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Archive for the 'Engineering Sciences' Category

10 Questions

By Christina Campbell, on 30 July 2015

In this monthly feature, the Institute of Biomedical Engineering (IBME) interviews our researchers, academics, students, clinicians, affiliates and partners to find out a little more about who they are and what they do.

This month we interviewed Professor Kwang-Leong Choy, Director of the UCL Institute for Materials Discovery and Professor for Material Discovery at UCL. We asked her 10 questions around her research, career and personal life. Here are her answers….


 

IMG_76241) How long have you worked as Director of the UCL Institute for Materials Discovery and Professor for Material Discovery at UCL?

Since February 2014

2) Can you please describe what it is you do?

I work in Materials Discovery, so we work with new materials, new processes, materials with improved/enhanced performance, new applications of materials, and we link theory with practice.

3) What brought you to the world of science/engineering/medical technologies/medicine?

I’ve always wanted to make a difference in the science, engineering and medical fields. Now I’m able to use materials and apply my knowledge and skills to contribute to these fields.

4) What keywords would you use to describe your work?

Innovation; Discovering new things; Excitement; Passionate about inventions; Novelty factor.

5) What has been your career highlight?

The research that I do is incredibly important to me and it’s exciting to see how my work can make a difference in the world. It’s remarkable to see how my research ideas have been transformed from conception to demonstration and exploitation.

6) What’s the best piece of advice you’ve given others?

There are so many little sayings I enjoy sharing with others. Not only do I believe them, I also live by them daily: Failure is a medicine that one should use to improve; When one door shuts, another opens. When you lose one opportunity, you often find a different one; Life is a journey.

7) If you had a superpower, what would it be and why?

I would love to engineer a perfect surface solution with self-healing properties and the capability to harness energy from nature in an effortless and eco-friendly way – that would be amazing. And then I would develop new materials based on my research.

8) What do you do in your spare time?

I really enjoy getting involved in various charity projects. I would always like to do more for the community, but time is always a factor. I also enjoy spending time with my children.

9) What’s your favourite book at the moment?

Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution by Nick Lane

10) Is there anything else you would like to share?

I would love the opportunity to collaborate with UCL colleagues across all disciplines and open up new areas of research leading to material discovery. If you are also interested in getting involved in something like this, please send me an email at k.choy@ucl.ac.uk

 

Professor Choy obtained her D.Phil. in Materials Science from the University of Oxford. Her D.Phil. thesis was on the Chemical Vapour Deposition of new ceramic protective coatings for SiC fibres reinforced Ti based metal matrix composites.

She currently leads a team of 12 researchers, performing pioneering research into novel, sustainable, and cost-effective processing of nanostructured materials, thin films and thick coatings using non-vacuum and environmentally friendly chemical vapour based deposition methods, with unique nanocrystalline microstructure and superior properties for structural, functional and biomedical applications.

She has over 25 years’ experience in surface coating and nanomaterials.

 

 

10 Questions

By Christina Campbell, on 29 June 2015

In this monthly feature, the Institute of Biomedical Engineering (IBME) interviews our researchers, academics, students, clinicians, affiliates and partners to find out a little more about who they are and what they do.

This month we interviewed Dr Tom Carlson, a Lecturer at the Aspire CREATe – Centre for Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology, UCL. We asked him 10 questions around his research, career and personal life. Here are his answers….


 

TomCarlson1)  What is your job title?

Aspire Lecturer – just to clarify, rather than “aspiring” to be a lecturer, this lectureship is part-funded by the Aspire Spinal Injury Charity. Our lab is located close to the Aspire headquarters on UCL’s campus at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, Stanmore.

2) How long have you worked as an Aspire Lecturer?

One-and-a-half years.

3) What keywords would you pick to describe your work?

Stimulating, rewarding, beneficial, challenging and fun!

4) What brought you to the world of science/engineering/medical technologies/medicine?

When I was younger I loved building things with Lego. I also really enjoyed taking things apart and figuring out how to put them back together (or not) – fortunately my parents were very patient!

It was my Grandad who taught me all life’s essentials in his wood workshop – how to use a multitude of hand tools, how to solder, how to make a dovetail joint… I also have to thank Graham Bennett, my high school electronics teacher, who staved off retirement and came back part-time to teach our 4-pupil-strong A-level electronics classes. He was definitely a catalyst of my passion for all things electric, and he encouraged me to pursue Electronic Engineering at university.

