Scotland's Top Innovator

Scotland's Top Innovator

Media information - For immediate release 30/9/04

Over twenty years of research and innovation, which has led to the creation in Scotland of a world record-breaking technology – an ultra-miniature television-quality display built on a silicon chip, is to be recognised by the presentation of the Nation’s top award for innovation.  Dr Ian Underwood, FRSE has been announced the winner of the Gannochy Trust Innovation Award of the Royal Society of Edinburgh for 2004A in recognition of the contribution he has made throughout his career to the development of highly innovative optoelectrical and display devices here in Scotland.  The coveted title, which also carries a cheque for fifty thousand pounds and a specially-commissioned gold medal, will be bestowed upon Dr Underwood by the President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE), Lord Sutherland of Houndwood, at a prestigious awards ceremony to be held at The Royal Museum of Scotland on 1 October 2004.  Following an open competition run by The Royal Society of Edinburgh, the Winner was selected by a distinguished judging panel, Chaired by Lord Ross, and including: Sir Bruce Pattullo, Professor Andy Walker, Dr Ian Sword and Dr Russell Leather.

The Gannochy Trust Innovation Award of the Royal Society of Edinburgh has been created to encourage and reward Scotland ’s young innovators for work which benefits Scotland ’s wellbeing.  The technology Dr Underwood has been developing since the early eighties has helped to generate high-quality jobs and contributed to wealth generation in Scotland .  His work has centred around two distinct technologies – Liquid Crystal on Silicon (LCoS) from the mid 1980s until the late 1990s and, since then, Light Emitting Polymer on Silicon (LEPoS).  LEPoS actually emits light and does not require sunlight or a lamp to illuminate it.  As a direct result of the LCoS innovations introduced by The University of Edinburgh and collaborators, Micropix Technologies Ltd (which became CRL Opto in 2001) was formed in 1998 with headquarters in Dalgety Bay , Fife .  By 2000 the firm employed more than 40 full time staff – around half in Fife and the others in Middlesex.

In 1999, as a further direct result of the innovation, Dr Underwood co-founded MicroEmissive Displays (MED) Ltd. with former RSE Enterprise Fellow, Dr Jeff Wright.  MED designs and produces ultra-miniature television-quality screens based on light emitting polymers (LEP) for use in consumer electronic products such as digital still cameras, digital video cameras and personal viewers for mobile devices.  As MED’s screens typically uses at least 70 per cent less power than commonly used LCD microdisplay modules, it is anticipated that this development will lead to smaller, lighter cameras with longer battery life.  MED’s technology can also produce a highly magnified viewable virtual image in space, as is the case in electronic viewfinders of the type found in camcorders or digital cameras and in wearable or headset displays.  There is also potential for this advanced technology to be a market enabler for hands-free and wearable headset displays that will allow users hands-free access to information, infotainment and entertainment on the move, probably in conjunction with a mobile phone or other wireless devices.  Personal wearable displays are likely to have application in fields including medical, professional, security and industrial environments.

Since its creation, MED has raised approximately £13 million in Venture Capital from Scottish, UK and European funds.  On 20 September the company announced its intention to float on the Alternative Investment Market of the London Stock Exchange.  MED says its market capitalisation is expected to be around £35.5 million.  It has attracted highly qualified, skilled and experienced research and engineering staff from all over Europe to relocate to Scotland .  MED currently employs 35 full time staff, approximately half of whom are qualified to doctoral level.

Dr Underwood has played a leading or significant role in many world firsts:

World Firsts in LCoS ( University of Edinburgh & collaborating companies or institutions)  
1987   World 1st Static RAM based LCoS spatial light modulator – “16X16”  
1990 World 1st Ferroelectric LCoS SLM – “HPSLM”  
1991   World 1st demo of grey scale on ferroelectric LCoS display by field sequential method  
1992   World leading Chemical Mechanical Polishing (CMP) process for surface flatness of LCoS devices  
1994   World 1st demo of full colour on ferroelectric LCoS display by the field sequential method  
1995   World 1st SRAM based ferroelectric LCoS spatial light modulator, “256X256”  
1997   World leading light-blocking strategy for LCoS devices.  
1997   World leading XGA ferroelectric LCoS microdisplay – “SLIMDIS”  
1999 World leading SIFT process for superior surface flatness of LCoS microdisplays,  
2000 World 1st LCoS microdisplay using anti-ferroelectric liquid crystal – “MINDIS”  


