At the start of this year YAS member Professor Graeme Malcolm was awarded with an OBE. We asked him a few questions about what it was like to receiving this honour and what motivates him in his working life.
How do you feel about getting your honour?
It was a lovely surprise and quite literally an honour. It’s a reflection of the efforts of many people whom I’ve had the privilege to work with directly or collaborate with over the years. A great way to start 2015!
Tell us more about M2 lasers.
We are a team of 60 people headquartered in Glasgow but really a global business as >90% of our laser technology is exported overseas. We have offices in Silicon Valley (San Jose), Boston and Hamburg and are continuing to grow globally.
At M Squared Lasers we are developing novel laser technology for a broad range of applications both in moving frontier scientific discovery forward and also in realising new instruments in applications where lasers haven’t previously been widely used. Within the research laboratories we are focusing on lasers for quantum technologies, chemical detection and sensing and biophotonic. As we move out of the laboratory into the real world we are targeting applications in sensing for process control, detection & treatment of disease and cellular imaging through to detection of hazardous threat materials in a security setting, for example detection of explosives or toxic chemicals.
M Squared's founding mantra is “dependable innovation” and we work hard to make sure our innovations are robust and reliable for our customers. We also love to explore and have a dedicated Innovation Business Unit who are looking at the challlenges and solutions of the future often in very broad collaborative projects.
What has been your greatest achievement?
It’s hard to pick out one but I’d say the way in which we’ve helped three key fields develop - multi-photon imaging, atomic and molecular optics and uv detection of defects on semiconductor chips are the areas where we’ve had greatest impact to-date. We’ve helped a few Nobel Prize-winning groups on the way to their discoveries.
What challenges have you faced?
Challenges occur daily in the process of starting-up then scaling up a technology business. The key challenges can be technical or scientific as we tackle new applications or technologies or market based as we work hard to bring new ideas and innovations to market, where winning hearts and minds can be a long journey often over a long period.
Who inspires you?
Many different people inspire me - we have some fantastic collaborations with key research groups worldwide and the scientists and science in many many of these groups is awe-inspiring. I’m also greatly inspired by many different entrepreneurs from the most famous like Richard Branson and Elon Musk to other tech companies undergoing similar journeys to ours at M Squared. I’m often working with other entrepreneurs and the energy, learning and inspiration from that sort of interaction really helps us move more quickly.
What do you do to relax away from work?
I live in rural Perthshire with my wife and 3 children and we love the outdoors, walking, cycling, fishing and golfing are right on our doorstep and that helps balance the busy world of growing a technology company.
How interdisciplinary is your work?
Incredibly so our lasers incorporate several disciplines - beyond the laser physics there is materials development, opto-mechanical design, modelling, thermal management, digital and analogue electronics, software development and then the applications areas and systems-level development. On the applications side we are working on everything from whisky distillation to sensing explosives, from bio and chemical imaging to process meteorology. As our applications are so broad we have an open innovation collaboration program that links us to experts across the globe and these partnerships let us punch above our weight in terms of interdisciplinary approach.
What are your thoughts on YAS two years in?
It’s a superb forum and I think has hit the ground running. The Young Academy’s diversity is fascinating and that - combined with our relatively small geographic scale in Scotland - allows many different experts in all ranges of disciplines to meet and get round the table. This has already generated some interesting ideas and activities including those of inspiring the next generation which - having 3 kids of my own - is particularly close to my heart. I’m looking forward to seeing how the YAS activities develop and helping and participating in new activities.
What is your #aspirationaladvice for young people?
My key #aspirationaladvice would be explore; find what fascinates you and explore it and go out in the world to find the opportunities to do something that you love.
What are your outstanding ambitions?
At M Squared we have a huge amount of potential and we are ambitious to scale up and become a world leader in what we do. Personally, I’m keen to keep scaling M Squared whilst exploring and finding fascinating new opportunities in photonics.