Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish National Party, has visited his alma mater, St Andrews University, to see a revolutionary incubator for research development.
The Pounds 1 million photonics innovation centre in the school of physics and astronomy is backed by the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council, the university and Scottish Enterprise. The centre designs, constructs and tests prototypes based on the world-leading research of the university's photonics group.
One of the technology-transfer projects is the development of a low-cost laser that can be used with a fibre-optic light-rope.
An Edinburgh-based company, Lifor Ltd, approached St Andrews to help develop the light-emitting rope. When one end is illuminated, the rope lights up along its entire length. Because there is no electrical power in the rope, it could be used in high-risk situations where there is a danger of explosion, such as offshore oil and gas platforms.
The centre is also helping BAe Systems Engineering to develop the next generation of laser-based defence systems. It is keeping the defence organisation well informed about technological advances.
Mr Salmond also saw 21st-century technology applied to ancient political records. Keith Brown of the Scottish history department is heading a project to digitise the records of the old Scottish Parliament, which existed until 1707, and to publish them, with full translations, on CD-Rom and the internet. The research team will digitise a 19th-century printed edition of some of the records and add unpublished manuscript material. This will create a user-friendly research tool, not only for professional historians, but also for a wider audience.