World Firsts in LEPoS (MicroEmissive Displays Ltd)  

2000   EZ-Mellor   World 1st Demonstration of colour LEPoS device  
2001   ME1602   World’s smallest color TV screen 
  ME1602   World 1st Demonstration of colour active matrix LEPoS microdisplay  
  ME3201   World 1st Display with built in in-pixel frame store  


World 1st Commercially available colour LEPoS microdisplay  
  ME3203   World 1st Colour display with built-in frame-store,  
  ME3203   World’s lowest-power-consumption TV-quality display  


Reacting to the announcement, Dr Underwood said:

I am delighted to be the recipient of this prestigious award for innovation. It’s an exciting time for MicroEmissive Displays (MED) Ltd. We currently employ 35 full time staff in Scotland and are exporting products designed and made here to customers in Asia. There is potential for our technology to be a market-enabler for hands-free and wearable headset displays that will allow users hands-free access to information, infotainment and entertainment, on the move. By 2008, the market for Consumer Personal Viewers is estimated to be one billion dollars. Winning this award will enable me to undertake an in depth market study to see how we can best advance our innovations.

RSE President, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood said:

Dr Ian Underwood is a very worthy winner of the Gannochy Trust Innovation Award of The Royal Society of Edinburgh. Over a period of some twenty years he has made an outstanding contribution to his field. He has combined vision with technical expertise and demonstrated an admirable adaptability to develop ideas by fulfilling different roles. He and his collaborators have created highly skilled new jobs and are contributing to wealth generation in Scotland. I am grateful to Lord Ross who has Chaired the distinguished selection panel and to its judges: Sir Bruce Pattullo, Professor Andy Walker, Dr Ian Sword and Chairman of Trustees of The Gannochy Trust, Dr Russell Leather. I wish Dr Underwood every continued success.

The Gannochy Trust’s Chairman, Russell Leather said:

The Trustees of the Gannochy Trust are delighted with the very high standard of work submitted for this important award. We share the view of the RSE that it is of great importance for our Nation’s future that we encourage younger people to pursue careers in fields of research which promote Scotland’s inventiveness internationally. Our joint award recognises outstanding individual achievement which contributes to the common good of Scotland. The experience of being a judge for this event has been inspiring. The winning Innovator, Dr Underwood has every reason to be proud of attaining an outstanding level of achievement.

Notes for Editors:

A. About The Gannochy Trust Innovation Award of the Royal Society of Edinburgh

The Gannochy Trust Innovation Award of the Royal Society of Edinburgh is Scotland’s highest accolade for individual achievement in innovation and has been being created to encourage and reward Scotland’s young innovators for work which benefits Scotland’s wellbeing. The Award was presented for the first time in 2003 to Dr Barbara Spruce, Department of Surgery and Molecular Oncology, University of Dundee, for her innovative technology for the treatment of cancer. The award is presented annually to a young innovator whose work has the potential to promote social and economic well-being. Established in partnership between The Gannochy Trust and The Royal Society of Edinburgh, the purpose of the new award is to encourage younger people to pursue careers in fields of research which promote Scotland’s inventiveness internationally, and to recognise outstanding individual achievement which contributes to the common good of Scotland. The prestigious award also seeks to promote Scotland’s research and development capability in new technologies and areas of social importance.

Targeted at a new generation of Scottish innovator, any individual aged 45 or under working in Scotland is eligible to compete for the award. Competition entries from fields of research and development which have demonstrable potential to benefit Scotland’s social or economic wellbeing, have been sought. Funded by The Gannochy Trust, the Award is administered by The Royal Society of Edinburgh.

B. Biographical Information on Dr Ian Underwood, FRSE


B.Sc. (Hons.) Natural Philosophy, University of Glasgow, 1976-1980

M.Sc. Bioengineering, University of Strathclyde, 1982-1983

Ph.D. Applied Optics, University of Edinburgh, 1983-1987


Ferranti Ltd, Edinburgh, Design engineer 1980 - 82,

University of Edinburgh, Department of Psychology, Research assistant, 1986 - 87,

University of Edinburgh, Department of Physics, Research fellow, 1987 - 89

University of Edinburgh, Department of Electrical Engineering, Lecturer, 1989 - present,

- Lecturer, 1989-1996

- Senior Lecturer 1996-2000

- Reader 2000-

- Secondment to MicroEmissive Displays (MED) 2000

- Leave of absence with MED 2002 - present

MicroEmissive Displays Ltd. Co-founder and various roles including:

- Joint Chief Executive (2000 – 2002)

- Product Development Director (2002 – 2003)

- Director of Strategic Marketing (2003 – present)

Personal Awards, Fellowships, Honours etc

Dewar Studentship, University of Edinburgh, 1986-7

Fulbright Fellowship, 1991-2. Held at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Photonics Circle of Excellence Award 1994 (Consultant designer of award winning product).

