Queen’s University opens new stg£7.5m technology hub

8 Jun 2010

A new £7.5m international research hub, which will bring major advances in computer hard drives, new and improved sensors and a host of advanced coatings, opened today at Queen’s University Belfast.

In partnership with Seagate Technology, new levels of information and data storage will be just one of the groundbreaking potential applications that will be created in new research hub ANSIN. By attracting a variety of international companies to ANSIN, it is expected that advances in new medical sensors, security devices and many other areas will also be made possible.

Seagate has provided £7.5m sterling worth of equipment to ANSIN, which is based in the School of Mathematics and Physics at Queen’s. Unparallelled in third-level physics education in the United Kingdom, the ANSIN facility is one of the Top 10 industry-linked university research centres in the world.

In ANSIN, researchers will work on new advanced materials from the micron scale, about 50 times smaller than the width of a human hair, all the way down to layers of materials just a few atoms thick.

Impact of work at ANSIN

Explaining how work at ANSIN will impact positively on people’s daily lives, Prof Robert Bowman, director of Queen’s Centre for Nanostructured Media said: “Twenty-five years ago my music collection filled many shelves, now I’ve maybe 100 times more music and it fits in my pocket. The science, technology and manufacturing required to make that happen has been revolutionary.

“Before the end of the decade you will have the ability to carry a vast digital library of text, images, music and HD movies with you in the same way. To make that possible will again require revolutionary developments of advanced materials and their exploitation in as-yet unimagined ways. This is all only possible by understanding and exploiting fundamental physics and materials science questions. This is what we are aiming to do at ANSIN.

“We are incredibly fortunate to have Seagate as a founding partner in ANSIN, for not only are they supporting our first major project, but most significantly they want to see other partners who join ANSIN use the equipment they have provided. We hope that new partners will bring their ideas into ANSIN and that by co-operatively working with other partners in the hub, new inventions will arise and products can be improved.”

ANSIN was first raised as a concept following discussions between Queen’s, Invest NI and Seagate, following Invest NI’s £12.7m offer of support for a £58m research and development investment by Seagate in its Springtown campus. Seagate has also committed to a £1.7m collaborative research project at Queen’s, which is funding 10 research posts at the university.

Tech advances for business sectors

Queen’s Vice-Chancellor Prof Peter Gregson added: “I am delighted and proud that a global leader such as Seagate has chosen Queen’s as the location for ANSIN, an industry-university collaborative research centre which will create real technological advances for many business sectors. Other companies will be encouraged to join ANSIN and interact to support their own particular needs.

“ANSIN builds on Queen’s internationally recognised research strength in advanced materials, with special reference to nano-structured media, to promote an ecosystem for the creation, transfer and exploitation of knowledge. This new facility will encourage further investment by indigenous companies and multi-national corporates in Northern Ireland.”

Seagate is also providing stg£250,000 to fund business development activities that will encourage other companies to participate in ANSIN.

Dr Kenneth Allen, Seagate’s vice-president of development, said the joint project with Queen’s would not only contribute directly to Seagate’s R&D learning but would also provide an ongoing flow of highly skilled engineers into local industry.

“ANSIN provides a unique opportunity to make a difference for Northern Ireland and for Seagate in the long-term. By establishing this initiative, we hope to provide the spark which leads to a stronger base of magnetic and nanotechnology capability in these islands.

“The economic growth that’s generated by these research fields will happen somewhere. From our way of thinking, it might as well be in Northern Ireland. We look forward to broadening our strategic partnership with Queen’s and Invest NI. We are also keen to encourage other corporate and academic entities to find out more about ANSIN – how it can help their business or university, and ways in which they can get involved in helping make it a global success,” Allen said.

Photo: Queen’s University Belfast

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years