Here at Jumpstart we specialise in a very particular type of transport – the type that moves businesses from A to B, where A is an Assessment of your R&D tax credit eligibility and B is you Benefiting fully from the money you’re entitled to. Like other types of transport, ours can be broken down into infrastructure, operations and the vehicles themselves.
Infrastructure first. For us, that isn’t roads or railways but the Government’s R&D tax credit scheme. Introduced in 2000 to stimulate innovative activity in manufacturing and technology, the scheme is as generous as it is under-utilised. To date only around 11,700 claims have been processed, at a value of £1.2bn each year in R&D tax relief from HMRC. Many more thousands of companies aren't claiming, leaving around £10bn unclaimed since 2000.
Next up is operations – the legalities in place for operating transport systems. For us, that’s the rules of the scheme, which are both extensive and complex. Use them to your advantage and they can smooth your passage, but fall foul of them and they can act as a roadblock.
Last but certainly not least is vehicles, which in the general definition of transport refers to planes, trains and automobiles. So what are the different means of getting an R&D tax credit claim off the ground? Well you can do it yourself, by compiling a detailed technical report and exhaustive financial documentation. HMRC provides plenty of guidance – it runs to several hundred pages in fact.
You could use an accountant, but they’ll typically point you in the direction of the same scheme rulebook. Once you’ve read the rules, had a stab at identifying eligible activity and expenditure and justifying your claim, your accountant may be able to tell you how much you can expect back. Again, it’s hardly a super-charged mode of transport.
For that you need an R&D tax credit specialist – someone who handles claims day in, day out, works closely with the HMRC teams directly responsible for approving, challenging or rejecting claims, and has a proven track record of getting businesses to where they want to B.
Posted on Tuesday, 11th June, 2013
Alzheimer’s disease represents a major burden in our ageing society. Yet current treatments are limited at best and often ineffective in preventing the progression of the condition.
Affecting up to 10% of all people over the age of 65, Alzheimer’s is due to abnormal deposits of proteins - called neurofibrillary tangles (NFTs) - in the brain that interfere with its function. Over the course of time, it causes debilitating symptoms like memory loss, personality changes and reductions in problem solving ability.
While several theories have been postulated to help prevent the onset of dementia - some with very dubious evidence – there is no clear consensus on what works.
Recently, however, Dr Li and colleagues from Harvard University have made a series of novel and groundbreaking discoveries in mice that could have implications for how we manage and treat our elders in the future.
They have shown that mice exposed to an “enriched environment”, whereby they are given a veritable smörgåsbord of toys and equipment to play with, had less protein deposits in their brains when compared to mice that were brought up in a dull, dreary cage.
They also demonstrated that being exposed to an enriched environment activates chemical pathways within the brain that directly prevented the hippocampus, the part of the brain concerned with memory, from losing its function.
They also showed that if mice were given a drug that also acted on the same pathway, they could also prevent a similar loss of hippocampal function. The drug in question is called a B-adrenergic agonist and is a commonly used to manage asthma, both in children and adults.
Although clearly not the elixir of youth, these mice models provide a novel and exciting method for trying to prevent and manage dementia and could see elderly patients being referred for “cognitive enhancement therapy” and being put on preventative treatment for dementia in the same way we do for heart disease and strokes.
Posted on Thursday, 6th June, 2013
You know that there are certain universal truths that rarely, if ever fail us….and one of them is this – if you organise a barbeque in Scotland in advance, it will rain.
The universe did not let us down last week when we had our first Jumpstart barbeque of the year. The start of the week was glorious, oh yes, we thought, its going to be a wonderful week for al fresco dining…..then, as is always the case….everything deteriorated and by the time Friday rolled around it was wet and really kind of cold!
However, this would not and could not dampen the spirits and fuelled by some rather spectacular punch, plenty of beer and some delicious sausages we did what we do best around here and had a good time anyway!
It got me thinking though, about the science of barbequing….I hail from the Antipodies, where we take our barbeques very seriously indeed (I have to admit to having worries about letting 2 British boys loose on the barbie, but they did not do a bad job at all).
There’s a lot to it, you need the right fuel (debates rage on what is best - wood or charcoal?…and there are those that feel that a gas barbeque is nothing short of sacrilege), then you need to have the fuel settled to just the right temperature before slinging the meat on…and of course the meat…what is best? How should it be marinated (or marinated at all?) is it acceptable to cook tofu and vegetables? And then of course there is the question of how everything should be cooked!
There are so many variables, its practically R&D in itself, which means the only course of action is to set up experiments throughout the summer to determine and resolve these technical uncertainties…and it will, of course, rain.
Posted on Friday, 31st May, 2013
Phones that fold up in your pocket, laptops that you can roll up and shove in a drawer, clothes that charge your phone while you walk – fantasy? Not if scientists from Texas are to be believed. By modifying a bendable polymer to more efficiently store electrical charge they may have brought us closer to a technology that would revolutionise our modern gadgets: flexible batteries.
The design of mobile phones, MP3 players and other small electrical devices is driven by the need to accommodate relatively large, rechargeable batteries. Freeing designers from the need to incorporate these batteries could change consumer electronics forever.
Currently, the most commonly used rechargeable batteries are of the ‘lithium-ion’ type. These batteries are often bulky and under certain conditions can be flammable, famously grounding the Boeing 787 Dreamliner fleet earlier this year. These problems have led chemical engineers to try and look for alternatives.
One possibility is to improve the function of more flexible materials, something Prof. Jodie L. Lutkenhaus and her group at Texas A&M University have been working on. The researchers took a known polymer and modified it to dramatically improve its suitability as a battery. The polymer, polyaniline, is extremely useful for making batteries – in theory. Previous attempts to make batteries from polyaniline have foundered because it degrades easily. The researchers remedied this by adding propanesulphonic polyacid to the polymer and found that it prevented the degradation.
They then gave the polymer a porous structure and mixed in some vanadium pentoxide to increase the charge capacity of the battery. The resulting porous polyaniline battery is flexible, non-flammable and long-lived. The US Air Force are certainly interested, having awarded Lutkenhaus $350,000 to continue her work into flexible polymer batteries. In the near future these batteries could be powering anything from an electronic book to a military drone.
Posted on Thursday, 16th May, 2013
Through these posts I’d love to give you an insight in to the beating heart of the Jumpstart process....drum role please…the Technical Analysts!
You probably already know that Jumpstart’s uniqueness in the R&D tax credit market lies in its use of TA’s who are all scientists, engineers and IT guys and like, you know, geeks…and we all know that geeks are a strange pale, speccy little breed who never go outside and spend their days reading comics, watching Star Trek and playing computer games. Well, here’s the big shock….that’s not always true!!!
For a start us TA’s are a sporty bunch (and not just on the wii….), between us we run, swim (the open water variety, who needs a pool!), surf, showjump (that’s on horses!), golf and cycle and there is even the odd extreme sport….mountain boarding, wake boarding or horse boarding anyone?
We know how to socialise (translation, we all enjoy the pub!) and have been known to attend the odd party, gig or music festival. There are even (shock horror of horrors) a few of us with tattoos (and no they are not of chemical symbols).
Ok, so I’ll concede that despite outwardly ungeekish appearances, there are times that we all geek out…I’ll leave you with a joke that we had a good giggle at the other day….”so I heard that oxygen and magnesium got together and I was like O Mg”…and if you don’t get it that’s ok, that’s why we’re here to be your scientific and technical experts.
Posted on Friday, 10th May, 2013
Nanotechnology, half a million microscopic lenses, and a collaborative effort spanning several R&D teams from Singapore have been combined to create a plastic filter capable of converting 2D images into 3D. So, what’s new? Well this time, you won’t need any 3D glasses, which opens up the exciting prospect of 3D displays for phones and other electronic devices.
The 0.1 milimetre-thick plastic 3D filter, which works on the basis of lenticular lens technology, shares its working principles with integral photography: developed by the Nobel Laureate Gabriel Lippmann in 1908. Both technologies use a layer containing multiple lenses closely packed together to break an image into different portions. Using a method called nanoimprinting, the half a million microscopic lenses were arranged into a particular pattern, so that the different portions of an image converge to give a clear 3D image.
Once the scientists, based in Singapore, had developed their screen they collaborated with an R&D team at A*STAR, Singapore, to improve the quality of the filter. The result is a screen with enough clarity and transparency that it reduces the amount of backlighting required so much that it makes the possibility of applying the filter to smaller electronic devices, which have smaller batteries, a promising prospect.
What is particularly exciting about this new 3D filter is that it can be applied to existing 2D devices. The team has already developed software for Apple iOS and Android, which allows users to convert 2D images into clear 3D images. Software allowing computer game designers to convert existing 2D content into 3D compatible versions has also been announced. Exploit Technologies Pte Ltd, the new start-up company who will be marketing the 3D filter, hope their product could also facilitate a new form of digital identification for banks and other corporations.
Posted on Tuesday, 16th April, 2013
There is renewed hope that hundreds of patients suffering from paralysis due to spinal cord injuries may walk again thanks to a remarkable feat of engineering called the “MindWalker” that has more than a touch of “the singularity” about it. This machine allows paralysed patients to operate a robotic exoskeleton by thoughts alone, allowing them to walk unaided.
The MindWalker researchers have pioneered powerful sensors known as the BNCI (Brain-Neural Computer Interface), which can pick up the naturally occurring electrical signals generated by the brain’s motor cortex, without the need for invasive probes or complex electrodes. The BNCI sensors are woven onto a skull-cap and are sensitive enough to detect brainwaves through a human skull. This allows the subject to place and remove the MindWalker’s sensors just as easily as they would a baseball cap.
The MindWalker’s on-board computers run powerful algorithms that can process and sharpen the signals. In addition, the algorithms can learn patterns and sequences of movements, meaning that, in time, it will be able to predict the user’s movements. It is hoped that this ‘evolving’ processor will lead to more natural and fluid movements.
The researchers, from various European institutions, have also built and tested their first prototype exoskeleton. Weighing around 30kg and capable of supporting a 100kg man, it incorporates gyroscopes that allow the robot to self-correct itself and provide balance as the patient makes their first (often unsteady) steps.
With a £2million grant from the European Union, the researchers feel that the sky is the limit – or Mars to be precise. They believe that the MindWalker could be used by astronauts on long space voyages to prevent muscle atrophy as well as in the rehabilitation of frail and elderly patients.
This technology has already been tested in an able-bodied cohort and testing in paraplegics will soon be under way. While very much in its infancy, the MindWalker could prove to be the saviour that millions of paralysed patients are waiting for.
Posted on Monday, 25th March, 2013
It’s been an exciting few weeks in supernova research recently, though studying the incredibly high-energy explosions that are the final stages of a star’s active life could not reasonably be called dull.
The Palomar Transient Factory data archive, housed at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, USA, may have detected a previously only theoretical link between massive stars shedding huge amounts of material, and their subsequent explosion as a supernova. The event was observed using a robotic telescope and an automated computer system, which looked for massive stars surrounded by a thin hydrogen sphere, predicted to be a feature of the penultimate material shedding. These were tagged for later observation. Now one of these tagged stars has gone supernova, providing the first conclusive evidence of a causal link between supernovas and material shedding.
Meanwhile, the mysterious origins of cosmic rays have been linked to supernovae. Cosmic rays are very high-energy particles travelling at speeds close to the speed of light. Scientists believed that the rays originated during supernovae, though the finer details of their creation were unknown.
Now a team of astronomers at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Germany, have taken a closer look at the remnants of supernova called SN1006. When the supernova was first observed in the year 1006, it was bright enough to cast visible shadows during the daytime.
Using a device called an integrated field spectrograph for the first time, the group studied what was happening at the ‘shock front’ a place where high-speed material ejected by the supernova is ploughing into stationary interstellar matter. They were able to observe not only the properties of the ejected gas, but the variation in composition across the front, revealing that there were many very rapidly moving protons in the gas. While these protons are not the cosmic rays themselves, they could be the ‘seed particles’ for them. These particles may interact with the material in the shock front, producing the high energies required for cosmic ray creation.