It wasn’t until my PhD with Yiannis Demiris at Imperial College London that I began to gravitate towards the medical sector. Later I received a lot more exposure to the clinical world during my post doc years with José del R. Millán at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland.

5) What do you enjoy most about your work?

I love playing with robots and it’s even better when we’re developing medical technologies to actually help people get on with their lives. I also enjoy meeting all the diverse people along the way, from scientists, to clinicians, to patients and the general public – we all share the same enthusiasm for the projects we’re working on and I have friends all over the world.

6) What do you feel are the main challenges facing your research/clinical practice at the moment?tom - wheelchair

I guess one of the main challenges is managing the interests and expectations of all the stakeholders – the patients and their families, the charities, our academic, industrial and clinical collaborators…

And certainly the key technical challenge is how to deal with the variability in our human users – everyone is different; everyone has their own capabilities, needs and desires – how can we create generic technologies that are cost-effective, reliable and useful, but at the same time meet the very specific (and ever-changing) demands of each individual user?

7) How will you deal with these challenges?

By involving the stakeholders at all stages throughout the research and being open and honest about where we are and where we’re going, we hope we can manage their expectations. For example, on some of our recent grant applications, in addition to consulting with our industrial partners, we are also involving potential end-users as co-applicants, who can then take a very active and important advisory role in the project.

As for the technical challenge of end-user variability, we are working on creating adaptive and learning algorithms, such that as your capabilities change, so does the level of assistance or support provided by our “shared control” systems. We’re trying to do this at multiple timescales, to enable us to cope with short-term changes, like fatigue, as well as longer-term behavioural changes.

8) What has been your career highlight?

It’s still early days, but I would have to say that my career highlight so far was when we got the first patient driving our brain-controlled wheelchair around a rehabilitation centre in Switzerland – that was only a demonstration and there’s still a lot of work to do, but it was a pretty exciting moment!

9) Who has been your greatest mentor and why?

When I first became a postdoctoral researcher there were two senior scientists in the lab, Dr Robert Leeb and Dr Ricardo Chavarriaga. They have been an immense help in mentoring me during the transition from being a PhD student to an independent researcher and also in the transition from a very much electronic engineering world into the biomedical engineering world.

1Tom alps0) What do you do in your spare time?

In Switzerland I spent my time hiking in the alps and skating on frozen lakes. Now I’m back in the UK, the hikes are a little less steep! I enjoy playing the piano, and more recently I’ve spent a lot of time decorating my new house.

 

 

 

Tom Carlson obtained his MEng (2006) and PhD (2010) from the Electrical Engineering Department at Imperial College London. Before moving to UCL, he undertook three-and-a-half years of postdoctoral research on brain-computer interfaces at EPFL, Switzerland.

Tom is currently working on the user-centred design of assistive robotic technologies for people with spinal cord injuries. In particular, he is developing shared control techniques for operating devices such as wheelchairs, with novel interfaces, eg brain-machine interfaces and eye-trackers. These devices predict the user’s intention in the context of an environment, translating from wheelchairs to exoskeletons.

He is also an active member of the IEEE SMC Technical Committee on Shared Control, which he co-founded and has chaired for the last three years.

 

 

 

10 Questions

By Christina Campbell, on 27 May 2015

In this monthly feature, the Institute of Biomedical Engineering (IBME) interviews our researchers, academics, students, clinicians, affiliates and partners to find out a little more about who they are and what they do.

This month we interviewed Professor Allen Goodship, retired as the Director of Institute of Orthopaedics in 2011 and currently part-time Professorial Research Associate in Medical Physics. We asked him 10 questions around his research, career and personal life. Here are his answers….


 

1) How long have you worked as a Professorial Research Associate?

 

Allen Goodship

I first joined UCL as a joint appointment with Royal Veterinary College in 1996. Then was appointed as Director of UCL Institute of Orthopaedics and Musculoskeletal Science in 2000 up to retirement in 2011. I returned in 2012 to the part-time Professorial Research Associate position, enabling me to progress research with minimal administrative duties! Just like being a post doc again!

2) What keywords would you pick to describe your work?

Exciting; interesting; intriguing; challenging, with a touch of frustration.

