Marleen Vetter, a former PhD student jointly sponsored by AWE and Cranfield University, has been awarded the prestigious Kings Norton Medal – the prize that recognises and celebrates Cranfield University’s outstanding doctoral student of the year.

Named after Lord Kings Norton, Cranfield’s first Chancellor, this medal is the only prize awarded across all doctorate students at the University.

Marleen’s thesis was entitled ‘Investigating Electric Field Induced Changes in Polypropylene using Scattering Techniques’, in which her research examined how polypropylene responds to an applied electrical field (electric stress).

Marleen said: “I had a really good time at Cranfield University, even during Covid-19. My fellow PhD students and my supervisor were extremely supportive. My research sponsor was also very helpful and I could rely on them for assistance whenever I needed something. I am very grateful to receive this award that recognises not only my hard work, but also all those people who supported me in the background within our close Shrivenham community.”

Polypropylene is the second-most widely produced commodity plastic and has numerous applications including the dielectric inside capacitors. These are devices that temporarily store electrical charge and are found in virtually all electronic circuits.

AWE scientists were particularly interested in safe and repeatable techniques that explore high voltage characteristics without contact or damaging packaging. New techniques were devised to analyse both model polymer systems under electric stress and real capacitors operating over a range of voltages.

AWE scientist, Darren Salisbury, said: “As supervisor for Marleen’s PhD, I would like to congratulate her on this outstanding achievement and thank her for her contribution to our important work in protecting the UK against radiological and nuclear threats. The output of Marleen’s research has provided a great foundation for the development of innovative detection techniques for emergency response applications.”

Marleen’s experimental work was carried out at Cranfield University’s specialist embedded facility at the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom in Shrivenham, and at the DESY (Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron) facility in Hamburg. It was first time that several sophisticated X-ray synchrotron techniques were used to investigate polypropylene under high electric fields.

Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation at Cranfield University, Professor Leon A. Terry, said: “Marleen’s achievement in winning the Kings Norton Medal is richly deserved. She has shown innovative flair and dedication to her field, and her work will have a real-life impact. This kind of research practice encapsulates the qualities we foster and nurture at Cranfield. I’m delighted for Marleen – congratulations!”

Marleen’s research has paved the way for a deeper understanding of how polymers work at the microscopic level in electronic circuits. Potential applications and benefits include improved circuit stability and reliability, remote evaluation of device performance, and safety monitoring – all areas of interest and importance to AWE.