Professor Steve Beeby is fostering impactful research in Electronics and Computer Science (ECS) as the department’s Deputy Head responsible for enterprise and impact. An electronics expert with an international reputation in the fields of energy harvesting and interactive textiles, he has successfully spun out two companies from his research. His academic career spans more than two decades at the University of Southampton and includes two prestigious Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (ESPRC) Fellowships.
Steve was raised in Sussex and studied Mechanical Engineering at the University of Portsmouth. On graduating in 1992, he secured a post as a Research Assistant in the University of Southampton’s Institute of Transducer Technology (USITT) and completed a part-time PhD as he investigated and improved Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS) sensors.
He integrated into the highly active ECS department in the following years and developed a growing expertise in sensors, MEMS technology and energy harvesting. “The idea of energy harvesting is to capture mechanical energy in the environment and convert that into electrical energy for powering autonomous devices – removing the need for batteries,” he explains. “This research has led to participation in EU projects and the Perpetuum spinout company.”
Perpetuum was founded in 2004 and has flourished in the last decade to produce autonomous sensor systems powered by electrical energy generated through vibrations in industrial machinery and on the national rail network. “Having been fundamentally involved in the technology, I could see energy harvesting had commercial potential,” Steve says. “It became clear when forming the company that there could be several key applications and this has informed my research going forward.”
Steve leads the UK’s energy harvesting network and organises regular events and workshops which discuss the technology’s latest developments with international speakers.
Steve was awarded a five-year EPSRC Research Fellowship in 2001 to advance micro-machining and piezoelectric materials and secured a Leadership Fellowship with the funding body to cover energy harvesting for smart fabrics and interactive textiles in 2010. “The research theme adds intelligence or electronic functionality to standard textiles,” he explains. “These e-textiles might not just be used in the fabric of clothing but also surfaces such as carpets, car interiors and materials used in architecture and agriculture. There are huge opportunities if we can learn to add extra functionality.” Within this domain, Steve recently co-founded University spinout Smart Fabric Inks to exploit ECS’s development of functional inks.
“Enterprise in academia offers you something different to research and teaching,” he adds. “It’s time consuming and takes a lot of effort – but it’s also very rewarding.” Steve would encourage all his peers to actively consider the prospective impact of their work. “Some people can think their research is so fundamental that it couldn’t possibly have impact outside of academia,” he says. “But actually, when you start talking you invariably find there is always the potential for impact and often the potential for enterprise as well. People are just not used to thinking along those lines.”
In 2015, Steve was appointed Deputy Head of ECS responsible for enterprise. He is promoting staff and students’ entrepreneurial activities and supporting the development of impact case studies for the next Research Excellence Framework (REF) assessment.
“I can help staff with advice and support based on my experience of the spinout process and will explain how that can benefit your academic career,” he says. “It shouldn’t hinder their career but instead be an advantage providing it’s done properly.” Steve is able to recommend activities that will promote the enterprise and impact of researchers’ work and explain what data must be captured to support future REF submissions. You can get in touch with Steve using the contact form on this page.
In his spare time, Steve enjoys watching and playing football. A Level 1 qualified FA coach, he manages the Under 10s team for his local football club the Bishops Waltham Dynamos.
“Future Worlds is giving enterprise a new profile amongst staff and students,” he adds. “People are recognising enterprise as an important activity and it is enabling more opportunities to happen. It’s a brilliant activity.”