3) What brought you to the world of science/engineering/medical technologies/medicine?

A long standing fascination of form/function interactions in biological systems in general and the adaptive self-optimisation of skeletal architecture in particular.

4) What is your favourite thing about your work?

The constant challenge in addressing exciting, unanswered questions, and the opportunity to meet a wide range of academics around the world, leading to fantastic research collaborations and lifelong personal friendships.  Allen Goodship2

5) What’s been your career highlight?

Probably the unique experience of participating in a project on the MIR space station, where the science was complemented with the opportunity to undertake some experience of microgravity by flying the “vomit comet”!

Also, having the opportunity to contribute in several areas of research leading to new treatment and diagnostic modalities for diseases in both animals and man.

6) What is your favourite quote?

Probably several of “Peter’s Laws”. In particular, number 5: “Do it by the book …… but be the author!”

7) What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Look and listen; not always easy to follow!

8) Who has been your greatest mentor and why?

My PhD supervisor – an excellent scientist, fantastic mentor, and lifelong friend. After qualifying as a vet and in my first job in mixed practice, he persuaded me to return to research and academia for which I have no regrets.

On a more personal but “higher” level – my wife Dawn, who has supported me throughout my career.

9) What do you do in your spare time?

Off shore sailing, off road cycling, restoration of vintage motor cycles and more recently, beekeeping – a fascinating hobby, much like academic management, where you think you are in control but actually the bees do exactly as they please! Also, spending time with my grandchildren and family.

10) If you had a superpower, what would it be and why?

Topically, regeneration – to address my increasing interest in aging and to restore normality in disease and degenerative conditions.

 

Professor Allen Goodship graduated in veterinary science in 1972, his PhD thesis in 1976 related to functional adaptation of bone, both at the University of Bristol.  In 2000 he was appointed as Director of the Institute of Orthopaedics and Muscloskeletal Science at UCL and held this position up to retirement in 2011. He returned part time as a Professorial Research Associate at UCL in 2012; in 2015 he transferred to the Department of Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering.

 

 

10 Questions

By Despina Koniordou, on 20 April 2015

The Institute of Biomedical Engineering (IBME) interviews our researchers, academics, students, clinicians, affiliates and partners to find out a little more about who they are and what they do.

This month we interviewed Professor Jem Hebden who is Professor of Biomedical Optics and Head of the Department of Medical Physics & Biomedical Engineering, UCL. We asked him ten questions around his research, career and personal life and here is what Jem replied…


Jem Hebden1) What is your job title?

Head of Department, UCL Department of Medical Physics & Biomedical Engineering.

2) How long have you been Head of Department?

Since October 2008.

3) What keywords would you pick to describe your work?

‘Challenging’ and ‘rewarding’. When I started, other heads of department warned me that it is a job which gets more difficult over time, although no-one knows why. And they were right.

4) What brought you to the world of science?

I am of the generation that was inspired towards science by the Apollo moon landings. Like many other small children in 1969, I wanted to be an astronaut and go to the moon. I still do.

5) What is the most satisfying aspect of your work?

It is highly rewarding to be involved in research which has the potential to make a lasting, positive difference to people’s health and wellbeing. As a head of department, I also derive great satisfaction from being able to help students and early-career researchers launch their own careers.

6) What do you least enjoy about your work?

The least attractive aspect of working in academia is the obsession with measuring, assessing, and reporting performance, which is totally uncreative work (e.g. REF, IQR, etc.).

7) What’s been your career highlights?

During the early part of my career as an astronomer working in Arizona, I held the world record for generating the highest spatial resolution optical image of a star. Sadly my record has since been beaten. More recently, I am very proud of my team’s achievement of the first 3D optical images of functional activity in the infant brain.

8) Who has been your greatest mentor and why?

The person who had greatest influence on my approach to life is my father, a Yorkshireman and schoolteacher who treated those imposters triumph and disaster with equal contempt. He neither condemned failure nor praised success; to him the only crime was not having a go.

9) What do you do in your spare time?

Spare time? Oh yes, I remember that. I attend a monthly art class (painting and drawing), and I occasionally play my guitar while watching Newsnight. I also read a lot of books.

10) What are your favourite books at the moment?