Posted on Thursday, 7th March, 2013
Hailing from all over the world and a myriad different industry sectors, we’re an eclectic bunch here at Jumpstart. Almost as eclectic as a fine wine list, as one of our Business Development Team, who spent the best part of eight years working in the wine trade, is wont to remind us. “That’s quite some leap,” clients often say to her, “from wine into R&D tax credits”. But as Laetitia always explains: “It’s really not as far as you’d think!” Back to that wine list…
Now I don’t know about you but presented with a wine list in a restaurant, it’s a proven fact that most people go for the second or third option on the list, regardless of what the wine actually is. Why? Because people assume rightly or wrongly that the first wine on the list will always be both cheap and nasty, and that the more expensive wines found towards the bottom will be too fancy or only capable of being properly appreciated by a connoisseur. Instead, they ‘play it safe’, choose a ‘middle of the list’ wine and enjoy – loosely speaking – a ‘middle of the road’ experience. If only they’d sought the advice of a sommelier or specialist wine waiter. For just a little more, they could have discovered a truly exceptional wine that would have complemented their meal perfectly and put an entirely different complexion on the whole occasion.
Companies adopt a similar approach to R&D tax credits, bypassing the ‘too good to be true’ cheap providers as, like the plonk, they’re likely to leave you with a headache when all’s said and done, but also pulling up short of the heavyweights in the business, the real R&D tax relief experts, believing that the difference in the service – and return – won’t be worth the money. Instead, they play it safe, go through a trusted source such as their accountant or auditor, and recover a ‘middle of the road’ amount. Acceptable yes, but nothing to get excited about.
If only they’d accepted a helping hand from Jumpstart, the sommeliers of the R&D tax credit world. Not only would they have benefited from prompt, professional, courteous and approachable service, but with all Jumpstart’s experience and expertise they would have received on average 3.9 times the ‘middle of the road’ amount. Now that’s something really worth celebrating. So let’s raise a glass to Jumpstart, only make it the good stuff!
Posted on Tuesday, 12th February, 2013
Battling major flu pandemics is extremely difficult. Containment is almost impossible and the only effective countermeasure is vaccination. Currently, flu vaccines take months to develop, however a new breakthrough by German researchers could cut that down significantly, potentially saving millions of lives.
Modern flu vaccines, which expose the body to dead flu virus, work by inducing an immune response against the ‘viral proteins’ that the virus is made from. However, these vaccines are expensive and time-consuming to produce. Injecting the molecules that code for viral proteins, rather than the virus itself, would be far cheaper, safer, and equally effective. Vaccines based on these coding molecules, DNA and mRNA, have been long sought after. The new research, led by Prof. Lothar Stitz of Tubingen in Germany, is a breakthrough in the development of such vaccines.
In the November edition of Nature Biotechnology the group describe their novel ‘mRNA vaccine’ against a flu virus, targeting the viral protein haemagglutinin mRNA molecules are copies of DNA sequences that provide the instructions for protein construction. The new vaccine uses mRNA to instruct cells to produce the haemagglutinin protein themselves. This is an extremely effective approach, however mRNA is very unstable. The scientists resolved this by chemically modifying their mRNA molecules, to stabilise them. This increased their lifetime inside the cell long enough for haemagglutinin to be produced and immunity to then develop.
The team thoroughly tested their vaccine and showed it to be effective, making it the first mRNA vaccine to be proven to work. The potential advantages over current vaccines are tantalising. mRNA vaccines can be manufactured more rapidly, are safer to develop, do not require refrigeration, and can be customised at will by adding mRNA for extra viral proteins. The flexibility of mRNA could also, theoretically, be used to create a universal flu vaccine, perhaps making flu pandemics a thing of the past.
Posted on Tuesday, 12th February, 2013
Thanks to an increasing understanding of how naturally occurring antifreeze molecules work, scientists are beginning to produce increasingly effective synthetic molecular mimics, which may help redefine the freezing point of water.
Antifreeze proteins have been around for a long time in nature. They were first discovered in a species of Antarctic fish in 1971, but have since been found to exist in plants, insects, bacteria, and fungi. The structural diversity of these molecules means that scientists still aren’t entirely sure which precise parts of these molecules are responsible for delaying ice crystallisation.
To help identify what gives antifreeze proteins their special abilities, a team of scientists from New York University constructed a library of ‘peptoids’: a family of molecules very similar to naturally occurring peptides, but with added structural flexibility. Using peptoids allowed the team to increase the diversity of possible molecular structures. By examining how these molecular alterations affected ice crystallisation, using X-rays and video microscopy, they were able to identify two key parts of the molecule. One was responsible for reducing the temperature at which ice crystals start to form. The other part of the molecule determined the rate at which the ice crystals build up.
Delaying ice crystal formation could be used to make your ride into work a lot smoother. The introduction of antifreeze molecules could make crops and infrastructure more resilient, reducing the amount of potholes that become increasingly common during cold weather. It has been suggested that edible antifreeze molecules could be used to make ice cream creamier and healthier as well as allowing for better preservation of frozen foods. On a more serious note, developing more effective antifreeze fluids could help in preserving donated organs, by reducing the rate at which ice crystals damage cells and tissues.
Mia L. Huang, David Ehre, Qi Jiang, Chunhua Hu, Kent Kirshenbaum, and Michael D. Ward. Biomimetic peptoid oligomers as dual-action antifreeze agents. PNAS, November 19, 2012
Posted on Tuesday, 22nd January, 2013
The complex submission process is deterring a lot of smaller companies from making claims.
The software and IT sector in Britain is missing out on £280 million worth of R&D tax relief, because the HMRC guidelines for submissions are so complex and contradictory that many companies are being put off from making claims.
According to research and development tax credit specialist Jumpstart UK, this money could dramatically alter the sector's business advantage in a “brutally competitive” global market.
The amount of unclaimed tax credit is calculated by comparing the UK with Canada, which is seen as a saturated market for companies making claims. In order to reach the same saturation levels as Canada, the UK would have to lift its claim levels from the current £1.1 billion to £3.9 billion per annum. This is a shortfall of £2.8 billion for all sectors in the UK.
Taking IT and software as 10% of this, the sector is losing out on a minimum of £280 million a year, according to Jumpstart. Separate studies of the SME market in Scotland and the variances in different sectors and in different regions back this up as a prudent estimate.
Jumpstart calculates that an average initial claim size is likely to be in the region of £97,000 per company. In order to make a claim, however, companies have to understand the technology and how it has been developed in relation to what else is being developed in the marketplace, as well as the legislation and how that development might be interpreted.
Brian Williamson, managing director at Jumpstart, said that most companies understand the technology but not the legislation, and will therefore to go to their accountants for help and support with what is perceived to be a tax submission.
However, most accountants do not understand the technology, and they are generalists understanding only a little about the real subtleties of the legislation. The result is either no claims are made or, if they are, they are very prudent ones.
“Cash starved businesses are very happy to recover a few thousand pounds and have a 'thankful for small mercies' approach. However they do not appreciate just how much they are missing out,” Williamson told Techworld.
“The IT and software sectors above all other sectors have the largest opportunity to access this opportunity because they are often beyond the level of technical understanding by the financial world.”
He added that the UK is a strong market for new technology and design, with a sophisticated consumer base, making it an excellent test bed for ICT companies. The software industry has been responsible for some of Britain's greatest successes in a global arena and it is important for this to be encouraged and rewarded.
“The government is keen to support innovation and the cash and credits available through its R&D schemes could make a significant difference. But it is important for companies to be guided through the submission process by professionals, in order to virtually guarantee their chances of success.”
Commenting on the news, Chas Roy-Chowdhury, head of taxation at the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), said that small business in particular struggle to get their heads around the process of applying for R&D tax credits.
“You have to produce a lot of documentation to justify why it's innovative. It it a difficult area for small businesses,” he said.
“The government is positively encouraging the tech sector to innovate, and clearly anything that will bring down costs for such businesses has to be welcomed.”
Posted on Tuesday, 15th January, 2013
One of the reasons your laptop can be used as a lap heater on these cold winter days is due to the inefficiencies in the way data is written onto it. Now, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, have developed memory that is 1000 times more energy efficient than what is currently available.
Currently, magnetoresistive random access memory, or MRAM, represents the cutting edge in ultra-fast, high-capacity memory. This technology uses the magnetic properties of electrons, known as ‘spin’, in conjunction with their charge, to store data. Then, electric currents are used to write the data to memory.
The use of an electric current means that power is required, leading to the generation of heat when data is written. The electric current also places a limit on how densely the data can be written onto the memory. All of this increases the cost of MRAM and thus limits its use in current systems, from smart phones to large data storage centres.
The research team, led by Prof. Kang L. Wang, decided to use voltage (the difference between two electrical potentials) instead of electrical current to write data to the memory, calling the new technology magnetoelectric random access memory, or MeRAM. The voltage is produced using two layers of magnetic materials that are sensitive to electric fields. When a field is applied, a voltage is produced between the layers, resulting in the movement of electrons between them. Data is stored as the change in the charge and magnetic properties of the material.
These “spintronic” (named after the electron properties used to store the data) devices may find their way into consumer electronics soon, resulting in ultra-low power memory storage and cooler laps in future.
This research was presented in a paper called “Voltage-Induced Switching of Nanoscale Magnetic Tunnel Junctions” at the 2012 IEEE International Electron Devices Meeting in San Francisco.
Photo Credit: UCLA
Posted on Tuesday, 8th January, 2013
Just over a year ago, a rocket cleared the launch tower at Cape Canaveral carrying one of the most audacious space missions since the Apollo programme. Secured in the payload of the Atlas V rocket, the Curiosity rover began its 9-month journey to Gale Crater on Mars. As the largest unmanned space rover ever created, the nuclear-powered vehicle came with a price tag of $2.5 billion. Weighing in at nearly a tonne and almost three metres in length, it can cover over 200 metres in a day and tackle far more rugged terrain than either of its recent predecessors – Spirit and Opportunity.
The sheer size of the rover ruled out the usual technique for landing a spacecraft – the tried and tested ‘wrap it in an airbag and hope for the best’ method. Instead, NASA built a rig that would hover around 20 metres above the surface of Mars and gently lower Curiosity into the crater.
Curiosity is fitted with one of the most sophisticated remote laboratories ever built, containing a plethora of analysers, sample handling systems, chromatographs, spectrometers, cameras, and navigation systems to analyse the atmosphere, soil, and geology of Mars.
Now on the surface, this laboratory has burst into life, collecting evidence to help astrobiologists unlock many Martian mysteries, such as how did Mars loose its atmosphere and that most perplexing of astrobiological questions: was there ever life on the red planet?
Despite being on the surface of Mars for less than three months, the initial data has been interesting. Curiosity has uncovered the most promising evidence yet that Mars was once awash with water: ancient riverbeds on the surface of Gale Crater. Its soil and gas analysis has also shown NASA that Mars’s rocky surface is not unlike that found on Hawaii and that once in prehistory the atmosphere of Mars was similar to our own.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Posted on Friday, 7th December, 2012
The chancellor has announced there will be 2500 new tax inspectors and an attack on Swiss bank account holders focussing his budget deficit reduction on income from individuals and large multi national corporations avoiding or evading tax.
An extra £77m will be spent on the closure of tax loopholes. This £2 billion extra income will help pay for their R&D tax relief programme which currently costs the Government £1.1bn and according to R&D tax relief specialists Jumpstart, this will reach £2bn before long.
"In effect the evaders and avoiders will be paying for the innovators." Said Brian Williamson, MD of Jumpstart, the largest applicant in the UK for this type of work.
Mr. Osborne has decided to maintain the R&D tax relief in the enhanced state they announced in the last two budgets.
