A painful paper cut gave an Aberdeen University academic a bloody good idea that has won a business enterprise award for a university spin-off.
Ian McEwan, a reader in engineering, was scanning research papers on leakage problems in the UK water industry when he cut his finger. As he nursed his injury, he had a Eureka moment.
"It occurred to me that the human body does an excellent job sealing leaks.
The obvious question was whether we could use the body's elegant solution to the leakage problem and adapt it for use in engineering," he said.
When there is sudden bleeding from a wound, the body protects itself by producing blood platelets, which congregate at the site to stem the blood flow. Dr McEwan has developed a novel technology that uses the flow of fluid in pipelines to deliver specially designed mechanical "platelets" to locate and seal leaks.
The Atllas (Advanced Technology for Leak Location and Sealing) technology, initially developed in Aberdeen's engineering department, has resulted in the spin-off company Brinker Technology. Attlas also won the Sir Ian Wood Award for Innovation during this year's Grampian Awards for Business Enterprise.
Dr McEwan is technical director of the company, which employs four full-time staff members, having begun operating 18 months ago.
General manager Iain Chirnside said the platelets could be designed to become part of the pipe wall, sealing the leak and allowing the pipeline to operate until the pipe is repaired. If the site of the leak was not obvious, a transmitter in the platelet could signal where it was. They could also be used to help diagnose a problem if a company feared a pipe might be corroded.
Mr Chirnside said the technology could be used for any pipeline that uses a pressurised flow, which will make it of interest to the oil and gas, water, chemical and nuclear industries.