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Celebrating innovation

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe celebrates the winners of the 2014 Institute of Physics innovation awards at the Palace of Westminster 27 November 2014

Clever thinking: Baroness Neville-Rolfe celebrates the winners of the 2014 Institute of Physics innovation awards. (Courtesy: Richard Lewis)

By Matin Durrani

“Commercializing physics” is the theme of the November issue of Physics World and it was therefore timely that last night saw a special ceremony at the House of Commons to celebrate the winners of this year’s Innovation Awards from the Institute of Physics (IOP), which publishes the magazine.

The awards, which are now in their third year, are given by the Institute to firms in the UK and Ireland “that have built success on the innovative application of physics”.

Four firms were honoured this year: Gas Sensing Solutions, which makes carbon-dioxide sensors; Gooch & Housego, for an opto-acoustic device that can modulate laser beams for industrial processing; nuclear-power firm Magnox for a clever way of refuelling a reactor at the Wylfa power station; and MBDA for a novel “missile-system upgrade”.

On hand to dish out the awards was Baroness Lucy Neville-Rolfe, parliamentary under-secretary of state for business, innovation and skills and minister for intellectual property. Neville-Rolfe, who originally studied politics, philosophy and economics at the University of Oxford and went on to have a high-flying business career, underlined how much she valued physics-based innovation, despite never having actually taken a physics exam in her life. (So we can excuse her for calling the Higgs boson the Higgs “bos’un”.)

Also present was Lady Audrey Wood, co-founder and former director of Oxford Instruments, which is perhaps the archetypal UK physics-based firm, having emerged in the late 1950s from the physics department at Oxford. Lady Wood gave a delightful précis of the history of the firm. Frances Saunders, current president of the Institute of Physics and a former head of the UK defence firm Dstl, also addressed the audience on the importance of physics to innovation.

Audrey Wood address guests in the Churchill Room at the Palace of Westminster at the 2014 Institute of Physics innovation awards

Time to celebrate: Lady Wood addresses guests in the Churchill Room at the Palace of Westminster. (Courtesy: Richard Lewis)

Sadly the MP Alok Sharma, who had organized the event and has a degree in applied physics from the University of Salford, was unable to attend. But he’s on our list of future people to feature in our “Once a physicist” column – so Alok, if you’re reading this, we’ll be in touch.

A call for entries for the 2015 Innovation Awards will be made in February next year so do keep an eye on the Institute’s business activities.

Remember that all IOP members can access the November issue of Physics World right now on your desktop via or on any iOS or Android smartphone or tablet via the Physics World app, available from the App Store and Google Play. If you’re not yet in the IOP, you can join as an IOPimember for just £15, €20 or $25 a year to get full access to Physics World both online and through the apps.

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