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Breaking down the walls: The convergence of sciences and engineering opens up new ideas for the future

  • Kings College School Wimbledon Southside SW19 4TT (map)

The event explored the creative collaboration between the scientific disciplines, looking at evolving inter-disciplinary research areas, such as bioinformatics, synthetic biology, nanotechnology, computational biology, tissue engineering, biomaterials and system biology.  It looked at how convergence can provide the blueprint for addressing healthcare challenges of the 21st century by providing a new knowledge base as well as a new generation of diagnostics and therapeutics.   The evening explored how creative collaboration can be nurtured most effectively to unleash new ideas and innovation.

The event was chaired by Dr Anjana Ahuja, Contributing Writer on science at the Financial Times, and also contributing to the Daily Telegraph, Prospect and BBC2's Newsnight. She was named Best Science Commentator at the 2013 Comment Awards. In 2010 she co-wrote Selected, about the evolution of human leadership, with the celebrated social psychologist Professor Mark van Vugt. She is a primary school governor and belongs to Speakers for Schools, a charity aiming to inspire children from state schools into public life. Anjana was educated at an Essex comprehensive and read physics at Imperial College London, where she also earned a PhD in space physics.

The following scientists were involved:

Professor Paul Freemont, co-director of the EPSRC Centre for Synthetic Biology and Innovations, Imperial College and the National UK Innovation and Knowledge Centre for Synthetic Biology at Imperial College London.. The EPSRC Centre is the first of its kind in the UK and aims to develop foundational technologies to enable synthetic biology research in application areas like biosensors, bioprocessing, metabolic and genome engineering.    Paul is also head of the new section of Structural Biology in Imperial’s Department of Medicine, the author of over 170 scientific publications, a Fellow of the Society of Biology and appears regularly on radio and television broadcasts on the subject of synthetic biology. Paul is an active member of the synthetic biology community and has co-supervised Imperial undergraduate iGEM teams since 2006.

Dr Simon Schultz, Royal Society Industry Fellow, Imperial College, Director of EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Neurotechnology.   Neurotechnology is the use of insights and tools from engineering, mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology to investigate neural function and treat dysfunction.  Brain-related illnesses affect more than two billion people worldwide, and the numbers are growing. Reducing this burden is a major challenge for society. The Centre will train a new generation of multidisciplinary researchers at the interface of neuroscience and engineering, to address this challenge. Dr Schultz has led the development of a critical mass of research at the interface between engineering and neuroscience. He is widely known for theoretical and experimental work on neural coding - the study of how the brain represents information – as well as the use of multi-photon optical methods to study brain circuits.

Dr Sabine Hauert is Lecturer in Robotics at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory and University of Bristol where she designs swarms of nanobots for biomedical applications. Swarm strategies are either inspired from nature or are automatically designed using machine learning and crowdsourcing (click here for more details). Sabine has designed swarms of nanoparticles for cancer treatment at MIT where she was a Human Frontier Science Program Cross-Disciplinary Fellow, and deployed large swarms of flying robots for use as communication relays at EPFL. Her work has been featured in mainstream media including The BBC, The Economist, and New Scientist. She is also the co-organiser of more than 10 international workshops, conferences, and competitions. Passionate about science communication and outreach, she is the Co-founder and President of Robohub, a non-profit dedicated to connecting the robotics community to the general public.

Dr Christopher Forman, Nanobiophysicist, Cambridge University. Lectures on ‘The Big Picture: Naturally Inspired Manufacturing’. Biology can teach us about designing materials to order; in particular how top down processes such as evolution can combine with bottom up processes such as self-assembly to generate materials with tunable properties.   Dr Forman is currently researching how to introduce the cleverness of biological material at the molecular scale into mass manufacturing. Synthetic biology and metabolic engineering promise the production of almost any material anywhere on the planet at a molecular resolution. Dr Forman believes that using energy from sunlight to help metabolise generic feedstocks to produce advanced materials, at a time and place specified by the customer, will be the chief concern of almost all industries including food, textile, defence, health, energy and manufacturing by the end of the next century.

Dr Lena Ciric, Lecturer, Department of Civil, Environmental & Geomatic Engineering, Faculty of Engineering Science, University College London.   Lena's research expertise lies in the application of molecular biology techniques to the profiling of microbial communities in various environments, from diesel degrading consortia, the healthy and diseased human microbiome, to the communities present in the air and on high touch surfaces in public spaces. She also studies bacterial antibiotic resistance mechanisms and their modes of transfer among different communities. Lena manages the Healthy Infrastructure Research Group at UCL CEGE. The group carries out research investigating engineering solutions that reduce the spread of infectious disease and improve environmental health.  She is in charge of student outreach.