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Breaking Down The Walls: The Convergence Of Sciences And Engineering Opens Up New Ideas For The Future

The full programme is here:

Professor Mary Ryan: Professor of Materials Science & Nanotechnology, Faculty of Engineering, Department of Materials,  Imperial College, London


Nanotechnology has the power to revolutionize technologies from healthcare, to energy, to creating everyday objects like self-cleaning clothes?  How do we design and make these systems so that they are effective and safe? In my lab we work on making nanoparticles that have very specific properties; I will describe how some of these can be used as potential cancer treatments, or can selectively collect uranium from groundwater. The flip-side is that some nanoparticles already in use may be toxic to humans and the environment, and understanding what controls this can help us design better systems. We work with a clinicians and toxicologists to try and understand this, so that we can design materials that are safe.


Mary Ryan is Professor of Materials Science and Nanotechnology in the Materials Department at Imperial College London. She currently holds and RAEng/Shell Research Chair for Interfacial Science and leads the Imperial-Shell Centre for Advanced Interfacial Materials Science.  She has an interdisciplinary background: graduating with a Joint B.Sc. in Mathematics and Physics, followed by an MSc in Corrosion and PhD in Materials Science. Before joining Imperial College she spent 3 years as a research Scientist at Brookhaven National Lab in the USA where she developed work using X-rays to study electrochemical systems. Her research spans several application areas around the central theme of nanomaterials-environment interfaces: the growth and stability of nanoscale systems, nanomaterials for energy and nanotoxicity. She is a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, Fellow of the Institute of Materials and a Member of the International Society of Electrochemistry. She is a Trustee of the National Heritage Science Forum and Member of the Research Advisory Board of the Royal Air Force Museum. 


Dr Jessica Wade: Faculty of Natural Sciences, Department of Physics,Imperial College, London

What you didn’t know about plastic

At school, we learn in that plastics are insulators. In chemistry, we learn that plastics are polymers- long chains of carbon atoms connected by single or double bonds. In the 1970s scientists discovered that a special bonding of carbon atoms could introduce semiconducting properties into the polymer chain. These semiconducting polymers dissolve in common organic solvents to make printable inks, with tunable electronic properties depending on their chemistry. In the Centre for Plastic Electronics at Imperial College London, we print ultrathin layers (tens of nanometres thick) onto plastic to make flexible electronic devices. Our organic solar cells can be printed onto huge sheets, which can be rolled out across deserts in the developing world. Dr Wade is currently working on circularly polarised light emitting diodes-  where the shapes of the organic molecules determine the polarisation of the emitted light. She uses a range of spectroscopic techniques to study the molecules and polymers close up, and also microscopes than can resolve features at the nanoscale.


Jess Wade is a post-doctoral researcher in the Department of Physics and Centre for Plastic Electronics at Imperial College London, creating circularly polarised organic light emitting diodes. During her MSci, Jess won the Tyndall Prize for Most Outstanding Final Year Project. Jess won the Institute of Physics (IOP) Early Career Communicator Prize (2015), “I’m a Scientist, Get Me Out of Here!” (2015) and the IOP Jocelyn Bell Burnell Award (2016). Throughout her career in research she has been involved in projects to support gender inclusion in science. At Imperial, she established the Imperial College London Women in Physics group, and nationally sits on the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) young women’s board. Amongst other projects, Jess works closely with the Institute for Research in Schools and IOP to try and support teachers and students across the country.


Professor Alan Winfield:Professor of Robot Ethics,Department of Engineering, Design and Mathematics, University of the West of England, Bristol

Robotics and AI for Social Good

Artificial Intelligence is changing the world, and has huge potential for both societal and economic benefit. However, AI - and a new generation of smart robots that work alongside people - is not without societal risk. As professor of robot ethics Alan's job is to worry about those risks, and what we need to do to ensure that the risks are minimised.  He described some of his worries, and introduced current work to ensure that ethics, and societal values such as well-being, are designed into our machines. 


Alan FT Winfield is Professor of Robot Ethics at the University of the West of England (UWE), Bristol, UK, and Visiting Professor at the University of York. He received his PhD in Electronic Engineering from the University of Hull in 1984, then co-founded and led APD Communications Ltd until taking-up appointment at UWE, Bristol in 1992. Alan co-founded the Bristol Robotics Laboratory where his research is focussed on cognitive robotics; he is especially interested in robots as working models of life, evolution, intelligence and culture.  Alan is an advocate for robot ethics and is actively engaged in the development of standards for responsible robotics. Alan has published over 200 works, including ‘Robotics: A Very Short Introduction’ (Oxford University Press, 2012); he lectures widely on robotics, presenting to both academic and public audiences, and blogs at


Dr Fay Cooper PostdoctoralTraining Fellow, developmental biology, Francis Crick Institute, London

How to Build a Body

The adult human body is made up of more than 37 trillion cells. To build a complete human body these cells are organized into 200 different cell types, which are then directed to the correct area of your body. All these events need to occur completely and at the correct time to form a complete healthy body.  This process is called embryogenesis and is tightly controlled by our DNA. Changes in the DNA can result in errors occurring during development and may alter how the body is built. Investigating this is important for understanding health and disease. 


