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University triumphs at Engineer Technology and Innovation Awards

Published: 
8 October 2008

Groundbreaking research and outstanding industry collaboration by the University of Southampton has been recognised at the Engineer Technology and Innovation Awards 2008.

This prestigious award scheme recognises and rewards excellence in collaboration between the UK’s universities and some of its most dynamic companies.

The University won two of the five Sector Collaboration Awards and had four finalists in the seven award categories. The Medical and Healthcare Award was won by the University in collaboration with Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust and Precision Acoustics Ltd, for development of a 'smart stethoscope'; and the Energy Award was presented for collaborative work on developing rim driven thrusters and marine turbine generators with TSL Technology.

Professor Jeremy Kilburn, Dean of the University’s Faculty of Engineering, Science and Mathematics, comments: “It is fantastic to see the University being rewarded for its significant contribution to the UK’s technology economy by working together with industry.

“Harnessing the considerable expertise, talent and facilities within the UK’s universities will be vital if the nation’s technology economy is to thrive in an increasingly competitive global marketplace.”

The ‘smart stethoscope’, which monitors the effectiveness of treatments to shatter kidney stones, has been developed by Professor Tim Leighton from the University's world-renowned Institute of Sound and Vibration Research (ISVR) and Dr Andrew Coleman of Guy's and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust.

The current procedure, called lithotripsy, focuses thousands of shock waves onto kidney stones in an effort to break them into small pieces, which can then be dissolved by drugs or passed from the body in urine. However, it is difficult to discover exactly when the treatment has succeeded in breaking the stone and patients frequently have to experience more shocks than necessary, or be sent home when an insufficient number of shocks have been delivered to break the stone.

The ‘smart stethoscope’ listens to the echoes, which reverberate around the body after each shock wave. The device has been used clinically at the London hospitals of Guy’s and St Thomas’ Health Trust (GSTT). The collaborating company Precision Acoustics Ltd (PAL) has received requests for units from several countries.

Team leader Professor Leighton comments: “In the clinical trials, a nurse operating the device during treatment could correctly predict successful treatments 94.7 per cent of the time, compared to the 36.8 per cent scored by the clinician in theatre using the best currently-available equipment.

“There has been a lot of research in this area worldwide, and one exciting area of interest is in treating kidney stones in future moonbase or manned Mars missions. However, our main focus has been to make kidney stone treatment as effective and safe as possible in developing nations where there is a desperate need. Hence our device is low-cost, and we have published its development.”

Joining Professor Leighton at the Royal Society to receive the prize were key members of the team, Dr Andrew Coleman of GSTT, Andrew Hurrell of PAL, and Fiammetta Fedele, who received her PhD from the University for her role in the study.

Dr Suleiman Sharkh and Dr Stephen Turnock from the University’s School of Engineering Sciences won the Energy Award for developing a renewable energy scheme using tidal stream generators.

The generator began life as an electric motor for rim-driven thrusters, which are more commonly used to power small remotely operated underwater vehicles (ROVs). The academics also saw the potential to run this backwards as a generator; instead of using electricity to turn the propellers and drive the vehicle along, the flow of water turns the propellers, generating electricity. The technology has already been exploited commercially by the Hampshire-based engineering company TSL Technology Ltd,

Dr Sharkh comments: “The challenge has been to design a thin electric machine with a large gap, yet achieve good efficiency. This has been achieved by careful matching of propeller and electric machine characteristics.”

University of Southampton collaborations were also selected as finalists in two other categories. The ongoing contribution of the University’s Wolfson Unit for Marine Technology and Industrial Aerodynamics for two teams that entered the 32nd America’s Cup in 2007, was nominated for the University Support of Business award. While the University’s collaboration with the Universities of Cambridge, Cranfield and Loughborough and BAE Systems was a finalist in the Business Support of Universities category.

Notes for editors

More information on the Smart Stethoscope can be found at http://www.isvr.soton.ac.uk/fdag/Litho_07/litho_07(main).htm

The key people involved in the development of the 'smart stethoscope' were Professor Tim Leighton, Dr Andrew Coleman, Fiammetta Fedele, who recently obtained her PhD for this work, and Andrew Hurrell of Precision Acoustics Ltd. The development also required the support of clinical staff at GSTT (particularly nurse Cathy McCarthy and Consultant Urologist Simon Ryves), Paul White of ISVR, Graham Ball (formerly of the University’s School of Engineering Sciences, now at AWE), Antonello de Stefano (formerly of ISVR, and now at St Mary's Hospital, Portsmouth) and two former PhD students Riza Jamaluddin and Cary Turangan. Part-funding for the study was obtained from EPSRC.

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