Innovation news in brief: Space; construction; policy; energy

In orbit this summer – OSS to set world record with longest retractable cubesat boom

Earth moves for Oxford Space Systems

Harwell-based space tech start-up Oxford Space Systems (OSS) has secured a collaborative contract with a leading academic institute in Kazakhstan to measure earthquake activity from space.

The collaboration with Kazakhstan’s Institute of Space Technique and Technologies will see OSS design, build and install a version of its proprietary boom technology, known as AstroTube, into a small satellite, known as a cubesat. This boom will be used to deploy a magnetometer – a highly sensitive instrument to measure and map the Earth’s magnetic field.

The satellite, roughly the size of a loaf of bread, will orbit roughly170 miles above the earth and is expected to operate for up to a year in this exploratory mission.

OSS founder and CEO Mike Lawton explained: “This exciting mission will explore the viability of a space-based earthquake monitoring and prediction system that Kazakhstan is keen to implement.

“As one of the most earthquake prone countries on earth, the ability to predict damaging earthquakes has obvious societal and commercial benefits”. Should this exploratory mission prove successful it is hoped that a small constellation of satellites will be ordered from the UK – together with the OSS boom technology – to provide a fully operational earthquake monitoring service.

Works underway on new innovation centre at Cambridge Science Park

Building work has commenced on a new £20 million innovation centre at Cambridge Science Park, reports Business Insider.

The architects, Aukett Swanke, said the three-storey building will "function as a vibrant centre for research and development, offering incubator space for high-growth businesses”.

Workspace provider Central Working is partnering with Trinity College on the new scheme, which has been designed to support more than 500 entrepreneurs.

The 40,000 sq ft scheme is owned by Trinity College Cambridge and partly funded by BIS, which has contributed £4.8 million towards the scheme.

The centre is being named after Sir John Bradfield, a biologist, entrepreneur, and former senior bursar who founded Cambridge Science Park.

Completion is expected in 2017.

Science, innovation and the UK research budget

The Royal Society of Chemistry is hosting a forum to discuss science, innovation and the UK research budget, and whether the government is doing enough to ensure the UK remains a world leader in science and research.

The Policy-UK forum, which takes place on 25th February 2016, will discuss some of the key barriers to research and innovation, as well as how to attract more private investment in R&D.

The forum will also look at some of the deterrents to collaboration with business – particularly the replacement of existing Innovate UK grants with loans as announced in the Spending Review - but also how successful the recommendations from the Dowling Review of Business-University Research Collaboration have been so far in encouraging commercialisation of research.

Other key areas for discussion will be the outcomes and recommendations from the recent Nurse Review and the Commons Science and Technology Select Committee Inquiry into the Science Budget, as well as looking forward to their implementation and impact.

Keynote speakers include Dr Deborah Buckley-Golder, head of research engagement, Innovate UK; Dr Phil Heads, associate director, strategy and evidence, Natural Environment Research Council; and Dr Steven Hill, head of research policy, HEFCE.

More details here

Bird cells hold the cure for deadly infection

Scientists at the University of Sheffield have discovered that a specialised white blood cell found in birds can destroy a potentially fatal fungal infection which affects more than one million people every year.

Cryptococcus neoformans is a fungus that causes fatal infections in those with a weakened immune system. It is one of the most dangerous infections of individuals with AIDS and is thought to cause hundreds of thousands of deaths worldwide, every year.

Birds are known to carry the fungus and their droppings are thought to be a source of human infection; however it has been a longstanding mystery why the birds themselves do not appear to become ill.

Now, a team from the University of Sheffield have shown that a particular white blood cell within the bird’s blood system, called a macrophage, is able to completely block the growth of Cryptococci.

The scientists, led by Dr Simon Johnston, found that the fungus can grow slowly within the bird’s digestive tract, but if it tries to invade the bird’s body then the immune system immediately destroys it – which explains why healthy birds can still help spread the infection.

The research, published in Nature Scientific Reports, was carried out in collaboration with the University of Birmingham and is part of a much larger international effort to understand, fight and ultimately eliminate cryptococcosis.

Wanted: Disruptive technologies for the energy sector

Innovate UK wants to invest up to £1.5 million in technical feasibility studies to encourage new entrants to the energy sector and stimulate the adoption of disruptive technologies. A further £500,000 is also available from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) for support of relevant projects.

In order to encourage novel and radical solutions, projects must be led by an SME whose main business lies outside the energy sector. They can work alone or collaboratively with partners of any size from any sector.

The competition opens on 28 March 2016 and the deadline for video submissions is at noon on 11 May 2016.

There will be a briefing event for potential applicants in London on 6 April 2016.

More information here