"This is really good news for SMEs and contrary to what has been happening in the country that has had the scheme longest, Canada. The equivalent of HMRC in Canada, the CRA, has reduced the benefits of this programme forcing individual Provinces to introduce legislation to encourage large R&D companies to retain R&D activities. This has had a very mixed response from their business population."
The chancellor also announced an increase in the annual investment allowance ten fold to £250,000 from 1st January.
"Although this may reduce some R&D claims where we have managed to link capital expenditure to eligible projects, it is great news for SMEs and further improves their overall tax position," said Mr Williamson.
Posted on Thursday, 6th December, 2012
The discovery of an ingenious trick of the light, used by fish such as herring and sardines to evade predators, could now be used to improve the performance of optical devices such as light-emitting diodes (LEDs).
Light waves can be orientated in any direction around their direction of travel, but upon reflection, they are fixed on a single plane and some of the intensity is lost. This is known as light ‘polarization’, which produces the glare that one gets from water-reflected sunlight, for example.
Until recently, reflective fish skins were also thought to polarize light, because light approaching the fish from below a certain angle, known as ‘Brewster’s angle’ is only partially reflected. However, researchers at the University of Bristol, publishing in Nature Photonics, discovered that the reflected light was neither fully polarized nor reduced in intensity.
Fish skin is made up of layers of guanine crystals and each layer taken individually would polarize the light, resulting in a dimmer reflection. The team found that the layers contain two different types of guanine crystals with opposing optical properties, meaning that the light could be fully reflected without being fully polarized. This keeps the fish camouflaged from its predators, such as dolphins, by reflecting the light environment of the open ocean, regardless of the angle from which it is viewed.
This hitherto unknown system for creating a highly reflective surface could have many important applications in optics. Currently, non-polarizing reflectors designed for optical fibres and LEDs require materials with properties that are not always ideal. By using multi-layer combinations of materials, these limitations could be overcome without sacrificing reflectivity.
Posted on Monday, 12th November, 2012
The world of numbers, statistics and percentages is often misleading.
Take numbers… they’re all relative you know. A headline of ‘10 accidents’, for example, isn’t enough to draw any conclusions from in itself. 10 in what timeframe and where is much better. So 10 accidents in the last five minutes in a playground is shocking, whereas 10 accidents in Europe in the last year from people falling off their bikes, well… isn’t.
Statistics can also be confusing. 99.9% of people who cut their grass in the dark with an electric lawnmower aren’t electrocuted might make you think it’s safer to cut your grass at night. Huh? A little more information please. What about ‘half the world's population earns about 5% of the world's wealth’? From that you can conclude that the other half earns 95% of the wealth, pointing to a huge disparity in earnings potential.
Then there’s good old percentages, the factor we come across most often at Jumpstart. If I said to you that, when building a new house, 22% of the average house cost is down to joinery, can you tell me how much a joiner would charge you to build a house? Of course not. First, you would need to know the cost of the house and second, if it was going to be larger or smaller than the average house. Now, here comes the interesting bit.
If I said to you that I had a joiner who would charge you 20% to build a house, instead of that 22%, would you use him? Again, not enough information. You would need to know the size of the house and, more importantly, the quality of the build. Percentages on their own, you see, are meaningless unless you know what they relate to.
So where am I going with this? Well, at Jumpstart we occasionally come across clients who say they know someone who can do their R&D claim for a smaller percentage than we can. Again, it’s not the percentage but the size of the claim that counts, since history shows that Jumpstart’s claim sizes, with all our experience and expertise, can be up to a staggering 12 times larger than the ‘cheaper’ option. Do the maths! Which would you rather have? 2% more of, say, £10,000 or a slightly smaller percentage of £120,000? Hmmm…
So the next time someone says to you "We can do that for a better percentage", think about what that really means. You can either go with someone who can do you a ‘cheap deal’ or the UK’s leading R&D tax credit specialist, not by numbers, statistics or percentages alone, but overall – that is Jumpstart.
Posted on Monday, 29th October, 2012
Jumpstart, the UK's leading research and development (R&D) tax credit specialist, has walked away with the award for the Most Innovative Product or Service at the prestigious 2020 Annual Innovation Awards 2012 at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry.
The accolade is a remarkable recognition of Jumpstart's game-changing approach to submissions to HMRC, the success it has brought to the fast-growing, Edinburgh-based company and the invaluable financial rewards that have been gained for clients.
The awards conference, which celebrates success and creativity across the accounting profession, was attended by the cream of UK business and enterprise, including former CBI boss and government minister Lord Digby Jones and Microsoft Worldwide senior director Tim Hynes.
The Innovative Product award, for Jumpstart's in-depth analytical techniques, processes and scaleability, was presented to Jumpstart business analysts Paul Wigley and Simon Fisk and account manager Joan McBeath by Graham Poll, one of the most well known and most experienced English football referees of all time.
Brian Williamson, Jumpstart managing director, said: "To win an award at any time is a terrific achievement for the Jumpstart team. But to be recognised as best in class by the accountancy profession is simply a red letter day.
"Jumpstart, since its inception in 2008, has been operating in an arena which traditionally has been the preserve of the accounting profession. It says a great deal for the integrity and open-mindedness of these professionals that they have honoured a relative newcomer in this generous way."
The award recognised that Jumpstart provides a unique blend of technological and business expertise to guide companies through the complexities of submitting claims to HMRC, with a success rate of 98.6%.
It pointed out that the company has, through the depths of a sustained recession, maintained an average turnover growth of 165% every year since 2008, with next year's turnover heading for £7.5 million on current growth rates.
The Edinburgh-based company has one of the UK's most rigorous employment selection policies, to ensure that its technical analysts were best in breed, and typically educated to PhD level. Its business analysts are headhunted from a pool of experienced talent with unrivalled business experience. Each analyst has achieved selection against competition from at least 200 equally qualified candidates.
The innovation award also takes into account that the company has designed its systems to be totally scalable which will allow it to cope with 10,000 in-bound leads per annum and still deliver with the same consistency and quality. It is so advanced it has been shortlisted for a UK-wide technology award.
Brian Williamson added: "Jumpstart's business model is not only generating unprecedented success for us as a company, it is also a vital weapon in the armoury of UK plc.
"This government and its predecessors have made the funds available to foster and encourage innovation and research among British companies. It is up to us to make sure that these resources can be efficiently tapped for the long-term benefit of the wider economy."
Posted on Thursday, 18th October, 2012
In the course of your R&D work, you’ll have created a variety of intellectual assets. Some of these may be registrable intellectual property, such as patents and designs. There’s often a wealth of other material, from copyright works (such as software code) to specialist know-how and trade secrets.
You know that all these assets – your IP and other intangibles - are valuable, because they underpin your products or services. However, because they don’t feature on your balance sheet, you can’t easily quantify or mobilise that value for lending or investment. In fact, how do you make anyone outside your business aware you’ve got them?
We have recently met Inngot, who offer online tools to help businesses realise the value tied up in these off-balance sheet assets. Their solution starts by profiling your innovation (which uncovers what you’ve got) and publishing a non-confidential summary of it on the Inngot knowledge bank. This enables the Inngot community of 1,500+ organisations to find interesting IP to licence or acquire, and it helps you explain to banks and investors where your value lies.
Inngot can also tell you what these assets are worth. Using their online tool called Sollomon, developed with specialist input from Grant Thornton UK LLP, you can produce a six-page summary report which gives you a good indicator of value, and shows you what kind of royalty rate you might be able to achieve if you decide to licence your innovation.
As a Jumpstart client, you can have a free innovation profile, so click here if you’d like to know more.
Posted on Thursday, 18th October, 2012
In a scientific first, US researchers led by Dr Andrew Feinberg at Johns Hopkins University have shown how complex animal behaviours can be controlled by a subtle manipulation of the DNA structure, known as DNA methylation, which does not change the DNA sequence. Known as epigenetics, this represents the next chapter in our understanding of molecular biology.
This pioneering study was carried out in the humble honeybee – a highly sociable animal where, within each hive, different types of bees have distinct roles and responsibilities.
There are three types of bees in any hive. First is the queen bee, which is the only bee capable of laying eggs. Second are the drone bees, the only males in the hive, who are responsible for fertilising the eggs that the queen lays. Finally there are the female, but infertile, worker bees that have two main subgroups: the nurses, which look after the queen, and foragers, which find pollen and bring it back to the hive.
The foragers and nurse bees share exactly the same genetic code but their innate behaviour is completely different. By examining DNA derived from the two populations Dr Feinberg and his team confirmed that these bees have identical genetic sequences but in over 100 different regions of their DNA strands they have quite different epigenetic profiles.
When they examined the hives in greater detail they made a startling discovery - many workers start their lives as nurses and, once mature, become foragers, but if needs dictate they can revert back to nurses, clearly suggesting that the DNA methylation process is completely reversible.
These discoveries could have great implications for studying human cognition and psychology and could perhaps shed light on how the human brain regulates complex entities like mood, learning, and belief systems.
Posted on Tuesday, 16th October, 2012
Scotland's SMEs are outpacing larger firms in the race to the substantial spoils to be gained from the government's research and development tax credit schemes, which are designed to foster innovation.
One of the main reasons that smaller firms are reaping the rewards is that they are taking advantage of the services of companies which specialise in well-drafted, compliant claims, rather than generalist accountancy practices, which do not have the same focused expertise.
New figures published this month show that, by clinging to traditionalist approaches to a complex and time consuming application process, Scotland's larger firms are missing out on up to £40m a year. Even the SME sector, according to the statistics issued by the tax authorities, is not submitting as many claims as it should on a per capita basis. As a result, R&D tax credit specialists such as Glasgow and Edinburgh-based Jumpstart are becoming involved in a concerted push to bring Scotland into line with the rest of the UK.
Jumpstart managing director Brian Williamson said: "SMEs in general are still being disenfranchised as a result of lack of awareness of tax credit expertise. But they are converting more quickly than larger companies to the idea of engaging professionals to obtain their just rewards."
The reluctance of Scottish companies to fully exploit government research incentives is reflected in figures from Nesta, the science and technology charity, this week (Mon, Sept 10) showing that spending on research by UK plc fell by as much as £24bn last year. This is in stark contrast to countries such as the US, Germany, France and South Korea all of whom have spent more than the UK on research and innovation since the financial crisis began.
The figures from HMRC on claim values for 2010/11 show that Scottish SMEs made 500 R&D tax credit submissions, out of a UK total of 8140. This equates to 6.1%. On a per capita basis, Scotland should have submitted 676 claims, or 8.3%. However, as evidence of the disproportionate success of dedicated claims specialists, Jumpstart alone had 212 claims accepted by HMRC over the period. This is a remarkable 42.4 % of the total and a ringing endorsement of Jumpstart's business model, in which highly qualified and specialised teams of business and technical analysts mine into clients' processes to understand and complete successful submissions to HMRC. In the current year, Jumpstart is spearheading a major drive to bring Scotland's claims ratio more into line with the rest of the UK by increasing the number of submissions from 212 to 339.
In the larger company sector - 500+ employees - an inclination to adhere to a financial-only approach to tax credit submissions, usually through a large, generalist accountancy practice, is diluting full exploitation of the scheme. Scotland had 135 large company claims (7.1%) out of a total of 1895 for the UK. This is closer to the 157 which could be expected per head of population. However, the value of these claims compared to that of the UK was only 2.6%, or £40m short of their UK counterparts. In fact, London companies are claiming almost nine times more than large companies in Scotland. High-profile entrepreneurs such as Jim McColl of Clyde Blowers have been enthusiastic advocates of Scottish companies, regardless of size, using the services of specialists such as Jumpstart, which has a 96.4% success rate in its submissions.
Brian Williamson said: "The reasons company executives fail to investigate the full potential of R&D tax credits are many and varied. Some don't think they do enough R&D. Some simply don't want HMRC knowing more about their business than absolutely necessary. Some even think it's a loan.
"Most executives' first instinct, on hearing the phrase 'tax relief', is to run the concept past their accountant who, as far as identifying qualifying processes or procedures is concerned, will suffer from the same problems of perception as themselves.