I recommend everyone should read Paul Broks’ unsettling and profound essay on identity and consciousness entitled “To be two or not to be” in the book Into the Silent Land: Travels in Neuropsychology. Meanwhile, two novels which I discovered and enjoyed recently are Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov (about an obituary writer and his pet) and The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier (about drug-induced time-travel).

 

Jem Hebden, Professor of Biomedical Optics and Head of the Department of Medical Physics & Biomedical Engineering, leads a research group developing diffuse optical imaging technology, primarily for diagnosing neuropathology in the newborn infant brain.

10 Questions

By Despina Koniordou, on 11 March 2015

The Institute of Biomedical Engineering (IBME) interviews our researchers, academics, students, clinicians, affiliates and partners to find out a little more about who they are and what they do.

This month we interviewed Dr Umber Cheema who works as Lecturer in In-Vitro Tissue Engineering at the Institute of Orthopaedics and Musculoskeletal Science, UCL. We asked her ten questions around her research, career and personal life and here is what she told us…


Dr Umber Cheema1) What is your job title?

Lecturer – In vitro tissue engineering.

2) What brought you to the world of science/engineering/medical technologies/medicine?

I always wanted to be a scientist, and during my PhD I developed a tissue engineered model of skeletal muscle. Following on from that I decided I wanted to be in the translational medicine field.

3) What is your favourite thing about your work?

The interaction I have with engineers, mathematicians, clinicians and surgeons means my work and science are varied, and I enjoy all the different perspectives it gives the research.

4) What do you feel are the main challenges facing your research at the moment?

The emphasis on conducting research which has an impact to wider society is now more critical than ever, but remains a challenge especially with the regulations in translational medicine.

5) How will you deal with these challenges?

Stay informed, talk to funding bodies including research councils and charities, keep close links with patient groups.

6) What’s been your career highlight?

I have 2 highlights: I was awarded a BBSRC David’s Phillips Fellowship in 2008; and my first PhD student passing her viva this November gone!

7) What is your favourite quote?

“When it’s dark enough you can see the stars.”

8) What do you do in your spare time?

I spend time with my boys – mostly at zoos and farms, or any place with animals.

9) What’s your favourite book at the moment?

Right now I’m reading ‘Istanbul’ by Orhan Pamuk and it paints a beautiful picture of the city.

10) If you had a superpower, what would it be and why?

Definitely being able to fly. Would massively help with getting from place to place quickly, and provide the perfect escape when things get too hectic.

 

Dr Cheema is Lecturer in in-vitro tissue, and previous to this she was a BBSRC David Phillips Fellow (2008-2013). Dr Cheema’s research is based on understanding cell behaviour and signalling in 3D collagen scaffolds. This work has resulted in close collaboration with industrial partners, including Oxford Optronix, on real-time O2 monitoring in 3D tissue engineered scaffolds and Sartorius, on development of biomimetic 3D tumour models. Dr Cheema’s recent research projects include (i) The development of a reproducible 3D in vitro model of tumour growth. Here the spatial architecture of a tumour and its surrounding stroma have been reproduced in vitro, with evidence of tumour invasion into surrounding ‘normal’ tissue; (ii) The development of engineered capillary beds for tissue engineered constructs; (iii) Development of tissue models to study decompression sickness.

What’s wrong with this horse?

By Jon H Wheatley, on 24 February 2015

Pony-pic-3

Image credit: Tyler Sorensen, UCL Computer Science

Two ponies, rendered using different computer hardware. The pony on the left is computed with an Intel CPU and looks normal. The one on the right is computed with an Nvidia GPU and looks buggy. Why do different hardware setups lead to different results? And how can this be tested?

Dr Jade Alglave (UCL Computer Science) has just been awarded a Royal Society prize for her work on testing and verifying different types of computer chip.

Chips by ARM, AMD, IBM, Intel, or NVidia are found in devices ranging from smartphones to supercomputers, cars to aeroplanes. Programming software to run on multiprocessors is a form of concurrent programming, where multiple computations are executed during overlapping time periods. Sadly, due to the great number of possible outcomes of a given program, concurrent programming is error prone and “buggy”, and difficult to test, as the picture shows.

Dr Alglave has developed a tool to test and model proprietary hardware which ensures that software runs consistently across a range of platforms, reducing delays and costs caused by errors and inconsistencies.

