A new future with concrete and chips: Tech entrepreneurs honoured by the Royal Academy of Engineering are showing the way

The collapse of the banking sector in 2008 showed just how reliant the British economy had become on the City of London for growth, jobs and general prosperity. The recession that followed those dark days exposed the need to rebuild the non-financial side of the economy, but after years of neglect can our manufacturing ever recapture the success it once enjoyed?

One ray of hope for the UK is the growing number of tech entrepreneurs springing up across the country. This has been recognised by the Royal Academy of Engineering, with Silver Medals handed to some of UK's sharpest minds for their contribution to society.

Winners of the award, which are in their 20th year, include Chris Young, the director and former chief engineer at Rolls-Royce; Professor Maire O'Neill from Queen's University Belfast: and Peter Brewin and Will Crawford of Concrete Canvas. Dervilla Mitchell, chair of the academy's awards committee, said: "The Silver Medals recognise individual excellence, not only technically, but also in the ability to turn knowledge and ideas into useful, wealth-creating products and services.

"This is essential to UK prosperity, and this year's winners are excellent examples of the kind of world-class entrepreneurs that the academy is championing through its Engineering for Growth campaign and supporting through its Enterprise Hub.

"The UK boasts world-leading expertise in digital security, computer programming, aerospace, and manufacturing, and our 2014 medalists demonstrate the strength of knowledge and skill in these areas that will enable us to maintain this position for years to come. They are outstanding role models for the next generation."

Chris Young (top) of Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines at Rolls-Royce

Having joined the engineering giant Rolls-Royce as a school leaver in 1987, Chris Young now stands at the helm of a multibillion-pound project that could have revenues equivalent to a FTSE 100 company in 10 years' time.

Mr Young is the driving force behind the Rolls-Royce Trent XWB aircraft engine, which will power the new Airbus A350 XWB aircraft that comes into service this year. More than 1,600 of the Trent XWB engines are already on order to drive civil airliners for 40 customers, making it the fastest-selling civil large engine ever.

Before this, his work focused on the energy sector, where he worked closely with the Government on public policy.

He believes talented school leavers and students should consider a career in engineering, rather than heading for the City as many do.

"This kind of career is mentally exciting, intellectually challenging and stimulating. Just look at my current project as an example. We work on the kind of things many of us use in our everyday lives," he said.

Peter Brewin (middle) and Will Crawford, founders, Concrete Canvas

"A lot of the development work comes up in the bar," admits Peter Brewin.

The idea of "inflatable concrete buildings" certainly sounds like the result of a jar too many. But Mr Brewin and Will Crawford, both 35, were deadly serious about the concept and the "elegant physics" involved when they were studying for an Imperial College and Royal Academy of Arts course 10 years ago.

What was spun out of this initial thinking has turned out to be a wholly more successful innovation: a fabric filled with concrete that rapidly sets when filled with water. This creates a thin, uniform layer with no cracks in it.

The first order for their South Wales-based factory was from the British military for use in Afghanistan.

However, the duo's big break came with an order from a rail contractor that wanted a quick and cheaper way to line ditches by the track.

As the material can set overnight, the lining is in place 10 times faster than the traditional method of pouring concrete. The lightness of the product means that no expensive roads have to be built to transport concrete to the site.

It is also versatile, with Concrete Canvas being used to create outdoor furniture at Rome's Maxxi museum and as a secondary container around oil tanks. It will soon also be used for more technical purposes, such as stabilising slopes.

Professor Maire O'Neill (bottom), inventor of security chips used in over 100 million television set-top boxes

Any student who reckons that internships are a waste of time should think again: as an undergraduate, Máire O'Neill worked for Amphion Semiconductor in Belfast.

"I was their first ever intern," says Ms O'Neill. "They decided to get me to look at this new area of data protection."

She impressed Amphion so much that the directors agreed to fund her PhD, where she developed an encryption chip that the company commercialised for television set-top boxes.

Does that mean she's the reason why basic package subscribers can't see the odd Premier League match on Sky Sports or a James bond flick on Sky Movies? "Yep, that's me," says Ms O'Neill, who went on to become one of Queen's University's youngest-ever professors aged just 32.

Three years on and she's looking what she claims is the "exciting area of post-quantum cryptography".

The British government has invited Ms O'Neill to a workshop next month to discuss the impact of this leap in technology that would see millions of parallel computations take place at any one time. Nearly everything computer based would be almightily speeded up, a development that is maybe less than a decade away.

Ms O'Neill warns that this would mean technology is far more vulnerable to cyber-attack.

News
people And here is why...
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
Voices
voicesBy the man who has
Sport
Arsene Wenger tried to sign Eden Hazard
footballAfter 18 years with Arsenal, here are 18 things he has still never done as the Gunners' manager
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson star in The Twilight Saga but will not be starring in the new Facebook mini-movies
tvKristen Stewart and Stephenie Meyer will choose female directrs
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
books(and not a Buzzfeed article in sight)
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedyFirst national survey reveals Britain’s comedic tastes
Arts and Entertainment
Twerking girls: Miley Cyrus's video for 'Wrecking Ball'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran performs at his Amazon Front Row event on Tuesday 30 September
musicHe spotted PM at private gig
News
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Real Staffing

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Real Staffing are currently lo...

Trust Accountant - Kent

NEGOTIABLE: Austen Lloyd: TRUST ACCOUNTANT - KENTIf you are a Chartered Accou...

Graduate Recruitment Consultant - 2013/14 Grads - No Exp Needed

£18000 - £20000 per annum + OTE £30000: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 b...

Law Costs

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - Law Costs Draftsperson - NICHE...

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?