Charles Woodburn is chief executive of BAE Systems, the UK-based defence, aerospace and security company. He leads a team around the globe that develops, manufactures and supports major defence capabilities. BAE Systems is an engineering company that has maintained its position in the global market by developing cutting-edge technology. 

He was the chief executive of Expro Group, a provider of oilfield services and prior to this, worked at Schlumberger, holding key senior engineering and operational positions. He has an engineering degree and PhD from the University of Cambridge and an MBA from Erasmus.

• PHOTOGRAPH: Professor John Robertson (left) and alumnus Billy Boyle

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