"That is why companies such as ours employ post-graduate experts who not only understand the legislation in detail but can also interpret the complexities of companies and can explain the nature of the R&D in exact terms to the experts in HMRC who will make the decision on it."
Posted on Tuesday, 25th September, 2012
Scottish Bakers partnered with JumpstartUK last year and so far their analysts helped our members to claim over £380,000 for R&D tax.
Ronnie Miles from Bells Food Group Ltd agreed to share his experience of working with JumpstartUK. Read on to find out what Ronnie said and follow his steps to claim your R&D tax!
"Our Scottish Bakers trainer Eleanor Rae was visiting our offices doing SVQ training and she showed me the Jumpstart flyer and being the nosey type I had a quick look and thought the offer was intriguing.
We started the process in the November however due to my work pressures I didn’t submit the revised tax computations until the end of March (our financial year end). The first cheque we received was within 10 days of submitting the revised computation, I suspect this was a mistake however being an accountant I banked the cheque first & asked questions later. The other repayment was received within 2 months of the claim. HMRC can still query the tax claim even though we have received money back however this is the same with all tax.
Tax tends to put off a lot of people even myself as a Finance Director however the process was straight forward. The Jumpstart staff involved were professional, helpful & knowledgeable, the spreadsheets they provided were simple to use. R&D tax is a niche/grey area of tax and the Jumpstart staff were there to provide help when required and we were guided through the whole process.
I was involved in the process and had to give away some hours from my own schedule, but it was worth it. Few initial meetings were held to clarify what we could claim and the process involved, after that I locked myself in a dark room with some spreadsheets for a couple of days. The money we received back was well worth the effort and if I calculated the hourly rate based on the money we received it was time well spent. My board of directors reckon it’s the most financially productive I’ve been for 22 years! I did have to involve our auditors to revise the previously submitted tax computations as we went back 2 years.
I think other bakers should absolutely go for it as well. In the current climate any extra money especially a refund from HMRC is very welcome. It worked for Bells Food Group Ltd and I see no reason why other companies couldn’t benefit from this."
To check if you are eligible for R&D tax return please contact Cara Boag on scottishbakers@jumpstartuk. co.uk or 0131 240 2900 and be ready to answer the following questions: how many people do you employ, your annual turnover and when will your tax year end.
This article was published in Scottish Bakers' September 2012 newsletter.
See here to view the original publication.
Posted on Friday, 21st September, 2012
Researchers have managed for the first time to see how electrons hop around in rust, one of Earth’s most abundant minerals. Their observations will help make sense of how rust – known to scientists as iron oxide – interacts with soil, water and even bacteria in the environment. It could also help make better materials for capturing energy from the sun.
Although minerals like iron oxide do not appear to us to be moving or changing at all, on the subatomic scale there is a whirlwind of activity. Electrons hop around very quickly from one iron atom to the next. According to this recent study, these hops can happen billions of times per second.
Seeing in detail how electrons are exchanged between iron atoms and also from iron to other molecules makes it possible to better understand how iron oxide affects soil and water in the environment. It could also help in making predictions about how environmental contaminants such as uranium will spread.
Solar power is another area where this knowledge could be useful. Jordan Katz, who led the study, said in a statement, “Iron oxide is a semiconductor that is abundant, stable and environmentally friendly, and its properties are optimal for absorption of sunlight. To use iron oxide for solar energy collection and conversion, however, it is critical to understand how electrons are transferred within the material.”
Capturing the rapid activity of electrons requires specialized equipment and facilities, including a powerful source of X-rays. An international team carried out the research and used the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, USA for their experiments. The results were published recently in the journal Science.
Image courtesy Benjamin Gilbert, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Posted on Wednesday, 19th September, 2012
Computers and knitting needles: what do these have in common? According to computer graphics researchers, both can now be used to knit – creating virtual garments in the computer’s case. The team, who worked together at Cornell University in the USA, developed a method for generating computer-simulated knitted materials for animation. They presented their work in early August at the 39th International Conference and Exhibition of Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques (SIGGRAPH) in Los Angeles.
When you’re watching the latest Pixar movie, the clothing shouldn’t distract you from the action, but it’s tricky to animate clothes that appear to hang and move realistically. Characters rarely sport woolly jumpers because simulating yarn stitches is even more complicated than creating a smoother fabric.
On a computer, a mesh grid or sheet provides the basis for modeling regular fabric. It deforms to accommodate the wearer’s body and show motion, following rules from geometry and physics. Simulating knits took extra steps. The Cornell team developed 3-D models of various individual stitches. Like in knitting, these single stitches are repeated to make up a complete garment.
To be realistic, each stitch can also stretch. As team member Dr. Steve Marschner explained in a press release, "We are actually changing the shape of the yarn loops that make up the stitches, simulating how they wrap around other loops." The method also includes options for adjusting the thickness of the yarn and the tension in the knitting. The team has successfully tested their technique on several patterns, including a tea cozy and a jumper for a sheep.
All of the detail, however, makes the computer simulations computationally intensive. The researchers reported that simulating one of their knitted creations takes several hours, but chilly, fashion-conscious animated characters may feel it’s worth the wait.
Original publication: http://www.cs.cornell.edu/projects/stitchmeshes/
Photo credit: Cornell University
Posted on Monday, 27th August, 2012
One of the really inspiring memories of the London 2012 Olympic Games will certainly be the way everyone in the UK pulled together to make the festival of sport such a resounding success. And Jumpstart, one of Britain's most dynamic companies, was proud to play its part with both its own business analysts and clients joining the thousands of people who gave up their time to help, from the stunning British history-themed Opening Ceremony to the closing Symphony of British Music.
Brian Williamson, managing director of Jumpstart, which advises clients on R&D tax credit submissions, said: "This willingness to make a once-in-a-lifetime event really special typifies the energy and enthusiasm of our business analysts and the imagination and inventiveness of our clients."
Leading the business analysts - Jumpstart's highly specialised team which mines into clients' processes to understand and complete successful submissions to HMRC - was David Batten. He took part in the stunning Danny Boyle-directed Opening Ceremony in which the rural idyll of England's green and pleasant land was dramatically transformed into the dark satanic mills as huge smoking chimneys rose up through the arena. David said: "I was one of the people who marched on in grimy old working clothes and a sooty face. We had to carry off rolls of turf as the scenes changed, so it was quite hard work - but great fun and a tremendous experience."
Business analyst Charles Nishikawa took a different route by using his excellent language skills. He served as an official volunteer of language services in the Excel Arena, covering seven different sports, including boxing. Charles was asked to conduct several broadcast interviews with athletes and was roped in to manage the East Asian language team consisting of a group of Japanese, Chinese and Korean interpreters. He said: "It really was great fun, especially since I was so close to the action, which meant that I was able to speak to, and interview, the athletes immediately after their matches."
The athletes, naturally, are a hungry lot and Jumpstart client Peter Millen, managing director of Speciality Breads was tasked with providing artisan bread to more than 14,000 athletes from 205 Olympic teams and 170 Paralympic teams at the London 2012 Games. His firm had to qualify for the prestigious Red Tractor logo - only companies which meet rigorously-enforced high standards are allowed to use it - in order to be considered as an Olympic supplier. He said: "We proudly support the Red Tractor Scheme. All our breads are made with flour milled from 100% British Wheat."
Another client, Cardiff-based Bay Productions, which has more than 20 years' experience of scenery production, was called on by the Olympic organisers to create the barn and the cottage in the English pastoral scene at the Opening Ceremony which took everyone's breath away when the lights went up. Bay Productions, which offers a world class service to the opera, theatre, TV and film industry, works from scale models and drawings to the construction of the finished product. Peter Jones, of Bay Productions, said: "Our staff have worked over the years with world renowned designers and the biggest production companies, but being involved in the Olympics - and on our own turf - was very special."
Brian Williamson, whose analysts are typically educated to PhD level and in many cases beyond, said: "My favourite moment was when the Olympic torch was lit and it rose up into a brilliant tower of flame.
"I don't know how much heat it gave out, but I'm ready to bet it didn't have as many degrees as our analysts."
Posted on Friday, 24th August, 2012
Several investment organisations already successfully work in partnership with Jumpstart, in order to enhance the services they offer to their clients.
One such partner, Maven Capital Partners is one of the UK’s leading private equity managers, managing over 300m of client funds.
Of working with Jumpstart, Investment Director David Milroy says “Jumpstart understand the many nuisances of the legislation and can help to ensure that firms secure the maximum credit they are entitled to claim. We have been pleasantly surprised by the results achieved by Jumpstart on behalf of some of our portfolio companies.”
Maven Capital Partners have recently managed to attract £9m for 4 businesses through the Scottish Loan Fund. The Fund was set up to address the market need for finance by SMEs. It focuses on providing mezzanine loans to growth and export businesses with an annual turnover of more than £1 million. Managed by Maven Capital Partners, the SLF offers finance of between £250,000 and £5 million to Scottish-based growth or export businesses.
Or contact: Maven Capital Partners UK LLP (www.mavencp.com)
Posted on Tuesday, 14th August, 2012
Be honest now – how do you feel about HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC)?
A recent study carried out on behalf of the tax authority and the Office of Tax Simplification (don’t smile now) reveals a catalogue of concerns almost as long as HMRC’s guidance notes. Any of the following sound familiar?
Businesses said they:
• were worried that mistakes with their taxes might lead to an inquiry from the taxman
• found it difficult to get definitive answers to tax questions, and
• had problems understanding official HMRC information.
Findings like these beg the question: what’s an organisation to do when it comes to R&D tax credits? You know there’s a lucrative scheme out there specifically designed to encourage innovation but, as the new study shows, there’s real trepidation about dealing with HMRC.
What you need is a helping hand, which is where Jumpstart comes in.
We’ll deal with HMRC on your behalf, submitting your claim, following it up and responding to any questions promptly and courteously. It’s what we do day in day out, so we have a very good relationship with those ‘scary’ people at HMRC.
Worried about getting your figures wrong and either under-claiming (so you miss out on valuable tax credits you’re entitled to) or over-claiming (laying yourself open to the potential of an inquiry)? Leave it to the experts. Jumpstart has submitted over 3,900 claims to-date – all of them successful, making us the UK’s leading R&D tax credit specialists.
That last word, ‘specialists’, is important. Plenty of accountants firms offer an R&D tax credit service, but none of them do it the way we do or cover quite so many sectors and so much of the country from a single centre of excellence. Jumpstart employs technical staff of the highest possible academic standard, from BSc (Hons) and MSc to PhD level. Combining relevant industry experience across a range of sectors with expert knowledge of complex R&D tax credit legislation, we prepare reports which detail how every part of a claim meets legal criteria, citing paragraph and clause. It’s a belt and braces approach that gets results, the right results, every time.
And on those very rare occasions when HMRC’s tax inspectors ask more challenging questions, Jumpstart has the technical team to argue the science of your case. Now, how many accountants offer that?
Suddenly, the prospect of applying for R&D tax credits looks a lot more appealing, wouldn’t you agree? With the government on a mission to stimulate the UK economy and HMRC telling us they’re fully committed to giving away more funds to deserving businesses, isn’t it time you took advantage of our helping hand?
Find out if you’re eligible for a share of £1billion in unclaimed tax relief by calling Jumpstart today.
Posted on Tuesday, 7th August, 2012
Since its discovery in the 18th century, hydrogen has had a turbulent relationship with technology. Originally used in balloons and airships due to its lighter than air properties, the Hindenburg disaster in 1937 brought an abrupt halt to its use in aviation. It later gained further notoriety when isotopes of hydrogen where used to produce the most destructive weapons ever unleashed – the H-bomb.
In recent years hydrogen has enjoyed a revival as a reliable, clean and ethical energy source thanks to the green movement, our understanding of greenhouse gases and the volatility of Brent crude. Hydrogen powers fuel cells, which produce electricity by converting hydrogen and oxygen into water and can power vehicles, electronic devices and even spaceships. However, a major hurdle for hydrogen engineers is that in its pure form, hydrogen is highly flammable, making storage and transport tricky.