Fay Cooper is a postdoctoral research scientist interested in developmental biology; the process in which a single fertilized egg develops into a complete human body. Fay’s interest in developmental biology started during her undergraduate degree whilst studying Biochemistry. Following this interest, she applied to a PhD programme in Edinburgh where she investigated the genetic regulation of embryo growth, specializing in human growth disorders. She is now working at the Francis Crick Institute in London. Her research focuses on how the embryo specifies the basic human body plan; correctly positioning the head, spine, arms, legs and feet, during embryo development. 


Professor Maja Pantic: Professor of Affective & Behavioural Computing, Faculty of Engineering, Department of Computing, Imperial College London

How AI and robotics will change the future
We are currently witnessing the dawn of a new technological era that is fundamentally changing the way we live, work, and relate to one another. We already have billions of people connected by mobile phones and Internet, giving rise to unprecedented connectivity, knowledge  access, and data processing power. If mere existence of Internet and basic knowledge of computing could produce such profound disruptions, consider the unlimited possibilities for innovations and future disruptions based on emerging breakthroughs in computing in fields such as Artificial Intelligence and robotics. This talk summarised some of these emerging breakthroughs in computer vision and machine learning, and their current and potential applications. Maja outlined the profound impact that computing has on our current life and how people can get prepared for the future that ubiquitous digitalisation and automation brings about.

Maja Pantic is Professor of Affective & Behavioural Computing and the Head of the Intelligent Behaviour Understanding Group (iBUG), working on computer vision and machine learning for machine analysis of human behaviour. She also holds an appointment as the Professor of Affective & Behavioural Computing at the University of Twente, the Netherlands. She acts as the Scientific Advisor for Realeyes Ltd, Estonia, and the Scientific Chief Advisoror EmoTech Ltd, UK. Prof. Pantic is one of the world's pioneering and leading experts in the research on machine understanding of human behaviour. She is one of the top 25 most cited women in Computer Science in the world. In 2011, she received British Computer Society Roger Needham Award, awarded annually to a UK based researcher for a distinguished research contribution in computer science within ten years of their PhD. She is a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering (IEEE), a Fellow of International Association for Pattern Recognition (IAPR), and a Fellow of British Computer Society (BCS). For more information see:


Professor Magnus Rattray: Professor of Computational and Systems Biology, Director, Data Science Institute, University of Manchester

Making sense of big data in biology
New experimental techniques have led to an explosion in the volume and complexity of data in biology and medicine. For example, the cost of DNA sequencing has fallen dramatically in recent years and millions of human genomes will soon have been sequenced worldwide. DNA encodes the instructions for making proteins and an intermediate molecule, messenger RNA (mRNA), carries these instructions from the cell's nucleus to the cytoplasm where proteins are produced in a process called gene expression. The same DNA-sequencing technologies that allow for genomes to be sequenced at a low cost can also be used to sequence all of the mRNAs contained within individual cells. This gene expression data provides valuable insights into many different biological processes. However, the data from such experiments is huge and special computational and statistical tools are required to help make sense of it.  Magnus described some of the computational tools that computational biologists have developed to analyse these large-scale and high-resolution datasets. 


Magnus Rattray is Professor of Computational and Systems Biology, and Director of the University of Manchester's Data Science Institute ( He has an inter-disciplinary background, with a BSc in Mathematics & Physics and PhD in Computer Science followed by postdoctoral studies in Machine Learning and Bioinformatics. His research is on the development and application of statistical tools for the analysis of large-scale biological, medical and health datasets. A particular research focus has been on the development of methods for data-driven modelling of gene expression dynamics. His research group publishes open source software implementing these statistical methods. He contributes to a range of collaborative biology and medical projects in areas such as embryogenesis, circadian biology, immune-mediated inflammatory disorders and cancer. 


DrAnjana Ahuja (Chair): Award winning science journalist, commentator and broadcaster.  Contributing Writer on science at the Financial Times.

The event was chaired by DrAnjana Ahuja, contributing Writer on science at the Financial Times, with previous roles with 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.