Design Council

Light-induced tinnitus relief, anti-counterfeiting from butterfly wings and a cancer-diagnosing ‘intelligent needle’: scientists and designers collaborate to develop next generation innovative British products

Press release   •   Mar 27, 2012 12:56 BST

The unveiling of the concepts at the Design Council’s headquarters marks the culmination of the latest phase of the Design Council’s mentoring programme for universities. The programme, funded by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS), links universities with designers to help find user-centred commercial applications for new technologies, and create compelling materials and prototypes to attract investment to take the nascent concepts to market. Investors, venture capitalists and others have been invited to the event to examine the ideas and meet the teams with a view to brokering investment which will see the technologies further developed and introduced to the market. 

The technologies and their applications / products include:

  • Anti-counterfeiting technology which exploits some of the properties of the natural wing structure of butterflies, and can be used to ensure authenticity of high value goods such as pharmaceuticals and aircraft parts
  • A novel treatment for the common medical condition ‘Tinnitus’ (ringing in the ears) which uses certain frequencies of light to stimulate areas of the brain resulting in relief for 40% of users
  • An ‘intelligent needle’ which uses laser light to analyse the chemical fingerprint of tissues in situ and in real time, allowing detection of cancers without the need for removing tissue samples / biopsies
  • An ‘inflatable operating theatre’ - a low-cost, portable and realistic training environment for trainee surgeons and medics, which creates a much more authentic feel to surgical technique tuition, whilst freeing up ‘real’ operating theatres for use on patients
  • A novel way of creating the decontaminating gas ozone within pre-sealed food packaging to ensure freshness and prolong shelf life, without the need for large equipment or expensive gas storage/handling facilities
  • A new innovation in capturing solar energy for domestic water heating, which is low cost and much more easily and cheaply retro-fitted to homes than conventional solar panels
  • A low-cost, cheap an efficient process for coating super-thin films onto surfaces, in the production of fuel cells, catalysts and solar cells.

The Design Council recruited seven universities – University  of Exeter, University of Glasgow, University of Reading, University of Leicester, University of Ulster, University of Bristol and Imperial College London to join the mentoring programme in July 2011.

Each university brought forward four technologies developed by their academics, which they thought might have commercial potential, or which they felt should be attracting more investor interest. Each was assigned a ‘design mentor’ to help them through the process of identifying the
commercial potential of the technologies, what the real-market applications could be, developing and visualising these, and in some cases creating
prototypes to demonstrate how products could look and feel. 

Head of the university mentoring programme for the Design Council, Ellie Runcie, said: 
“The transition from the lab to the market is tough and design – which is often overlooked during the critical early stages - is a significant factor in shaping user-friendly marketable products and services for the future. New UK companies, even whole industries, could result from the technologies we’re unveiling today, and that could mean a major boost to economic growth, jobs and a better quality of life.” 

Previous  successes with the programme include the Geni-e-Meter, a smart electric meter that enables users to view and control individual energy use of each appliance in their home, thermochromic films for windows that change colour with temperature controlling the internal temperature of the room, and Heartlight, a heart rate monitoring system for babies. 

For further information please contact: Nigel Campbell, Head of Communications, Design Council on 0207 420 5282 / 07825 442 339.

For images please contact Margarita Ktoris, Marketing and Communications Officer, Design Council on 0207 420 5213 /

Notes to Editors:

The technologies in more detail are:

Tinnitus Spectral Therapy, University of Leicester: A technology to provide periodic respite for sufferers of Tinnitus

The University of Leicester working with Orthoscopics Limited has discovered that exposure to light of individually tailored colour can provide acute relief from the symptoms of Tinnitus in 40% of suffers. The University aims to commercialise this technology that can be used by patients to achieve welcome respite from their symptoms. The technology is based on the use of Red, Green, and Blue LEDs tuned specifically to each individual. A patent has recently been filed. Initial studies at Leicester have produced very promising results and more trials are currently being planned.  