Recently, a British company called Cella Energy has been developing ‘hydrogen nanobeads’. These beads can store hydrogen fuel in its more stable liquid form without the extremely low temperatures (-252oC) usually required to keep hydrogen in its liquid state. Seeing the potential in this innovation, NASA has invested its considerable expertise and funding to take Cella’s idea further.
The great hope is that the NASA and Cella partnership will be able to mass-produce a hydrogen storage device. Such a development would take us one step closer to a ‘hydrogen economy,’ where hydrogen can be safely and efficiently produced, stored, delivered and utilised on a global scale, just like petroleum is currently.
Given the finite amount of petroleum left and the relatively infinite amount of hydrogen, such innovations are essential if we are to find a sustainable method of providing fuel to an increasingly energy-hungry world.
Photo Credits: Cella Energy
Posted on Wednesday, 1st August, 2012
Ever wondered what lies beneath classical paintings? What mistakes were covered up, which features were clumsily re-touched, and which ones have faded with time? To better answer these questions, a team from the University of L'Aquila, the University of Verona, and Italy's National Institute of Optics in Florence have added a new imaging tool to the armoury of the art conservationist.
One of the many techniques currently available for this purpose is thermography. This technique detects the thermal energy that is naturally emitted by a painting in the infrared part of the optical spectrum, which is beyond the range visible to the naked eye. Differences in the energy emitted can be caused by differences in the pigments of the paints. These differences can then reveal what lies beneath the top layer of a painting.
The new imaging tool works in the opposite way to standard thermography. While the standard approach measures light emitted by the painting, the new technique, known as thermal quasi-reflectography (TQR), measures light reflected from it. To illuminate the painting, an under-powered lamp is used to minimise the thermal energy emitted by the painting due to heating, which could interfere with the new technique. In addition, because the pigments used for painting normally emit most of their thermal energy in the long-infrared part of the spectrum, the lamp illuminates the painting with mid-infrared light, where thermal emissions are much lower.
When compared with other techniques applied to famous paintings such as “The Resurrection” by Piero della Francesca, TQR made brand new features visible for the first time, such as previously unseen restorative work and overlapping painting techniques for the same part of the picture.
This technique can help art conservationists to better restore these important paintings, using techniques sympathetic to those used by the original painters. The use of reflected light also opens up a brand new area of research for future diagnostic techniques.
Image ©2012 Optical Society of America
Posted on Thursday, 12th July, 2012
A new method of molecular mapping could replace the current molecular mining approach to drug design with a more delicate and guided form of drug design.
The secret, recently published in Nature Methods, lies in the ability to map a special group of proteins, which provide the targets for nearly 50% of current drugs. This group, the human integral membrane proteins (hIMPs), serve as gateways to the cell. They allow useful molecules, such as nutrients and hormones, in and waste products out. Mutations in these proteins have been linked to a range of diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, cancer and heart disease, making the hIMPs prime targets for further drug development. However, due to their position in the cell membrane, it had been difficult to extract hIMPs for structural analysis.
To circumvent this problem, a team from the Salk Institute in California used a special chamber containing the biochemical ingredients of hIMPs to carve out the protein structures without the help of cells, which ordinarily manufacture the proteins. Using radioactive labels to track the molecule’s shape, the team was able to construct a 3-D map of the protein’s structure. Crucially, they found that this method was much more efficient than the traditional method for mapping hIMPs that are still embedded in the cell.
The implications of this discovery, in terms of drug design, are that instead of mining millions of molecules to see which will fit the hIMPs, it will be possible to design drug molecules to fit these proteins’ molecular contours. By using this more guided approach, drug quality and the rate of drug discovery should greatly improve.
Original publication (not open access): Klammt, C. et al. (2012), Facile backbone structure determination of human membrane proteins by NMR spectroscopy, Nature Methods.
Image: Courtesy of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies
Posted on Wednesday, 20th June, 2012
Jumpstart was invited to attend the Scottish Bakers Annual Conference on 11-13th May and was able to catch up with a lot of delighted existing clients. The whole event was a great success and, as a Scottish Bakers partner, Jumpstart was absolutely delighted to be a part of it.
Posted on Tuesday, 5th June, 2012
Too much to do, too little time. Even cutting the grass has to go into the Google calendar these days. A recent survey showed that most people cut their own grass when they would be better off employing someone else to do it quicker. What you’re actually saving by doing it yourself is the equivalent of £7.68 per hour. Now, how many of us would choose to work on a Sunday for just £7.68 per hour. Strange, isn’t it?
The same goes for flat pack furniture. When I recently went to pick up a bench seat, two chairs and a table for the garden, I realised that they were either pretty flat or I’d have to build them myself. Not a problem I thought. I had the instructions, the tools and the rest of the day. Fortunately, I also had a tip from the chap who helped me out to the car with the boxes: “If I’m honest Sir, these are a pain to build. I do it all the time. The trick is to keep all the screws loose to the very last minute and then tighten them up in sequence.” He waved me on my way with the same casual manner, I imagined, as an instructor would use with a first time parachute jumper, as they fall out of a plane: “Remember and count to ten and make sure you pull the chord at the right angle or it won’t open.” If only I’d been told this earlier!
As it was, I spent the next five hours building that furniture. My investment in time was, let’s just say, significant. I had devoted an entire Sunday to this when I would have been much better off actually working. And that’s the fallacy of ‘saving money’ by doing tasks you’re not familiar with. Or not valuing your own time.
Cutting the grass is low skill. Building furniture is more demanding. But justifying to HMRC that what you’re doing is eligible under the R&D tax credit legislation is a whole different ball game. Yet we still see people ‘trying their hand’ at making a claim.
Take Lola group, the race car manufacturer, which recently went into administration citing HMRC’s resistance to paying it R&D tax credits as a major reason. One wonders whether Lola was trying to write something it knew nothing about. Was it, in effect, assembling self-build furniture without either the instructions or the specialist knowledge and never having done it before? The result was a claim that obviously wouldn’t withstand scrutiny.
So when comparing Jumpstart with someone else, ask yourself if they’re trying to sell you the flat pack equivalent of a Harrods table.
Posted on Friday, 25th May, 2012
Plastic has transformed packaging, improved transportation efficiency, and may be the key to cheaper solar cells, but it also disrupts ecosystems. A recent study has found that tiny plastic fragments dispersed in the ocean have increased around 100-fold in the past 40 years and are providing new places for an insect species to lay its eggs.
Researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California studied an area in the North Pacific dubbed the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’. While its name comes from its large concentration of plastic debris, this patch is not an island of plastic. Contrary to popular belief, it is not visible from space. It is made up of fragments so tiny that most of the plastic cannot even be seen from a boat.
Nonetheless, even these fragments no larger than a grain of rice pose an environmental threat. They’ve been shown to be toxic for fish and birds and nourish some microbes. Now, the Scripps study has reported insects laying their eggs on them. The insect, Halobates sericeus, is a water skater that lives on the ocean surface. It usually lays its eggs on rare bits of floating driftwood or seashells, but plastic fragments provide plentiful new real estate for this purpose. As lead author Miriam Goldstein explained in a blog post, “… adding all that plastic is providing habitat that would not naturally exist out there.”
Where there is more plastic, there are more eggs, boosting Halobates numbers. The insect eats plankton and is eaten by birds, so it is hard to guess what this boost means for the whole food chain. What is clear though is that our love for plastic is causing unexpected effects for the ecosystem. We are bound to continue discovering these unanticipated ways that plastic is changing our world.
This study was published in Biology Letters and is freely available here
Photo Credit: Anthony Smith
Posted on Monday, 21st May, 2012
August in Edinburgh: festivals, tourists, the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, and of course fireworks. How many of you have ever stopped to consider the environmental impact of these nocturnal displays?
Researchers at the Pyrotechnics Technology and Prototyping division of the US Army have developed new fireworks technology that is both better for the environment and less harmful to its users. At a time when people are becoming ever more conscious of the ‘carbon footprint’ of their everyday lives, it is not surprising to learn that considerable research has already been carried out to develop more environmentally friendly fireworks. Until now green coloured fireworks or flares, such as the handheld signal device used by the US Army, were created using barium-containing compounds.
It has recently been found that barium ores, as a raw material, may contain radioactive radium; barium compounds already pose several health hazards to people who work with them. Barium-free pyrotechnic alternatives have so far, not been very cost effective, and only burned brightly for a short length of time. Boron has previously been studied as an alternative to barium. It produces very bright lights but burns too fast to be useful for its intended purpose.
The group set up a series of experiments where different ratios of boron and boron carbide were tested in comparison to the handheld signalling device used by the army. Boron carbide was chosen due to its potential ability to slow down boron’s fast burn rate. The result was that a combination of boron and boron carbide not only improved the burn time compared to the barium-containing formula used in the traditional hand-held army signalling device, but also proved to have larger luminous intensities. This discovery can therefore be used both by the army and civilians to produce more affordable, environmentally friendly, and less harmful pyrotechnics.
Posted on Tuesday, 1st May, 2012
The recent reduction in Arctic sea ice has led to the opening of the Northwest Passage for ships, without the need for an icebreaker. This may also mean you can view Lolcat pictures and bid on eBay faster than ever before.
The environment’s loss due to climate change is the internet’s gain, as fibre-optic cables will be laid on the Artic Ocean floor to reduce round-trip data transmission times between London and Tokyo from 230 to 168 milliseconds. The cables will stretch across the Atlantic and along the north coast of Canada before finally travelling round the Pacific Rim to Japan. They will constitute the longest fibre-optic cables ever laid, at 15,600 kilometres. Two cables will be laid along this route, while a third will skirt the north coast of Russia. Optical amplifiers will boost the signal every 50 to 100 kilometres.
So why do this? The reasons are two-fold. Firstly, while a 62 millisecond reduction may not make a huge difference to the timeliness of your Twitter posts, it will provide an important advantage to high-frequency stock traders, for whom a millisecond speed advantage in buying and selling shares can mean increased profits. Secondly, the two greatest dangers to ocean cables are fishing trawlers and ships’ anchors, neither of which is particularly common in the Arctic. A single dragged-anchor at Internet ‘choke points’ can cut several cables at once.
The Arctic conditions will still pose construction problems. Normal cable-laying ships are not polar ice rated. Therefore, suitable ships must be retrofitted to lay cable. In addition, icebergs can gouge the ocean floor, so the cable will be laid at depths of up to 600 metres in particularly iceberg-prone areas. An annual ice-free construction time of only six or seven weeks will also severely hamper the projects.
Despite these issues, the construction teams are confident. Their success will make the world just a little smaller.
Posted on Tuesday, 17th April, 2012
On the day that George Osborne announced a commitment to provide £40 billion in loans to small businesses, the R&D tax credit scheme yet again crept under the radar with changes that should help unlock the £1billion due to Scottish businesses.
In last year's Budget, the programme's benefits were increased by two thirds over two stages. This increase is of the same magnitude as dropping the top tax rate to 17.5%.
The £1billion remains unclaimed by manufacturing businesses each year because of a lack of understanding of what the rewards are for.
The UK's largest single applicant, Jumpstart, reported from its Edinburgh base that, out of 100 client companies surveyed after last year's Budget, 92 did not claim because they did not think they were eligible - yet they received money after Jumpstart helped them with their claim.
The news that the credit is likely to be changed to an above the line credit will remove the perception that this "tax benefit" is a matter best dealt with by financiers rather than technologists.
Technology and taxation are an unusual combination and most companies feel inclined to ask for guidance from their financiers - yet it is the technology and its eligibility that will drive that £1 billion into Scottish pockets.
This above the line change is subtle, but it will appeal to business people as they see their P&L change as a result of the innovation they have shown in the technical challenges their companies face on a day to day basis.
We now know that Osborne gets the credit and let's hope that manufacturing businesses make sure they do too.
