Q&A with Professor Martin Trusler
Martin Trusler is the Shell Professor of Thermophysics, based in the Department of Chemical Engineering. He became involved with the Techcelerate when a postdoc from his lab, Geraldine Torín Ollarvesjoined the programme to develop her idea for a valve that allows researchers to take samples from high-pressure vessels. Here he explains his perspective of the programme.
Q: What were your hopes at the start of the process?
A: Techcelerate is really all about finding out if there’s a market. We had worked exclusively on the technical aspects of the invention. To be honest, that’s all we really know about. The potential benefit that I saw at the beginning was that Geraldine would get the opportunity to explore possible markets, some we had already thought of and maybe some we hadn’t thought of.
Q: And is that what happened?
A: Yes, Geraldine spent the majority of the time pursuing various organisations to find out whether there was a need for this device. There were other good things about the programme as well. The networking was a fantastic opportunity, and there was mentoring from the College’s Enterprise team and a consultancy-led workshop. Geraldine spent most of the time at our new White City Campus in the Incubator where she was rubbing shoulders with people doing other sorts of innovation and facing similar problems.
Q: Did you have any concerns about Geraldine being away from the lab?
A: In general, postdocs are hired in relation with sponsored research. Sometimes, as in this case, the sponsor is a company who are expecting research to be done on a certain schedule, so suddenly stopping work for three months would impact upon that. However, I felt that it would be possible to cover the absence by a bit of rejigging of our schedule and therefore not impact on our deliverables.
Q: Can you give me an update on the venture?
We’ve filed a patent, so the main activity recently has been refining the patent document. We’re also hoping to try and secure some funding to have a lab assistant who can help us take the technology through another prototype generation, because we’re still some way from a final product. We need to do testing. It works but does it work ten thousand times without failure?
Q: What would you say to other PIs about Techcelerate?
A: We should aim to be supportive of our postdoctoral staff to help them reach their career goals, which in the majority of cases will not be academic positions, so I think this is something that one should have a positive attitude to. There maybe some circumstances which mean not logistically possible for postdocs to be away from the lab, but I think you’ve got to approach it with a positive attitude: can we make it happen? And if you can, you should.