A wizard with computers and cash

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The Independent Online
Professor Alan Purvis is a computer wizard. He is also a financial wizard, an academic in the vanguard of those making money out of university research labs, who gives the lie to those who say academics are out of touch.

A Durham University electronics specialist, Prof Purvis is an executive director of the North East Microelectronics Centre, a joint venture with Newcastle University offering university expertise in high technology to commercial customers. The centre was founded last month as a vehicle to offer researchers' skills to microelectronics manufacturers. It built on the success of another Durham venture, the Regional Centre for Electronics Technologies, set up to help firms develop advanced microelectronics for a plethora of applications.

Set up with pounds 1.1m from the European Social Fund to improve prospects for inward investment by tapping into academic expertise, it shows the kind of thing going on in British higher education to link know-how with commerce. "No matter how much money businesses have got for research, they cannot research everything and pursue every avenue," says Prof Purvis. "To get money from companies for research is just as worthwhile as to get it from research councils.

"We built on our work with companies like GEC and British Aerospace to set up an academic consultancy unit targeting firms.

"The Government's venture capital idea is exciting for us, because we have some ideas for the next two years which could be developed.

"Of course if you get the opportunity to develop products and ideas our research students get the chance to work on the cutting edge."