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FOCUS: THE WILLIAM M. STEEN AWARDS


g One of my main concerns is the lack of imagination at universities. It is obvious to me and others working with lasers that they are dealing with an unusual and highly flexible form of energy available in a uniquely controllable form which can be of almost unlimited power, from milliwatts to petawatts, deliverable in times ranging from continuous to femtoseconds or even less, over a huge range of wavelengths. The applications of this energy range


from material processing through to sensing, metrology, communications, medicine, fluorescence, interferometry, holography and x-rays. This is far more than electricity has to offer, and yet there are currently very few or no university departments dedicated to optical energy – amazing!


Could you give an example from you career where academia has interacted well with industry? One of our most successful developments came from the work of Professor Lin Li – a past president of LIA and AILU now at Manchester University – who while exploring the possibility of sealing concrete by surface melting – for ease of cleaning, sterility etc – found that thermal cracking made this difficult.


“If there is any pearl of wisdom, it is to have a belief in yourself and a determination to win, even when the going is tough”


In expanding the beam to try and avoid this he found that he could explosively remove the top centimetre of the surface in reasonably large lumps. Such a simple process was taken up by British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) for scabbling the walls of radioactive tanks prior to decommissioning. Lin Li proved the process worked and BNFL developed it further at TWI and finally used it for real in their works. This initiative of the LIA in instituting annual awards for the best developments coming from industry or universities should further enhance academia’s connectivity with industry, and it is very flattering that the LIA has named these awards after me!


Do you have any pearls of wisdom for those looking to start their own entrepreneurial laser journey? It is certainly stimulating to watch my students set up a business. Those that succeed either need good financial backing and/or a great determination to win. For example, Dr John Powell (see page 42) started Laser Expertise in Nottingham with two friends, they were young, energetic and disciplined in work habits and finance. They spent within their budget by buying a second-hand laser and worked several years for very little return while they expanded the business of a laser job shop. John had a partner for finance, a partner for sales, and he himself had a talent for invention and much more. Together the three of them made a success of the company, which I believe now employs some 60 people. So, if there is any pearl of wisdom, it is to


have a belief in yourself and a determination to win, even when the going is tough. In the laser business the rewards can be great, with much excitement and potential novelty at any time. l


A full version of this interview can be found online at www.lasersystemseurope.com


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