Research excellence at the University of Kent

School of Physical Sciences

The Research Excellence Framework also assesses the impact that the research has outside academia. The case studies below are a selection of the research submitted by the School of Physical Sciences.

Protecting the Mary Rose

Professor Alan Chadwick, Professor Bob Newport

Timber ships that have been raised from the seabed are prone to erosion when they come into contact with the air. However, when the Mary Rose was raised from the seabed after half a millennium, she was protected by pioneering techniques developed at Kent. Led by Alan Chadwick, alongside Bob Newport, the research involved the discovery of a compound to treat the ship's wood and to prevent the deposits of sulphur salts on its surface.

Now exhibited in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, the Mary Rose is one of the most important additions to UK culture in recent times – as a warship, she served in Henry VIII's navy for 34 years and sank while engaging the French navy in 1545.

Expert salvaging ship

New biomedical materials

Professor Ian Bruce

A research group at Kent, led by Ian Bruce, has pioneered the ability to control, manipulate and commercially process magnetite nanoparticles. The work began within a research project across six international universities, three Government agencies and three companies.

As a direct result of Kent's research, two spinout companies EryDel and Diatheva have been established using a €6 million venture capital grant. Diatheva has used the novel technology to produce a forensic diagnostic kit. EryDel (in collaboration with Philips Healthcare) is using the technology to improve drug delivery for genetic diseases. The company is also investigating treatments for conditions such as pulmonary disease, cystic fibrosis, ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease.

High-quality crystals for national security

Dr Maria Alfredsson, Dr Aran Blacklocks, Professor Alan Chadwick, Dr Gavin Mountjoy

X-ray scanners are a staple of the security industry; their use at ports and airports is a key component of national security. However, the identification of objects is not always straightforward, partly because of blurring due to an electronic process called 'afterglow'.

The company Hilger Crystals, which grows crystals for use in X-ray scanners, collaborated with researchers at Kent to determine the origins of afterglow. This led to the development of high-quality crystals with reduced afterglow and sharper images. These state-of-the-art crystals are now in production for use in X-ray scanners, and there is also potential for their use within medical diagnostics.


Images of the retina

Professor Adrian Podoleanu, Professor David Jackson, Dr George Dobre

A ground-breaking method for imaging the human retina was pioneered by the Applied Optics Group at Kent. They were the first researchers to devise a way of using long-wavelength light to penetrate the opaque areas of the eye and provide a series of en face images of the tissues beneath the surface.

Known as en face OCT (optical coherence tomography), the original method sparked off a cycle of innovation in the field. The technology that emerged as a result is now routinely used in eye clinics worldwide, and is considered essential for the rapid and accurate diagnosis of eye diseases.

Facial recognition

Dr Christopher Solomon, Dr Stuart Gibson

Research at Kent has revolutionised the way that facial composites are created. The facial recognition suite (EFIT-V), created by Kent's spinout company VisionMetric, is now used by more than 90% of police forces in Britain and has been sold to 16 countries around the world, including the US, Canada, Australia, Chile, South Africa and Sweden.

In the commercial systems used before EFIT-V, a witness had to select the best match for facial features from a database of stored images. However, facial recognition does not happen in this way but via a more holistic impression – in other words, people find it easier to recognise a face than to recall and describe its individual features.

To mimic the process of face recognition, EFIT-V uses methods of computerised facial synthesis and provides the eyewitness with flexible ways to alter its appearance to achieve a facial likeness. The improved images, circulated within the police force and to the general public, have led to identification rates jumping from 5% to 55%.

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Last Updated: 11/02/2015

Banner photo (c) Simon Tollington, DICE