What are your credentials / past work experience that make you suited to your role in the company?
I have been at Covesion and Stratophase, the original company spun out of Southampton University, my entire career. My Master’s degree was in Physics with Optoelectronics and I then moved to Southampton for my PhD researching Periodically Poled Lithium Niobate (PPLN) and adhesive free bonding.
In 1997 when I started my PhD PPLN was still a relatively new technology. People had made PPLN crystals and produced scientific reports but there wasn’t really any mainstream manufacture. During my PhD we took on a few contracts to make one-off crystals for people. I paid my way through my doctorate by running the university’s dicing and polishing labs in the evenings and weekends.
Stratophase was founded in 2003 as a company of two parts, one side was involved with biochemical monitoring and then our team, who were the first to really commercialise the manufacture of PPLN crystals. We standardised production, the look of the crystal, we had stock items while still offering a custom crystal solution to those customers that wanted it.
I went back to Southampton University full-time for a year in 2008 focusing on making MgO: PPLN Crystals, which is now our core material. MgO: PPLN crystals are more stable at lower temperatures, more efficient and better at generating wavelengths.
At the same time the decision was made that Stratophase would continue as a biochemical monitoring company. Covesion was founded in 2009 to concentrate on PPLN. I went to work at Covesion for 5 years on secondment from the university. At the beginning of I was involved with everything. I designed the original logo, I worked out the chartered accounts, I swept the floors, I locked the doors, I made the coffee and whatever it took to kind of get everything running. You just pitched in. Covesion is a life’s work.
In 2014 we started looking at the waveguides so I stepped back to university again researching waveguides while continuing as CTO of Covesion. 2014 was also the year where the interest and potential in the quantum technology field began. Research showed that there are other, very specific wavelengths that people needed, for example very specific blue wavelengths to be able to make light work with quantum systems.
I mean the other big thing I do is bring in big projects. We know our market, we talk to academics, researchers, industry to find out what they want, what they are working on and how we can help. It’s a case of saying we are going to do something and doing it, we don’t over-promise; we don’t under-promise either. I like to think I’ve got a reputation for delivering on it.
We are a great mix of people at Covesion, I’m the delivery guy, on the ground kind of nuts and bolts kind of this stuff ‘we have been asked for this which has to completed in this timeframe but how do you actually deliver it and be certain it will work? For anything we make my first consideration is: who’s going to want to use it? Is it useful? There are big things ahead for Covesion and I can see that my role will be to vet what other people are doing, my experience with the product and company gives me that knowhow.
What is your favourite part of your job?
I like to take responsibility for things, I like to make sure things are right. I suppose I am not your standard academic, One of the things I enjoy the most is making things.
With my joint roles at Southampton University and Covesion I have been fortunate in that I have been able to work from an original concept right through to manufacture. Normally, at university, you do the first stage: you have a concept, you make one or two of something, you show it and you publish it; that’s as far as you go. Some people might patent and occasionally do a technology transfer; but there’s not many people out there who go all the way through from concept, right through to commercial production. I feel very privileged to be one of the few.
I also enjoy seeing the people I have taken on as PhD students or researchers develop as people. I have taken on a number of students, talented but very much at the start of their careers. We obviously employed them because of their abilities but it is very fulfilling to see that raw intelligence and talent develop. Many of my students now have very senior roles in industry and its rewarding to know that I have had a hand in the development of their careers.
What has been your career highlight so far?
One of the first things I really remember during the commercialisation of the PPLN crystals was having a box of 100 crystals – the first time we’d ever made anything of that kind of scale: ready to send to our distributor at the time. The box was sitting on the passenger seat of my car and I remember thinking “These are worth more than my flat. I hope the air bag doesn’t go off,” But that was the start of it, the first time we made something as stock items, in bulk rather than of making ones and twos for custom research. I remember thinking this is now a commercial thing now. I real career highlight after all the work that had been put it.
Another career high point came a couple of years ago when I was awarded a Royal Academy of Engineering Senior Research Fellowship. From an academic perspective, it’s quite a prestigious accolade. It’s a five-year project, researching industry-focused solutions. It’s absolutely perfect for me. I was unsure during the interview process as I have a tendency to talk too quickly, trying to get my life’s work into 20 minutes! The interviewer saw through this though. He said at the end “It’s not that you talk too fast; you exude enthusiasm…..you can just tell you love what you do.” And that’s true, I do.
What do you do outside of work?
I like reading comics. I read a lot of manga, Japanese comics and I also I watch a lot of Japanese cartoons. I got into this when I was doing my degree, I have bookcases full of every single manga that came out in the UK.
I enjoy travelling and especially to Japan, I worked there for three or four months during the summer of 2001 and have been out their numerous times since for work and to see friends.
Malaysia is also somewhere was have travelled to a few times as a family. My wife is half Malaysian, its really is a lovely, welcoming place to visit.
I also love the beach, especially in Cornwall we normally try and go two or three times a year. I’ve got a Volkswagen van, customised. It’s not a camper van yet but its big enough to travel around with the family. I’ve got 3 kids; they’re aged 7, 5 and 3 and we’ve just got 2 kittens, so my life is a bit of an insane whirlwind of work and family life.
I like to swim as well, swimming is one of the only opportunities that I ever switch my brain off I think that’s the reason why I enjoy it, I don’t think about anything else while I am in the pool.