The Intelligent Needle, University of Bristol: The provision of real-time analysis of tissue type and disease state

A team of researchers based at Bristol University and Gloucester Royal Hospital have developed an “intelligent needle” that uses Raman spectroscopic techniques to analyse biological tissue in real time. Raman spectroscopy uses laser light to provide an analysis or chemical fingerprint of materials such as human tissue, and can distinguish between tissue types in the laboratory. It is difficult to create a sensitive probe small enough to fit within a needle, however, we have demonstrated the early feasibility of this with a lab-based prototype, a “works like model”. This device has been successfully tested on human lymph node biopsy samples. There are many potential medical applications but one of the
most promising is in the diagnosis of cancer. Currently suspected cancer is diagnosed by a biopsy, where a sample of the suspect tissue is removed and is sent for specialist analysis. In comparison the Raman spectroscopic test is potentially quicker, more accurate, cheaper, and does not require tissue to be removed.

SolaCatcher, University of Ulster: A low cost, solar water heating system

SolaCatcher is an innovative solar water heating solution that can both collect solar energy and retain stored heat for a prolonged period of time. The technology is relatively low in cost and provides a shorter payback period over existing distributed solar water heating systems. By virtue of its design, the SolaCatcher can be easily integrated into most structures providing a relatively hassle free install with minimal disruption to existing water supply.

Nanostructured films, University of Reading, An efficient, clean and cheap process used in production of fuel cells, catalysts and solar cells

Current electro-templating methods for the preparation of nanostructured materials on electrode surfaces usually require several steps and highly viscous materials. They are also often inconvenient and costly. Our new process uses a type of nanostructured template that can be deposited in the form of a thin film by standard coating techniques. It overcomes current disadvantages and presents an efficient, cheap and clean templating process. Commercialisation is at an early stage and needs funding to enable feasibility work to demonstrate its value to potential licensees. There is a need to communicate complex technologies effectively to a range of potential investors.

Arkiris, University of Exeter: Anti-counterfeit technologies exploiting the natural wing structure of butterflies

A team of physicists from the University of Exeter and QinetiQ have developed new technologies based on their discoveries in the field of tailored electromagnetic materials – in part made by studying the wings of butterflies. The project has focused on the design, theory and fabrication of prototypes of man-made structures which can manipulate light in a unique manner. This bio inspired technology has been further developed towards applications in a range of different market sectors such as anti-counterfeit features. A typical currency anti-counterfeiting feature is copied within six to nine months of its release. In order to stay one step ahead of the counterfeiters, a constant reserve of innovative features is required which can be deployed as soon as the existing measures become ineffective. There are a wide range of applications for these features such as brand protection for high value goods and authenticity validation for safety critical products like pharmaceuticals or air craft replacement parts. Using the multi-layer structures we have developed a portfolio of overt, covert and forensic features. 

Anacail, University of Glasgow: Decontamination of items in sealed packs through the creation of ozone within them, with clear application in the food industry  

Ozone is a powerful germicide which is ideal for surface decontamination and/or odour control. It can be created from the oxygen in the air, using only an electrical discharge and there are no toxic residues if ozone is created and used in this way, as unused ozone quickly decays to oxygen. Until now there were practical obstacles to the safe use of ozone that meant its large scale use in commercial production lines has been very limited: it is impractical and near impossible to store ozone gas because of its short lifetime; in common with most powerful biocides, it is a very poisonous gas. High voltages are also required to make ozone gas from air via electrical discharges. The system developed at Glasgow
overcomes all these obstacles and provides a safe and effective means to generate ozone gas in a sealed pack without opening it or otherwise
compromising the pack integrity. 

Inflatable Operating Theatre, Imperial College London: A portable, low-cost training environment for surgeons and medics

A portable, low-cost training environment for surgeons and medics, that simulates their working environment for surgical skills training. Training for surgeons and other medics is currently conducted using either unrealistic models or costly simulations within real operating theatre spaces. The cost is a significant hindrance to the wider uptake of medical simulation, where a dedicated static simulation facility can cost up to £1m. Imperial
College experts working on surgical training curriculum have worked with Studiohead designers to develop a low-cost versatile simulation environment. This comprises of an inflatable enclosure and various pieces of simulated surgical equipment such as an operating lamp and anaesthesia machine, as well as immersive sound, visual effects, and differing prosthetics allowing simulation of wound care, keyhole surgical
procedures and A&E scenarios. This enables observation and recording of role-played scenarios to train surgeons

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