British Telecom Research Fellowship, 1997. Held at BT Labs, Martlesham.

Ben Sturgeon Award, UK Chapter of Society for Information Display, 2000.

Best paper award, UK Chapter of Society for Information Display, 2002.

Ernst & Young Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year, Scotland, 2003.

Elected to Fellowship of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, 2004.

Corporate awards (MED)

Scottish Enterprise SMART Award, 1999.

Tornado 100 Award, Tornado Insider Magazine, 2002

Tornado 100 Award, Tornado Insider Magazine, 2003

Scottish Executive SPUR PLUS Award, 2003.

Guinness Book of World Records, "World’s smallest colour tv screen", 2004

Research Achievements

A number of world firsts in liquid crystal microdisplays (with The University of Edinburgh and The University of Colorado). Several world firsts in polymer OLED microdisplays (with MicroEmissive Displays Ltd)

Publications & Conference Papers

28 papers published in refereed journals (of which 6 in the last 3 years).

Over 90 conference proceedings papers.

3 patent applications (all in the last 4 years).

Over 70 conference & colloquium presentations including invited presentations over the last three years that include Society for Information Display (SID) USA, SID Mid-Europe, SID UK, Institute of Physics UK, Society for Photo Optical Instrumentation Engineering (SPIE) USA, Semiconductor Equipment Manufacturers Institution (SEMI) Europe and UK, Electronic Displays Forum (EDF) Japan, Intertech OLEDs 2002 USA, Optical Society of America (OSA), Institution of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) USA, Dundee University, Cavendish Lab University of Cambridge.

C. Photographs

Striking images demonstrating the minute scale of MicroEmissive Displays Ltd.’s Microdisplays are available from Micro Emissive Displays:

Tel: +44 (0)131 650 7764

Fax: +44 (0)131 650 7761

A number of .jpgs will be available from Photographer, Gary Doak from the evening of 1 October 2004 (mob: 07836 255 728; 0131 346 2801. Images available:

- Presentation Ceremony;

- Individual Head and shoulder shots of The Winner, Dr Ian Underwood;

- The President of the RSE, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood;

- The Chairman of The Gannochy Trust, Dr Russell Leather.

D. Video Footage

Beta copies of video featuring the winner, Dr Underwood, explaining his work and its importance, are available from Stuart Brown at The Royal Society of Edinburgh (contacts below).

E. The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE)

The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) is Scotland’s National Academy of Science & Letters. It is an independent body with charitable status. The Society organises conferences and lectures for the specialist and for the general public. It provides a forum for informed debate on issues of national and international importance. Its multidisciplinary fellowship of men and women of international standing provides independent, expert advice to key decision-making bodies, including Government and Parliament.

The Society’s Research Awards programme annually awards well over £1.5 million to exceptionally talented young academics and potential entrepreneurs to promote commercial exploitation of inventiveness and boost wealth-generation.

The RSE is active in classrooms from the Borders to the Northern Isles, with a successful programme of lectures and hands-on workshops for primary and secondary school pupils.

The Royal Society of Edinburgh, working as part of the UK and within a global context, is committed to the future of Scotland’s social, economic and cultural well-being. The RSE is Scottish Charity No. SC000470

Further information about the RSE can be found on its website at:

F. The Gannochy Trust

The Gannochy Trust is a grant-making Trust based in Perth, which makes donations to charities in Scotland, with a preference for Perth and its environs. The Trust was founded in 1937 by Arthur Kinmond Bell, whisky distiller and philanthropist, who had previously built a model housing estate of 150 houses in Perth.

In recent years the Trustees have enlarged the estate with a further 63 sheltered houses, which they maintain and administer, in addition to farms, recreation grounds and other properties.

A number of civic, recreational and social projects in Perth bear witness to major charitable support from the Trust. In addition, many small charities in Perth receive regular donations.

Other charitable organisations, large and small throughout Scotland, have been the recipients of donations from the Trust.


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