Posted on Monday, 26th March, 2012
Why do zebras have their distinctive stripes? No seriously...why would evolution endow zebras with such an obvious pattern that provides next to no camouflage in the African savannahs? The question puzzled even our most celebrated biologist, Charles Darwin, who commented, “The zebra is conspicuously striped, and stripes on the open plains of South Africa cannot afford any protection.”
Even to modern day biologists, the question has been perplexing. Perhaps the stripes are a way the females choose their mate? Possibly – many male members of the animal kingdom have bizarre decorations such as brightly coloured plumage or heavy, unwieldy horns that are a clear disadvantage in survival but serve to attract the opposite sex – but that wouldn’t explain why the female zebras also have stripes.
Some animals use patterns and bright colours to act as warnings or camouflage– Researchers have found that when zebra herds move together, their stripes act as a large optical illusion. Any potential predator is momentarily confused, giving the zebras vital seconds to escape their clutches.
However, a group of scientists from Eötvös University in Hungary have found another solution, which is far less glamorous. It seems that the zebra’s intricate barcode pattern acts as one large insect repellent – in particular against horseflies. They found that horseflies are quite particular about where they land to prey. The narrow stripes on the zebra act to break up the hide and alter how the light is reflected off of it. These two factors make the zebra less appealing to the horsefly.
It seems remarkable how evolution can be defined by even the smallest of creatures and how a large creature’s body image can be influenced by a fly no larger than a thimble.
Posted on Thursday, 15th March, 2012
The power of words and their associations influences us in our everyday lives. When your partner is tender, is it because of a session at the gym or the fact they’re looking to get married? When something is cold, is this good news because it’s the temperature below which viruses don’t grow or does cold describe your work colleague who is aloof and unapproachable? And if someone tells you about the cloud that’s coming, do you either rush for an umbrella or jump for joy because you don’t need to buy another server? Yes words are really powerful.
The hard drives within our brain translate the meaning of words according to their context and past experience. As one wise person once told me, sometimes your biggest strength is your biggest weakness. In this case, the biggest strength of our brains is that we’ll always find a meaning for a word or phrase and store that away. Its biggest weakness is that it’s hard to dislodge that meaning and change it… even when blatantly wrong in a different context.
We’re also receptive to words that go together, like bread and butter, horse and carriage, salt and pepper… and Research and Development. This last pairing usually conjures up an image of a white coat, pipette or test tube. But add the unlikely yin of tax credits to the yang of R&D and we get a confusing combination indeed, something akin to curried ice cream or chilli-flavoured chocolate. Our brains don’t accept them so readily. In the case of R&D tax credits, the swinging pendulum of white coat to pinstripe suit, perhaps quite naturally, confuses many companies. The golden opportunity though lies in this ‘hybrid’ of the two, which combines a comprehensive understanding of the legislation with a deep and meaningful technical knowledge relevant to the business. Technology and taxation in perfect balance, truly giving you the science behind the numbers.
Our final gem from the world of words involves the use of rhyming. It is proven fact that we remember things much better if they’re in a rhyme. OJ's lawyer was accredited with getting him cleared of a murder charge using the famous phrase: "If the gloves don't fit… you must acquit".
So the next time you’re pondering how technology and taxation can go quite so well together and recover you maximum cash, think: Do you need grey suits or grey matter… Jumpstart's the latter.
Posted on Thursday, 23rd February, 2012
The X-prize foundation, which previously awarded a prize to the first commercially viable spaceship in 2004, recently offered a prize for a working Star Trek tricorder-like device, capable of independently diagnosing 15 diseases. However, it appears that hand-held technology capable of diagnosing medical issues by simply scanning a patient may be closer than previously thought.
Full-body scanning devices already exist for airport security, prototype medical scanners and material spectroscopy systems. They use terahertz waves (T-rays), which lie in the far infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum. At these extremely high frequencies, every molecule has its own unique spectroscopic signature, allowing existing devices to detect cancerous tumours, detect explosives or test integrated circuit chips without destroying them. However, these systems have several drawbacks; large amounts of energy are needed to produce T-rays, and their design requires low temperature operation. These issues make them bulky and expensive to run.
To overcome these drawbacks, researchers from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) in Singapore and Imperial College London in the UK have used a new ‘nano-antenna’ technique to produce and amplify the T-rays. They shine light of different wavelengths on a pair of pointed, metal electrodes separated by 100 nanometers and placed on a semiconductor wafer. The interaction between the incident light pulses and the electric current passing between the electrodes produces a beam of T-rays with a power output that is 100 times greater than those present in current systems. The beam can also be tuned across a much larger frequency range and operates at room temperature. The lower power requirements of the new method make more portable devices possible.
The multiple improvements that this system makes to current methods for T-ray production mean that portable, high-power medical scanners may not be that far-off. So after mobile phones and tricorders, could we soon be playing our games on holodecks and eating from replicators?
Posted on Monday, 6th February, 2012
Whether it’s enjoying the latest composition of a Chinese street performer or revelling in the entrancing rhythms of a Middle Eastern dancer, it is easy to believe that we humans, as the dominant species on the planet, are the only ones to enjoy “culture.” An exquisitely difficult word to define, culture requires a level of conscious thought that transcends an animal’s basic instincts of survival and, importantly, is passed down from generation to generation, often with notable geographical variations.
This geographical variation is known as cultural plasticity and allows anthropologists to explain how different human ethnicities and races, despite having so much genetic commonality, have their own diverse idiosyncrasies.
There has been evidence, albeit weak, to suggest that members of the animal kingdom are capable of such feats of intellect. This is a point of contention, as some believe that this ability is what separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom.
However, recent work from Swiss biologists challenges this long-held bastion of human ignorance – arrogance one might argue. By meticulously studying over 100,000 hours of footage of 150 wild orangutans they arrive at a startling conclusion. Groups of orangutans living in separate areas of the rainforest have significant differences in behavioural patterns, social structures and interactions, giving rise to the idea that orangutans display a collection of behaviours and mannerisms that could be interpreted as primitive culture.
The study further suggests that the primordial culture seen in these orangutans could have the same evolutionary pathway as our own human behaviour, giving rise to the idea that these behaviours could be genetically predetermined in the great ape family. It is comforting to know then, that despite all of humanity’s triumphs, we still share a bond with these kindred spirits in the Bornean jungle.
Original Paper: Culture and Geographic Variation in Orangutan Behaviour, Current Biology, Vol 21
Photo by Paul Dickson
Posted on Thursday, 12th January, 2012
Reports abound about the health effects of coffee, depicting it as everything from a dangerous drug to an elixir of life, and a recent study adds further uncertainty to the mix. Scientists at the University of Glasgow have recently quantified what coffee aficionados have always insisted: not every espresso is created equal.
The researchers visited 20 shops in Glasgow’s west end, ordering a single espresso in each. They opted for take-away and brought their coffees back to the lab for analysis by high performance liquid chromatography, a technique for separating the individual components of a chemical mixture. With this approach, they measured levels of chlorogenic acids, a set of antioxidant compounds whose effects on us remain unclear,
The results showed huge variation in the chemical content of the coffees, with some containing up to six times more caffeine than others. Even taking into account differences in serving size, some still had three times more caffeine per unit volume. Notably, every single coffee analysed contained more than the 50mg of caffeine often cited as standard for a single
Why the variability? Multiple factors affect coffee’s chemical content, such as whether the beans come from arabica or robusta plants (arabica beans have less caffeine) and the extent of roasting, which breaks down caffeine. The grind’s fineness and the pressure and temperature settings on the espresso machine also affect the final result.
This variability means you could unwitting swallow more caffeine than you intend. Variations in sensitivity from one person to the next mean there is no daily allowance suitable for everyone, but the Glasgow researchers suggest that customers would benefit from information about the contents of their beverages.
On a practical note, supposing you find yourself thirsting for coffee in Glasgow, Beanscene and Starbucks will soothe you with just under 2mg of caffeine per millilitre of espresso (coming out to just 51mg for the smaller Starbucks shot and 77mg for Beanscene’s larger one). Costa Coffee and Heart Buchanan pack the biggest punches, each with more than 6mg of caffeine per millilitre.
This study was recently published in the Royal Society of Chemistry's journal Food and Function.
The paper is freely available here
Posted on Monday, 12th December, 2011
Newly released software is taking on the last challenge in audio searching. The tool, called MediaMined, is an artificial intelligence system that can make sense of what it hears, whether the sounds are speech, music, or even a sound effect like an explosion or creaking door.
These days, it’s easy to take for granted the power of online text searches. With Google and Bing able to find just about anything written online, we may not appreciate how tricky it is for computers to search through pictures, video, and sound. Unlike people, computers cannot easily recognise objects in pictures or identify sounds heard in an audio file. One solution to this problem has been to label files with keywords, but the ideal solution would be to create software that understands content without needing such help.
Created by San Francisco-based Imagine Research and supported by funds from the US National Science Foundation, MediaMined is not the first tool designed to ‘understand’ audio. Voice recognition technology enables software to digest speech andvtools like Shazam and Soundhound’s Midomi and Hound have also come on the scene in recent years and can recognise music. MediaMined, however, extends audio recognition capabilities to all sounds, earning it applicability beyond speech and music.
MediaMined sets itself apart from other sound-searching tools by applying a machine-learning approach. This flexible strategy lets users find sets of similar sounds based on features beyond what might be in the keywords associated with a file. As Imagine Research’s founder and CEO Jay LeBoeuf explained in a recent press release, MediaMined “allows computers to index, understand and search sound- as a result, we have made millions of media files searchable.” With its general applicability, MediaMined could help movie soundtrack makers work more efficiently or, its creators speculate, even help doctors to assess a patient’s cough or wheeze.
Posted on Wednesday, 23rd November, 2011
A team of Japanese scientists has managed to create stem cells that re-enact the early stages of mammalian eye development in a culture dish. The exciting bit is that this includes a particularly important part of eye development: retina formation. The team’s work and findings, published in the journal Nature, could help provide methods for treating blindness.
The retina is a thin piece of tissue at the back of the eye. It is responsible for converting light, which has passed through the lens, into electrical nerve impulses. Thousands of these nerve impulses then travel to the brain, where they are processed to form an image. Critical to this activity are the retina's photoreceptor cells; the loss of these cells is the main cause of untreatable blindness. Without them, light that passes into the eye cannot be converted into the signals required to form an image in the brain.
In 2006, a team of scientists from the UK and USA showed that particular stem cells, when introduced into damaged retinas of mice, could help repair the damage. The stem cells they used were ones that had not quite completed their development into photoreceptor cells. While a drawback to this approach has been the limited availability of these cells, this latest advance in simulating retina formation on a culture dish could overcome this problem. The developing synthetic retinas could provide a ready supply of stem cells that are at the required stage of development. It is hoped that once appropriate stem cells are introduced into a blind person’s retina, the cells will divide to produce functional photoreceptor cells, gifting the person with the ability to see.
This article is based on the content presented in a research article in the latest issue of Nature (7th April 2011), titled: ‘Self-organizing optic-cup morphogenesis in three-dimensional culture’. To see the original research article, please visit: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v472/n7341/full/nature09941.html
To see some videos of the incredible, and rather beautiful, 3D eye cell cultures, please see the ‘Supplementary information’ section at the same link.
Posted on Tuesday, 1st November, 2011
Ever wondered how the Milky Way got its spiral arms? New computer simulations with improved data suggest they may have formed due to multiple bust-ups with another galaxy.
Galaxies are broadly classified into four types: elliptical - from perfect circles to extreme ellipses; spiral or barred spiral (such as our own Milky Way) - containing several spiralling arms around a dense centre or bar; irregular - those galaxies not easily classified into the previous types; and dwarf galaxies - small elliptical or spiral galaxies. It is with a dwarf galaxy called Sagittarius that the Milky Way appears to have had some violent encounters.
