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Cobalt Light Systems wins MacRobert Award from Royal Academy of Engineering

Cobalt Light Systems has won the prestigious 2014 MacRobert Award for its unique liquids scanner for airports, it was announced last night.

Cobalt Light Systems, which was up against engineering giant Rolls Royce and the fast growing QinetiQ company OptaSense, pioneered a technique to identify, within seconds, the chemical composition of liquids sealed within non-metallic containers without opening them. The Cobalt team has used the technology to develop an airport security scanner that can identify potential liquid explosives. Cobalt’s Insight100, now installed in 65 airports across Europe, could help lift the blanket ban for passengers carrying liquids in hand luggage.

Watch the MacRobert Award finalists video

Watch the MacRobert Award finalists video

Dr. Paul Loeffen, Chief Executive Officer, said “This is a real coming of age for Cobalt. The MacRobert award is a fantastic accolade for the entire team and a real vote of confidence in the company.”

Cobalt Light Systems was spun out from the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in 2008.

Dr. Loeffen added “It is tremendously satisfying to take a research discovery from the laboratory and develop it into a viable commercial product which is already enhancing passenger safety at airports. Receiving this award is truly a great success for UK science and engineering.”

Professor Pavel Matousek, Cobalt’s Chief Scientific Officer and an STFC Senior Fellow, first devised the concept while researching ultrafast Raman spectroscopy at the STFC’s Central Laser Facility.

“It was very satisfying to uncover a new laser method with such wide range of applications and of such a high societal impact,” he said. “Suddenly we were able to use this method to probe the chemical content of opaque bottles without opening them, and scan biological tissues non-invasively at a depth previously unimaginable.”

Professor Matousek added, “This scientific breakthrough enabled Cobalt to develop and engineer the new scanner that is now deployed in 8 out the 10 largest airports in Europe, making air travel safer for all of us– and other exciting applications are still looming on the horizon.”

Synonymous with spotting the ‘next big thing’ in the technology sector, the MacRobert Award is the UK’s longest running national prize for engineering. It identifies outstanding innovation with proven commercial promise and tangible societal benefit.

The unique scanning technology developed by Cobalt is now being applied to research in other disciplines. For example, in collaboration with University College London it is being used to develop a way to diagnose bone disease much earlier, promising to enable patients to seek treatment at an earlier stage. It is also being tested in research, in partnership with the University of Exeter, to analyse the chemical composition of breast tissue following mammograms which have identified ‘shadows’ that need further investigation. The non-invasive, painless technique has a potential to replace the needle biopsy and deliver an accurate, on-the-spot diagnosis.

Notes for editors:

Cobalt Light Systems was established in 2008 to develop its novel technologies into a range of Raman applications for laboratory and industrial analysis. The underlying technology is exclusive to the company and was invented at the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in the UK.

The MacRobert Award. First presented in 1969, the MacRobert Award is widely regarded as the most coveted in the industry. Founded by the MacRobert Trusts, the Award is now presented by the Royal Academy of Engineering after a prize fund was established with donations from the MacRobert Trusts, the Academy and British industry. For more information, visit:

The Royal Academy of Engineering. As the UK's national academy for engineering, we bring together the most successful and talented engineers for a shared purpose: to advance and promote excellence in engineering. We provide analysis and policy support to promote the UK's role as a great place to do business. We take a lead on engineering education and we invest in the UK's world-class research base to underpin innovation. We work to improve public awareness and understanding of engineering. We are a national academy with a global outlook. We have four strategic challenges: Drive faster and more balanced economic growth; foster better education and skills; lead the profession; promote engineering at the heart of society.