Physics is hugely important to the economy and to driving economic growth. One of the responsibilities of my team at the Institute of Physics is to support and promote the value of physics to the economy, and its role in innovation. It is, after all, behind technology from the steam train to the smartphone, and from the lightbulb to the Large Hadron Collider.

“[Physics is] behind technology from the steam train to the smartphone, and from the lightbulb to the Large Hadron Collider.”

We try to demonstrate this impact in a lot of different ways – publishing reports and research, responding to government consultations, and so on. But perhaps the most satisfying is through our Innovation Awards.

The awards celebrate companies in the UK and Ireland that have successfully addressed a commercial need through physics-based innovation. It means we get to work directly with the people responsible for taking a piece of physics research from the lab bench to the store shelf, including those that have made the difficult transition from university settings.

Our past winners include Coherent Scotland, which started life as a spin-out from the University of Strathclyde, and Simpleware Ltd, whose range of products is based on research undertaken as part of an Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council fellowship.

It’s not just that we give a little back to some of the most innovative companies around (a trophy presented at our annual Awards Dinner, media coverage, and so forth). It also means that, together, we get to showcase the best of physics-based innovation at a high-profile event attended by the great and good.

This year’s is set for 28 October, once again in the House of Commons. Last year’s event included talks led by Baroness Neville-Rolfe, the minister for intellectual property, while in 2013 the awards were presented by the Secretary of State for Business, Vince Cable.

“Winning innovations have included e-paper displays for price labelling on supermarket shelves, guidance systems for missiles, and computer modelling packages”

The winning companies get the opportunity to explain the physics behind their products to an influential crowd of MPs and peers, ministers and their shadows. That’s incredibly useful if we want them to recognise the value of physics – and indeed of science in general – to society.

The sheer variety of products that our award winners are responsible for makes showcasing our discipline that much easier too. Winning innovations have included e-paper displays for price labelling on supermarket shelves, guidance systems for missiles, and computer modelling packages used in aerospace, engineering and medical technology.

With such a variety of applications, it’s evident that physics influences and penetrates all walks of life, and benefits the whole country. If you’re a physics-based company with an innovation you’re particularly proud of, consider submitting an entry for an IOP Innovation Award – and help us keep physics at the forefront of politicians’ minds.

Anne Crean is head of science and innovation at the Institute of Physics. The IOP Innovation Awards are open for entry until 17 May – for further details see www.iop.org/innovation

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Related pages:

Innovation Awards (external link)

NCUB Science & Innovation Board

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