A team of astrophysicists, headed by Chris Purcell at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, has used improved mass estimates for Sagittarius to run detailed simulations of its galactic travels over the last few billion years. Their findings, published in Nature, suggest that the Milky Way has experienced two collisions with the dwarf galaxy. Before the first collision, 1.9 billion years ago, the Milky Way was a flat disc with a central bar of stars, around which the other stars orbited. After the collision, the simulation shows the outer stars beginning to orbit the central disc in more eccentric elliptical orbits. These orbits begin to group together to form dense clumps in a spiral pattern. Over the next billion years, Sagittarius loops over the centre of the Milky Way to collide with it again. Following this collision, the Milky Way looks incredibly similar to the present day.
The widespread occurrence of galactic collisions in the cosmos suggests this may be how spiral galaxies form. This idea contrasts with previous theories, such as that spiral-shaped ‘density waves’, rotating more slowly than the galaxy’s gas and stars, squeeze the matter into spirals.
Finally, the fight is far from over. A third collision with Sagittarius is predicted soon...in 10 million years.
Posted on Tuesday, 4th October, 2011
Ouchless, residue-free, and durable: could beetles’ feet hold the secret to better bandages? Researchers from Korea and the US have used the same design that gives beetles their grip to invent a material that sticks to skin without any help from glue. Their work, published this month in the journal Advanced Materials, paves the way toward an improved form of medical adhesive.
Many medical treatments require adhesives that cling to skin to hold tubes or dressings in place. However, most use glue and can leave behind residue, irritate skin and lose stickiness, not to mention how much they can hurt to remove. These inconveniences become more serious for older patients who have fragile skin, meaning that a better material could really improve care.
The engineers took on this problem, but instead of trying to refine the glue, they designed a surface that is sticky on its own. They used PDMS, a non-toxic substance used in contact lenses, shampoo and food, and moulded it so that hundreds of thousands of tiny, mushroom-shaped ‘pillars’ covered every square centimetre. Once pillar size and spacing had been optimised for the texture of human skin, their product performed well in practical tests. It remained sticky after repeated removals and reapplications, left skin unharmed, and caused minimal pain to remove.
The ‘mushroom forest’ arrangement mimics beetles’ feet, where tiny mushroom-shaped hairs allow the beetle to cling to surfaces, taking advantage of forces of attraction on a molecular scale. While it’s not the first time engineers have tinkered with the beetle’s design secret, it is the first time that such an adhesive has been optimised for human skin. Further work is required to produce this glue-free adhesive on a large scale, but if that can be done, then we can expect the beetle-based bandage to stick around.
Read original paper here
Posted on Wednesday, 21st September, 2011
HMRC are estimating 150,000 SMEs in UK are not claiming at an average claim of £40k. By our calculation that makes £6bn/year!! Read the full story
Posted on Wednesday, 14th September, 2011
Could it now be possible to create materials that heal in response to light? Research into a new material, recently published in the journal Nature, has made this exciting concept a reality.
Polymers are the basis of plastics and resins. They are molecules that consist of a chain of identical, or similar, molecular units (monomers). DNA is an example of a biological polymer. The properties of the polymers then vary dependent on the combination of these molecular units or monomers.
A team of scientists from Switzerland and the USA have created supramolecular polymers that appear to heal when exposed to intense UV light. The material consists of rubbery polymers linked by metal ions. Just like chlorophyll absorbs sunlight to generate energy for photosynthesis in plants, the metal ions absorb light energy, which converts to heat energy instead. A build up of this heat energy causes the long chains of the polymers to temporarily loosen and then reform, removing any kinks or deformities.
An advantage of this light-healing process in materials such as plastics is that it can be applied much more locally than traditional heat-healing processes. As a result, the reforming process can target sites of damage without interfering with the material’s function. This advance would make repairs to plastics cheaper and easier, making them suitable for a wider range of applications. The technology is in its infancy at the moment, but it could be useful in several areas. For instance, incorporating the polymers into paints and varnishes could keep consumer products, such as mobile phones and iPods, scratch and crack free for longer, reducing waste. Sports car owners may be particularly interested; by making light work of any scratches or defects, it could bring an end to expensive scratch-repair bills.
Picture courtesy Dominique Bersier and Gina Fiore for Adolphe Merkle Institute, Case Western Reserve University, US Army Research Laboratory
Posted on Tuesday, 6th September, 2011
Games and Software - Finding New Ways to Finance Development
Working closely with UKIE, Brian Williamson, Director of Jumpstart and Euan Mackenzie, Director of 3MRT were invited to explain how R&D tax credits help boost firms’ financial situation and recover money to reinvest in more development.
See their presentation here
Posted on Friday, 26th August, 2011
We are becoming more attached to our technology, but what if we could actually be attached to it? Until now, a key issue in bioelectronics has been how to take conventional electronics made from hard, unbending materials that tend to perform poorly in wet conditions and place them in the soft, flexible and wet environment of cells or tissues. Now, a team of chemical and biomolecular engineers at North Carolina State University have created a device that may be the first step in fusing electronics with biological systems.
The device has electrodes of gallium and indium metals, both of which are liquids at room temperature, set within a conductive, water-based gel. Its consistency lies somewhere between raw jelly and a bendy ruler. The device has conductive and non-conductive states, which are used to represent a binary system of ones and zeroes. It uses ions (charged molecules) to create the states, in the same way that conventional electronics uses electrons. The device’s memory comes from its ability to store the state after the stimulus (in this case ions) is gone.
To produce a non-conductive state, an electrode is exposed to a positive charge, producing an oxidized layer on the electrode, which is resistive to electricity. For a conductive state, a negative charge is applied, removing the oxidization. The negative charge would normally cause positive charge to move across the electrode, oxidizing it and leaving the device in a permanently non-conductive state. To prevent this, the team changed the chemical composition of one side of the gel. As a result, solely the second electrode determines the state.
The prototype shows great potential for developing biological sensors that would be embedded in the body and allow medics and researchers to continuously monitor biological systems. The electrodes’ malleability and the gel’s biocompatibility mean that the device could perform more robustly in biological environments than its hard, metallic counterparts. Perhaps more exciting is this technology’s potential for mimicking the brain; recent work has drawn parallels between similar types of memory devices and neural systems.
Original paper at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/adma.201101257/pdf
Photo credit: Michael Dickey, North Carolina State University
Posted on Wednesday, 17th August, 2011
In 1898, the wonderfully named Frenchman, Gaston de Chasseloup-Laubat, set the world’s first land speed record when he maxed out his electrical car, Jeantaud Duc, at 39mph. Since that fateful day, generations of brave young men have been pushing themselves and their machines to the limit to better the previous record.
Currently, the jet powered ThrustSSC, engineered by a team from Britain, holds the prestigious land speed record at a mind-boggling 760mph – FASTER than the speed of sound. Unsatisfied with that, the same team is now trying to break the 1000mph barrier and hopes to do so once their new Bloodhound SSC is ready, in 2013.
Achieving these sorts of speeds requires some serious engineering – the Bloodhound has a jet engine taken from a Eurofighter Typhoon, which will accelerate the car from a standstill to around 300mph. A rocket engine will kick in to produce a further 25,000lbs of thrust, accelerating the car to its top speed of 1000mph, while a 750bhp F1 engine is required just to pump enough fuel into the rocket. The Bloodhound should take just 42 seconds to reach its top speed from a standstill – the same time it takes a small family car to reach 100mph. This is unsurprising as the Bloodhound produces power equivalent to 200 Formula 1 cars and, thanks to its carbon fibre construction, weighs less than seven tonnes.
Once the top speed has been achieved, the driver, RAF fighter pilot Andy Green, will cut the throttle and deploy the Bloodhound’s airbrakes, which will decelerate the car to around 600mph. Here parachutes will be deployed, slowing the car further, and finally disk brakes will bring the car to a halt and into the record books.
We wish Andy Green and his Bloodhound SSC team the best of luck. Find out more at We wish Andy Green and his Bloodhound SSC team the best of luck.
Find out more at http://www.bloodhoundssc.com/
Posted on Wednesday, 3rd August, 2011
We don’t realise it, but with every glance we make our eyes take in a staggering amount of visual information. Whether we are crossing a street, watching a football game or strolling through the park, we are met with rich landscapes of visual detail. Still, we have no trouble focusing on what interests us and ignoring the rest. How our brains filter this constant torrent of input is a mystery, but new research from McGill University in Canada has pinpointed neurons involved.
The study, recently published in the journal Neuron by neuroscientists Therese Lennert and Julio Martinez-Trujillo, focused on part of a region in the brain called the prefrontal cortex. This region enables us to plan actions and make decisions, and is important in focusing attention.
To explore how neurons in this particular area, known as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, respond to distracting information, the researchers monitored neural activity while animal subjects observed two sets of moving dots: the target of interest and the distracter. They found that when distraction was minimal, the neurons suppressed their response to it. Yet, as distraction increased, the neurons responded more and the subjects had greater difficulty focusing on the target.
Lennert explained, “It’s well-established that this brain area is important in attention. What we add is that the suppressive response of that region correlates with behaviour.” Essentially, the subjects’ ability to pay attention rested on how well their neurons filtered out the distractions.
Overall, this work brings insight into exactly why this region of the prefrontal cortex is vital for making sense of our visual world. As a further step, additional study of these neurons could help determine what goes wrong in conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, where the brain cannot properly filter out unimportant information.
Read the original paper.
Posted on Wednesday, 20th July, 2011
Despite huge advancements in sanitation and medicine, tuberculosis remains a scourge of humanity, especially in deprived parts of the world. Last year alone, almost 2 million people died from the illness and this number is set to rise as more deadly strains of the microbe emerge. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that by 2050, 2 billion people will be carriers – patients that have no symptoms of infection, but nonetheless carry the bug inside their lungs. Around 10% of carriers develop the disease.
This continued prevalence may come as a surprise to many, considering that TB can be cured and vaccines are available. However, the course of treatment is expensive and most effective when given over 6 months, meaning that in the cash-strapped developing world, doctors often prescribe shorter, cheaper but ultimately less effective drugs. Additionally, the BCG vaccine, which many people in the UK received, only protects against TB in childhood – not the much more common adult form.
However, we aren’t fighting a losing battle, thanks to the development of a brand new vaccine. First unveiled in March 2011, it has been highly effective against the adult form of the disease.
What makes this vaccine even more remarkable is that it can protect patients before AND after being infected with the microorganism. This is the first time scientists will be able to safely inoculate a patient after exposure to TB and why this vaccine, called H56, is causing a stir worldwide and heralds a major turning point in the battle against TB.
The hope is that H56 can be distributed worldwide and protect the billions of carriers from developing the illness. However, this is only the first step. The WHO’s ultimate goal is to continue improving vaccines so that by 2050, new cases will number fewer than 8,000.Image provided by Correctional Services Canada (CSC). www.csc-scc.gc.ca.
Posted on Monday, 4th July, 2011
The field of nonlinear optics is currently producing many eye-catching (sorry) discoveries, such as visible wavelength cloaking devices. A recent paper in Physical Review Letters continues this trend, presenting a mathematical model for a material that light could pass through asymmetrically.
The optical properties of nonlinear materials vary as light travels through them. These effects have previously enabled optical cloaking, but they could now be used to differentiate light that has entered the material from opposite directions.
The model considers two layers of a nonlinear, nonmirror-symmetric lattice whose optical properties vary within it, which is described mathematically. Light incident on the lattice changes the properties of the material, which in turn changes the behaviour of light within the material. This optical dance eventually results in very different transmission coefficients for light arriving from opposite directions.
The paper, co-authored by Italian physicists Giulio Casati and Stefano Lepri, predicts 80 percent transmission for light travelling in the desired direction and 70 percent opacity to light travelling in the other, making the modelled system competitive with photonic crystals. Photonic crystals can also, under the right circumstances, block light travelling in one direction by tuning their crystal lattice structure.