10 Questions

By Despina Koniordou, on 13 February 2015

The Institute of Biomedical Engineering (IBME) interviews our researchers, academics, students, clinicians, affiliates and partners to find out a little more about who they are and what they do.

This month we interviewed Professor Robert Brown who works as Professor of Tissue Engineering for the Institute of Orthopaedics and Musculoskeletal Science, UCL. We asked him ten questions to do with his research, career and personal life and here is what he replied…


Robert Brown 1) What is your job title?

I am UCL’s first Professor of Tissue Engineering.

2) What keywords would you pick to describe your work?

Fun: Deeply Satisfying: Immensely Exciting – OR – Tissue Fabrication: Protein Materials: Collagen Cell Delivery: Angiogenic Materials.

3) What brought you to the world of science/engineering/medical technologies/medicine?

(i) A desire to make a difference to advanced healthcare;  (ii) a drive to invent; (iii) the people in science and their fantastically diverse minds.

4) What is your favourite thing about your work?

Every day is different and the difference you can make – not least for the students and early stage researchers- is a joy!

5) What’s been your career highlight?

Inventing a method for rapid fabrication of living tissues that works (called plastic compression or ‘RAFT’), and understanding cell mechanics (OOPS) and scarring to the point where it was possible to invent a garment for reduction of pregnancy stretch marks.

6) What is your favourite quote?

“The wrong view of science is betrayed by a desire to be right” by Karl Popper.

7) What’s the best piece of advice you have been given?

Be careful where you are drilling.

8) Who has been your greatest mentor and why?

My father for instilling a love for new knowledge, and Paul D Byers (osteopathologist) for introducing me to the complexities of the scientific hypothesis.

9) What do you do in your spare time?

Walk and talk; with my dog Muttly or grandson Finn.

10) Finally, if you had a superpower, what would it be and why?

Super-vision (to see what people really need, or super-writing so that I could secure the grants I really wanted to do.

 

Professor Brown is a biochemist who turned to use protein materials for engineering of tissues and a network-generator with a foot permanently in two disciplines; He invents devices, using glimpses of effects which are surprisingly simple and basic.  

Murphy’s law

By Jonathan Oppenheim, on 9 February 2015

Jonathan Oppenheim has co-authored a new paper on quantum thermodynamics, which can be read here.

You’re probably familiar with the second law of thermodynamics in one of its many forms:

Anything that can possibly go wrong, does.
— Murphy’s law

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
— Leo Tolstoy in Anna Karenina, almost 20 years before Boltzmann’s Kinetic Theory of Gases

Shit happens
— ancient proverb

Because every day we feel the consequences of the second law. Even Homer Simpson has been known to admonish his children: “In this house, we obey the laws of thermodamynics!” Not that Bart or Lisa would have much choice. The second law of thermodynamics governs much of the world around us – it tells us that a hot cup of tea in a cold room will not spontaneously heat up; it tells us that unless we are vigilant, our homes will become untidy rather than tidy; it tells us how efficient the best engines can be and even helps us distinguish the direction of time – we see vases shatter, but unless we watch movies backwards, never see the time-reverse – a shattered vase reforming with just a nudge.

Vases do not spontaneously unbreak themselves. Photo: Drew Bandy (CC BY NC SA)

Vases do not spontaneously unbreak themselves. Photo: Drew Bandy (CC BY NC SA)

The second law tells us that order tends towards disorder, something we are all very familiar with — trying to achieve a very specific state of affairs can be very difficult, because there are many different ways things can go wrong. Murphy’s Law (anything that can go wrong, will go wrong), is a reasonable statement of the second law of thermodynamics. As is its less precise version “Shit happens”.

More concretely, the second law tells us that for isolated systems, the entropy, a measure of disorder, can only increase. I like to think of the second law as constraining what can happen to a system — left on its own, things don’t get more ordered.

But the laws of thermodynamics only apply to large classical objects, when many particles are involved. What do the laws of thermodynamics look like for microscopic systems composed of just a few atoms? That laws of thermodynamics might exist at the level of individual atoms was once thought to be an oxymoron, since the laws were derived on the assumption that systems are composed of many atoms.

Are there even laws of thermodynamics at such a small scale?

The question is becoming increasingly important, as we probe the laws of physics at smaller and smaller scales.

