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316 The Story of Parliament


Developing the tools


for technological progress For more than 50 years, Oxford Instruments has been turning its smart science into commercially successful products


D


uring the Gold Rush, prospectors needed certain picks and shovels to dig for precious metal. “If you want


to find gold, you need the right tools,” says Lynn Shepherd, Group Director of Communications at Oxford Instruments. “And that’s our business model—we provide the tools that our customers in research and industry need to rise to the challenges of the 21st century. Tis could be, for example, in the security, energy, health or environmental sectors.” Founded in 1959, Oxford Instruments began with the


vision of Martin Wood, a Cambridge-educated engineer who believed that science could—and should—support commercial industry. He started his company while working in the physics department at Oxford University, initially making specialised copper-wound electromagnets. Tis was the university’s first commercial “spin-out” business, working with magnets at a time of great advances in superconductivity. Te technique of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)


was based on Wood’s discovery that the new superconducting materials could produce magnets for human imaging. Today, Oxford Instruments still supplies the superconducting wire used in MRI machines all over the world.


A history of innovation Te company went public in 1983, and Oxford Instruments was soon expanding its innovative product range to support different fields of industry and research. It is now an internationally renowned public company—a leading global provider of hi-tech tools and systems for research and industry, quoted on the London Stock Exchange and employing more than 2,000 people in offices all over the world, from the UK to the US, from Germany to Japan. Te tools it creates are the product of an overarching


vision. “We work towards responsible development and a deeper understanding of the world through science and technology,” says Shepherd, who explains that a great deal of work is done at the atomic level. “At one extreme, we’re producing hand-held


“We work towards a deeper understanding of the world through science and technology”


analysers that will tell you what sort of metal is in a scrapyard. At the other, we’ve got cryogenic tools being developed for use in the latest quantum computers, which have been bought by Google and NASA.” Other tools are being used by researchers looking


to advance our understanding of cancer, Alzheimer’s and dementia. “Te applications for our tools are huge,” says Shepherd. “Tere is a constant demand for everything to be faster and smaller, and nanotechnology is providing the answers. Oxford Instruments’ tools are being used by its customers in applications that will change our world for the better.”


Award-winning technology It’s all terribly clever stuff—for which Oxford Instruments has been awarded no fewer than 14 Queen’s Awards for Enterprise, an accolade given to organisations that excel at international trade, innovation or sustainable development. “A Queen’s Award endorses our commitment to quality and innovation, and gives our customers confidence,” says Chief Executive Jonathan Flint. Shepherd adds that there’s also an internal benefit.


“Receiving the awards increases our people’s pride in the business and the work they do.” Tey also elevate Oxford Instruments’ overseas reputation, particularly in countries where governments are investing heavily in nanotechnology. Combining this solid reputation with creative innovation


enables Oxford Instruments to use what Shepherd calls “smart science” to develop a deeper understanding of the world and produce commercially successful tools and systems. Tis is why, to many people and to numerous global sectors of industry, the tools it develops are as rare and precious as gold dust. — www.oxford-instruments.com


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