Hugh Cormican, managing director of the Belfast-based company Andor Technology, one of Queen's University's most successful spin-off businesses, has won a national physics award for transforming academic excellence into commercial success, writes Olga Wojtas.
The Institute of Physics has awarded Dr Cormican its 2000 Paterson medal and prize, which recognises outstanding contributions, particularly in developing or inventing systems or devices that show potential for commercial exploitation.
Andor was set up in 1989 as a joint venture between academics, the university's investment company, QUBIS Ltd, and American optics company Oriel.
Andor produces sophisticated computer-controlled cameras used by scientists and researchers, which can cope with very low light levels and very high speed. The cameras can measure extremely weak signals down to the level of individual photons, and at speeds of less than two nanoseconds.
The company's optical detection systems are now used across the world, including the Latin American rainforests, where the degree to which trees reflect light has been found to show how healthy they are.
They are also used at the Great Barrier Reef, where academics are investigating the evolution of fish vision in ultraviolet light. Andor Technology's Ramanspec equipment can also help analyse, for example, whether a substance is sugar or drugs.
Dr Cormican said: "I am obviously delighted to win this award. By supporting and encouraging my work, Queen's deserves much of the credit."
Andor now employs about 50 staff, many of them Northern Ireland science graduates, and it offers financial support and industrial experience for postgraduates.