Bhattacharyya Award finalists highlight industry and universities partnerships

The Royal Academy of Engineering has shortlisted six exceptional industry–academia partnerships from across the UK for this year’s Bhattacharyya Award.

The Bhattacharyya Award 2023 and a cash prize of £25,000 will be presented on 24 October 2023 to the team who best demonstrate how industry and universities can work together.

The Bhattacharyya Award is a tribute to Professor Lord Kumar Bhattacharyya KT CBE FREng FRS, the Regius Professor of Manufacturing at the University of Warwick and founder of WMG who advocated for greater collaboration between industry and universities. Funded by the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, the annual Bhattacharyya Award is open to UK universities and colleges that have demonstrated a sustained, strategic industrial partnership that has benefitted society and is deserving of national recognition. Industry–academia partnerships from any academic discipline are eligible for the Bhattacharyya Award.

This year’s shortlist illustrates the sheer diversity of challenges that can be successfully addressed through collaboration between universities and industry, including national defence against biological and chemical attack, the supply of drinking water, nuclear decommissioning, high-speed global communications, high-performance sportswear and equipment, as well as other challenges like decarbonisation that can be tackled through the power of process systems engineering.

The full shortlist of finalists is…

University of Hertfordshire and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl)

New technologies for defence against biological and chemical threats.

The collaboration between the University of Hertfordshire and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) is focused on next generation devices and systems for monitoring and identifying biological and chemical threats. The collaboration aligns with the University of Hertfordshire’s objectives to stimulate enterprise and innovation, taking a pioneering approach to the transfer of knowledge from academic research to business and government. For Dstl, the collaboration has been central to its mission to explore, sustain, grow and evaluate state-of-the-art technological capabilities to develop protective measures against hazardous biological materials.

Imperial College London, UCL and the Sargent Centre Industrial Consortium

Unleashing the power of process systems engineering research.

The Sargent Centre is the world’s largest multidisciplinary research centre in Process Systems Engineering, combining a deep understanding of chemical and biochemical processes with the ability to make fundamental advances across a wide range of systems and digital technologies for the benefit of society and industry. Bringing fundamental research advances to practice is deeply embedded in the Sargent Centre’s approach. For over 30 years, Sargent Centre researchers and process industry partners (e.g., ABB, BP, Eli Lilly and Company, Petronas, Pfizer, Procter and Gamble, Siemens, Shell, Syngenta) have collaborated to address challenges in manufacturing, decarbonisation, energy efficiency, optimisation, data science, multi-scale modelling, risk and uncertainty. This has resulted in successful spin-out creation and software licensing, with tools used across the pharmaceutical, agrochemical, consumer goods, food and energy sectors.

Loughborough University and adidas

Sports equipment and clothes for improved performance, safety and inclusivity.

Since 2002, the Loughborough University and adidas cross-disciplinary teams have advanced engineering knowledge that has brought iconic products to market and been translated beyond the global sports sector for wider societal impact, making sport safer, more accessible and allowing people to perform at their best whilst developing the adidas talent pipeline.

The collaborative research has influenced all adidas major tournament footballs since 2004, and the analysis of short duration collisions in football has benefited other sports including new International Standards for cricket helmet performance that have eliminated facial injuries among professional helmeted batters. Another innovation is the first-ever sweat body maps of males, females and children to inform the company’s sector-leading clima® product range. This breakthrough underpins the first virtual Human Thermal Model which enables organisations worldwide to optimise product design for multiple populations across a range of industry sectors.

University of Sheffield and the UK water sector

Keeping drinking water crystal clear.

Ageing infrastructure and the complexity of interacting physical, chemical and biological processes occurring within the vast hidden water distribution systems leads to discolouration, an indicator of water quality deterioration, and the number one service contact by consumers. Over the last two decades, by combining world-leading knowledge with a fundamental understanding of the processes and delivery of practical tools and techniques, the University of Sheffield has built the ‘Prediction and management Of Discolouration in Distribution Systems’ (PODDS) consortium across the UK water sector to address these challenges. This innovative partnership has helped the sector achieve improved levels of service without increasing costs, delivering more than 35% reduction in customer contacts regarding water discolouration and increased operational efficiency through better targeting of limited resources.

UCL Optical Networks Group and the worldwide telecommunications industry

High-speed ultrawideband and low-delay optical communications networks for the cloud.

Optical fibre communication networks underpin global communications, carrying over 95% of all digital data. The work of the Optical Networks Group has been key to the development of this critical high-capacity, low-delay, resilient and secure communications infrastructure. By deeply embedding their industrial collaborators within the group’s research, the group has achieved society-wide impact, including a 100,000-fold increase in optical network data capacity, the doubling of transmission distances, and world record data rates, using its one-of-a-kind laboratories and expertise. Since the group was founded in 1994, it has become the centre of a web of over 60 leading international industrial laboratories and companies, across all telecommunications  sectors: network operators and content providers (e.g., BT, Deutsche Telecom, Microsoft, KDDI), equipment and device manufacturers (Oclaro (now Lumentum), Nokia Bell Labs, Xtera, ADVA, Mitsubishi, Infinera) and optical fibre manufacturers (Corning, OFS).

University of Manchester and Nuclear Decommissioning sector

Providing expertise for quicker, safer nuclear decommissioning.

The UK has been a nuclear nation for 75 years and has accumulated one of the largest. most complex nuclear legacies on Earth. Since 2002, Government has focused on cleaning up this legacy, a programme of work that will last over 100 years and cost over £140 billion. The Dalton Nuclear Institute coordinates the UK’s most comprehensive nuclear academic community, at The University of Manchester, to deliver skilled people, impactful research and support for Government policy development. The Institute’s research has, among other beneficial impacts, led to changes in effluent treatment at Sellafield and reduced discharges to the environment by 50-90%. The team have also developed robots for high hazard settings, including one of Time Magazine’s 200 best innovations for 2022; and improved the management of the UK’s separated plutonium stockpile. In a sector with a critical shortage of experts, the Institute also provides a vital pipeline of talent.

Professor Dame Ann Dowling OM DBE FREng FRS, former President of the Royal Academy of Engineering and Chair of the judging panel for the Bhattacharyya Award, said: “The six finalists for this year’s Award are inspiring and diverse examples of successful collaboration between academia and industry—it’s terrific to be able to highlight and to celebrate their innovation and impact and I hope they will provide inspiration for others. We know that there are other great partnerships like these between universities and colleges and industries across the UK in all sectors but that we need many more if we are to fully reap the economic and societal benefit of our research investment and capability.”

The winner of the Bhattacharyya Award will be announced on the evening of 24 October 2023 at a ceremony at the Edgbaston Park Hotel in Birmingham that will showcase the shortlisted partnerships. Anyone wishing to attend should contact for more details.