Rising Engineering research star receives prestigious Fellowship

Dr Alex Powell

One of the University of Exeter’s rising research stars has been awarded a prestigious Engineering Research Fellowship, it has been announced.

Dr Alex Powell, from Exeter’s Physics and Astronomy department and the newly formed Centre for Metamaterial Research and Innovation (CMRI), has been awarded a highly competitive fellowship from the Royal Academy of Engineering.

These fellowships, awarded to 16 of the UK’s best early-career researchers each year and worth around £500,000, are designed to advance excellence in engineering by enabling early-career researchers to concentrate on basic research in any field of engineering.

Each awardee receives five years’ worth of funding to advance their research careers. They also receive mentoring from experienced Academy Fellows, providing valuable advice and industry links that will enable the researchers to establish themselves as future leaders in their fields.

Dr Powell joined the CMRI in 2019 after a PhD at Oxford, and a postdoc at ICFO in Barcelona researching novel electromagnetic methods for 3D printing. His Fellowship builds on the research into 3D metamaterials that he has been developing as a post-doctoral researcher in Exeter on the EPSRC project “Synthesizing 3D Metamaterials for RF, Microwave and THz Applications”.

Metamaterials are artificial materials with characteristics beyond those found in nature that unlock routes to material and device functionalities not available using conventional approaches.

His five-year programme of work will develop the building blocks of metamaterials, so called ‘meta-atoms’, with controllable microwave and RF properties, with applications including efficient antennas to better reach wireless ‘not-spots’, to boost the radar visibility of small object such as drones, and to make pedestrians and pets more visible to the sensors on self-driving vehicles.

This project will start by examining the fundamental physics of these systems, and they will later be fabricated via 3D printing and tested in the lab.

Dr Powell said: “During the course of this fellowship I will be developing highly scattering 3D particles (‘meta-atoms’) with controllable resonances in the microwave. As well as being a novel system of significant scientific interest, these meta-atoms have applications as superdirective antennas, microwave lenses, and as ‘superscatterers’ to boost the radar visibility of small object such as drones and micro-satellites, or alternately to make pedestrians and pets more visible to the radar of automated vehicles.”

Professor Philip Nelson CBE FREng, Chair of the Royal Academy of Engineering Research Fellowships Steering Group, added: “The variety and impact of the research being done by these awardees demonstrates the depth and breadth of world-leading engineering expertise we have within our universities.

“We would like to thank the government for the Investment in Research Talent initiative, which has provided the Academy with a significant increase in funding to attract and retain the best research talents in the UK and support their research and career development.”

Dr Powell’s Fellowship is one of many recent successes CMRI, a research team of over 30 academics from the disciplines of Physics and Engineering, working with industrial and governmental partners, across theory, to simulation, measurement, fabrication, and the exploitation of metamaterial-based devices. Another recent award includes £850,000 of EPSRC funding to support a UK Metamaterials Network that will help UK researchers and industry to benefit from the global market for metamaterial devices, expected to be worth over $10bn by 2030 (Lux Research 2019).

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