Unidirectional light transmission would be immediately applicable to quantum computing in the form of a wave diode. The wave diode would be analogous to the electrical diode, which conducts electricity in only one direction (It may also be one of the more understandable parts of quantum computing). Further applications could include police observation mirrors that do not require one room to be darkened and, as Lepri suggests, similar systems for sound waves. In fact, it is possible that any system involving waves could be created to have this propagation asymmetry.
Posted on Sunday, 3rd July, 2011
The secret is finally out about how the hairy giants of the arachnid world hang on to vertical slopes. Researchers have discovered that tarantulas can, like Spiderman, shoot silk from tiny ‘spigots’ on their feet. The findings, recently published by Claire Rind and colleagues at Newcastle University, appear in the Journal of Experimental Biology.
Most spiders handle steep climbs effortlessly thanks to thousands of tiny hairs on their feet, which use molecular forces of attraction to grip even the smoothest surfaces. Tarantulas, however, can weigh over 50g and are too heavy to rely on these hairs alone when climbing. For scientists, it was unclear how the spiders avoid dangerous falls off of steep inclines.
The authors of a study in 2006 found that tarantulas placed on an inclined platform left behind silk footprints. They proposed that the animals might be clinging to the platform by releasing silk from their feet. But another explanation was that the spiders’ feet simply collect silk from rubbing against the silk-producing organs in their abdomens.
Rind’s team solved the puzzle by repeating the test and looking at the tarantula’s anatomy. They too found silk footprints on the platform, but only if they had shaken it enough to make the tarantula slip, suggesting the spider only releases silk when necessary. To locate the silk’s source, they examined spiders’ moulted skin. With electron microscopy, they found taller, nozzle-like structures amid the hairs on the feet, some of which actually had strands of silk emerging from their tips. The observations confirmed that tarantulas can release silk from their feet and the new structures were identified as the silk spigots.
According to Rind, the new findings may fill in gaps in our understanding of how modern silk-spinning spiders evolved. They also make us wonder, which superhero powers will appear in nature next?
Posted on Wednesday, 1st June, 2011
Jumpstart is proud to announce UKIE as official partner in helping to boost the UKs awareness in R&D tax credits. UKIE is the official trade body for the UK’s videogames and interactive entertainment industry. UKIE represents the interests and needs of their members and the whole sector.
Jumpstart is very proud to be part of contributing to the research and development environment by securing valuable assets through R&D tax credits.
Find out more about UKIE, their members and activities by visiting their website www.ukie.info
Posted on Tuesday, 17th May, 2011
Discarded chicken feathers could soon find a second calling in the plastics industry, thanks to recent work by scientists in the US and China. The researchers, led by Professor Yiqi Yang of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, developed a technique for turning feathers into plastic. They announced their breakthrough earlier this spring at an American Chemical Society meeting.
Each year in the US alone, over one billion kilograms of chicken feathers wind up in landfills, so recycling them as a key component in plastics makes sense. As Yang explained in a press release prepared by the American Chemical Society, “We are trying to develop plastics from renewable resources to replace those derived from petroleum products.”
The key ingredient in feathers is keratin, the protein that gives structure to skin, hair, and nails. The challenge was to transform keratin into thermoplastic, a form that is extremely useful because it can be repeatedly heated and moulded.
The team began with clean, pulverised feathers and added methyl acrylate, a key ingredient in nail polish, to make the keratin link together. Their thermoplastic product formed a film stronger than those made from starch or soy protein. Unlike previously attempted feather plastics, it also performed well when wet. As Yang explained in his prepared statement, “We believe we’re the first to demonstrate that we can make chicken-feather-based thermoplastics stable in water while still maintaining strong mechanical properties.”
Whether feather plastic is viable for industrial-scale production has yet to be seen. Renko Akkerman, technical director of the Thermoplastic Composite Research Centre in the Netherlands, told the BBC that making a product from waste is a step in the right direction, “but making the transition to mass production is a large one and only then can you truly grade the performance in terms of economics, carbon footprint, and so on.”
If all goes well, your future chicken sandwich could come packaged in a plastic of chicken feathers.
Posted on Monday, 16th May, 2011
The recent budget changes have dramatically increased the amount of relief available to SMEs, yet almost 90% do not claim each year because they do not think they are eligible. Following an initial consultation on the R&D tax relief scheme, and acting on the recommendations of the Dyson review, Chancellor George Osborne has announced a package of improvements that will strengthen the scheme. The main headline is that, as of 1st April 2011, tax relief on R&D expenditure for SMEs will be raised from 175% to 200%. In real terms, this means that claim sizes will increase by up to 33%, bringing the average SME claim size to £53,000 a year.
This improvement in the scheme will have an immediate effect for companies in the coming year. However, the news keeps getting better as the government also announced its intention to increase the rate even further, to 225%, from April 2012. This will increase the average SME claim size further to £65,000.
However, it is not just the financial impact of the scheme which has been strengthened – the scope has been widened too. By removing the £10k minimum spend requirement, the Chancellor has effectively opened the programme to smaller companies with much lower expenditures on R&D. Also, by getting rid of the PAYE/NIC cap on the size of the payable cash credit, he has helped companies with large R&D expenditures (perhaps on subcontractors and materials) but low numbers of staff – which had previously been restricted by low payroll costs. These changes will go a long way to encouraging more small companies to apply.
It is acknowledged that many eligible companies simply do not claim because they believe themselves to be in a low technology sector. A simple test is if you:
- Design and manufacture products or tools, including software; or
- Are involved in trying to resolve difficult technical problems in order to make product improvements;
then you are likely to have eligibility. It is always better to check.
These changes represent a welcome and significant U-turn in the policy of the Conservatives, who, only a year ago, were considering dismantling the scheme.
Posted on Tuesday, 29th March, 2011
The R&D tax credit scheme is unique for a number of reasons. Unlike grants, it pays out after R&D is conducted, and unlike business ventures, credits are paid out even if the research fails. Also, unlike traditional tax claim procedures, HMRC requires companies to involve staff with an understanding of science in making successful applications.
It is easy to see why companies often find it difficult to make successful claims. Internal financial controllers often have expertise in the taxation system but not in the science that makes the company tick. On the other hand, the company’s technical experts may understand the science behind their company’s products but often have limited exposure to the financial side of the business. Unfortunately, however, any lack of interaction and cooperation between the two groups can have disastrous consequences when it comes to making and defending an R&D tax credit claim.
Jumpstart facilitates the interaction of these two business disciplines in order to make robust, accurate and successful claims. By collecting technical information on the company’s projects and using this as the focus of the cost collection, in all cases we aim to satisfy HMRC that the claim has been compiled with the input of both financial and technical staff. More details on this approach, and its results, can be found at http://www.jumpstartuk.co.uk/why-jumpstart/
Posted on Wednesday, 6th October, 2010
Research and Development (R&D) tax credits aren’t a new phenomenon but they are fairly recent to the UK. It is well understood that countries that can attract, and develop, companies with intellectual property.
If these companies can use intellectual property to develop new products, it will enhance the country’s tax base. Think of Microsoft, Apple or GSK and you may think of successful companies that are driven to success by commercialization of their R&D. They become important drivers in the economies of their resident countries.
Although the positive effect of R&D was suspected, it wasn’t until the 1990’s that economists examined the effects of R&D and compared the growth of the economy of countries. They found a direct, and predictable, correlation between R&D and the growth of gross domestic product (GDP). These results have influenced a number of countries to look at different ways to encourage R&D.
Research and Development can be paid from a number of sources such as grants, private investment, and more recently tax credits. Financing R&D by the use of government grants is open to criticism since lobbying can influence the direction of the funding. Private investment of R&D brings an expectation of direct future profit and therefore is prone to be used only on projects with high certainty of success in the short or medium term. Private investment is also volatile due to the psychological and material influences of economies. When the economy is looking good and profits are high R&D expenditures increase. In downturns, the converse is true.
R&D tax credits allow governments and companies to be jointly involved with R&D. Companies decide on the R&D they wish to pursue and governments assist with the funding, on a non-influential basis, by making contributions in a highly prescribed manner.
Posted on Monday, 9th August, 2010
As the election draws ever nearer it is now clear that whichever party rules the roost at Downing Street after May, one thing is for certain, companies should be confident that the R&D Tax Credit programme will be a part of the business landscape for the foreseeable future. The Conservative Party have taken on-board the recommendations in the report by James Dyson titled ‘Ingenious Britain’ and will retain the R&D Tax Credit programme – effectively a U-turn in policy from last year.
Dr Tim Bradshaw, head of enterprise and innovation at the CBI, welcomed this change and supported Dyson’s view that strengthening the programme further was necessary. He continued by saying: “R&D tax credits should not be restricted to SMEs and hi-tech firms, but should be available to companies of all sizes and sectors. This would encourage all businesses to grow through investment and innovation”.
We think this deserves three sucks on a Dyson vacuum cleaner!
Posted on Tuesday, 16th March, 2010
As our blog post in November mentioned. Karen Valentine has now joined the company as Technical Analyst taking our running total of analysts to six.
Karen is a technical writer and business analyst with over twelve years experience. She has worked on a number of different systems within the Energy & Utilities sector. Karen can effectively analyse R&D activity within companies and has developed a good understanding of the NETA and BETTA marketplace.
Karen joins the company with a First Class (Hons) in Computer Science, which means, to date, all members of staff have degrees excluding our Managing Director, Don Galloway. Don has noted this but is determined not to let it get him down – he plays a vital role in other aspects of Jumpstart’s development and keeping staff motivated. Just remember Don, Karen drinks tea with milk, no sugar!
Posted on Wednesday, 20th January, 2010
In the Chancellor’s Pre Budget Report on Wednesday 9th December he announced further improvement to help small and medium sized companies who are claiming for R&D tax relief. Previously these companies had to own the IP on their eligible activities; this requirement has now been removed. Great news and further strengthens the program, let’s hope more is on the way.
Posted on Friday, 11th December, 2009
As mentioned in our November blog we are delighted to introduce Jumpstart’s latest recruit – Stephen Edwards.
Stephen joins the company after a year in Africa working in Niger along with his wife Karen and young son Rory. Stephen comes with a raft of qualifications – Diploma in Chemical Engineering, 1st Class Honours in Biological Sciences and a Master of Philosophy in Bioinformatics
Amazingly he can also make an excellent cup of coffee… but his tea is in need of improvement. You never stop learning!
Posted on Monday, 7th December, 2009
This months Blog post has a more serious note.
We were very encouraged to hear recent reports from CBI president Helen Alexander (above) of the organisations un-faltering support for the R&D tax credit program.
The business group wants the tax credit to be extended, and serious consideration to be given to introducing a “royalty box ” system – where revenues from certain areas of IP, such as drug patents, are taxed at a lower rate, encouraging investment.
Speaking at the CBI’s East of England annual dinner this month she said the development and exploitation of IP will play an important role in the UK’s economic recovery.
“We want to see future tax changes have to pass a test, which is: Will it make the UK a more attractive place for businesses to invest in, develop and exploit IP?” she said.
“We must have a stable and competitive tax framework if we’re to incentivise IP development and exploitation. Change and uncertainty undermine the confidence of those making long-term investment decisions.”
The UK’s current R&D tax credit scheme works well, but other countries are fast catching up, said Alexander.
“The US has recently decided that its R&D tax credit is such an important part of its business landscape that it will make the credit permanent. Competing with the US is never easy, and so any plans to remove the UK’s R&D tax credit should be rejected out of hand as dangerously short-sighted,” she said.
Let’s hope these views are also the views of government whoever that may be in the future.
Posted on Tuesday, 15th September, 2009
We are delighted to announce the arrival of Sarah Hollis to Jumpstart from Baker Tilly. Sarah will be working with us to help clients in all things relating to the accountancy side of an R&D tax credit application.
It should be noted that Sarah is very keen on Karaoke but she points out that this does not make her a singer! All Jumpstart can say is… “that’s us sorted for our Christmas entertainment this year then…!”
Posted on Monday, 10th August, 2009