Statistical laws apply when we consider large numbers. For example, imagine we toss a coin thousands of times. In this case, we expect to see roughly equal numbers of heads as tails, while the chance that we find all the coins landing heads is vanishingly small. If we imagine tossing a larger and larger number of coins, the chance of having an anomalous coin tossing such as all tails goes to zero and our confidence that we’ll have roughly half heads, half tails, increases until we are virtually certain of it.

However, this is not true when tossing the coin just a few times. There’s a reasonable chance we will find all the coins landing tails. So, can we say anything reasonable in such a case? Similar phenomena occur when considering systems made out of very few particles, instead of very many particles. Can we make reasonable thermodynamical predictions, about systems which are only made up of a few particles.

Can we even talk about the laws of thermodynamics when we're only looking at a handful of particles? Picture credit: Stef Simmons (CC BY)

Can we even talk about the laws of thermodynamics when we’re only looking at a handful of particles? Picture credit: Stef Simmons (CC BY)

Surprisingly, the answer is yes, and the mathematical tools from a field known as quantum information theory help us to understand the case when we don’t have a large number of particles. What we find, is that not only does the second law of thermodynamics hold for quantum systems, and those at the nano-scale, but there are even additional second laws of thermodynamics. In fact, there is an entire family of second laws. So, while Murphy’s law is still true at the quantum scale — things will still go wrong; the ways in which things go wrong is further constrained by additional second laws. Because remember, the second law is a constraint, telling us that a system can’t get more ordered. These additional second laws, can be thought of as saying that there are many different kinds of disorder at small scales, and they all tend to increase as time goes on. What we find is a family of other measures of disorder, all different to the standard entropy, and they must all increase.

This means that fundamentally, there are many second laws, all of which tell us that things become more disordered, but each one constrains the way in which things become more disordered. Why then does there only appear to be one second law for large classical systems? That’s because all the second laws, although different at microscope scales, become similar at larger scales. At the scale of the ordinary objects we are used to, all the quantum second laws are equal to the one we know and love.

What’s more, it can sometimes happen that the traditional second law can appear to get violated – quantum system can spontaneously become more ordered, while interacting with another system which barely seems to change. That means some rooms in the quantum house may spontaneously become much tidier, while others only become imperceptibly messier.

What do these additional second laws look like? Well, first let’s get a bit more technically dirty. If you already know your thermodynamics fairly well, this is a good point to join us. For those who’ve had enough, here is a picture of Watt’s steam engine. It’s big enough that none of these additional second laws matter.

watt
(more…)

Not waving

By Kat F Austen, on 19 January 2015

By 2050, London is likely to be severely in drought. The cause is a combination of growing population, the way we use water and pipe it around our cities and towns, and climate change. If we carry on as we are, there will be a deficit amounting to the water use of 2 million people in a short few decades. On the other hand, risks of water related natural disasters are set to increase, particularly the likelihood of large parts of the UK submerging if all Arctic ice melts. It’s the same story around the globe.

We know all this, and yet as a species we are doing little to address the problem. We protest, we raise awareness, but overall we are still heading for a vastly altered world.

This week, I’m exhibiting my sculpture Not Waving at The Crystal in East London, as part of New Atlantis, an immersive theatre production from LAStheatre. Consisting of 100 miniature people atop 3 miniature icebergs in a bath, an urn and a lot of clever electronics, this interactive installation determines the micro-people’s fate dependent on how much we are chattering about #water on Twitter. Tweet enough and they may survive the show, but if there isn’t enough chatter, water is released from the urn above them – they are drenched and doomed.

The icebergs are made of between 3 and 6 litres of water, which takes quite a while to freeze. Preparations for the sculpture began back in late November, when I started making the moulds for the icebergs with the help of prop-maker Ben Palmer. Once the moulds were ready, I brought them to UCL’s Ice Physics lab where the icebergs were frozen over the course of the last 2 months by Ben Lishman, of UCL’s Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction, who’s also appearing in the show.

Ben Lishman

Next came the electronics – a Raspberry Pi and servo hacked into a water urn. This rig talks to the internet and controls the urn’s tap, releasing water when there has been insufficient tweeting about #water. What’s insufficient? Well, I worked out an average number of tweets per 10 minutes across an evening, and set it at just above that mark – 50 per 10 minutes. This is all connected up to a screen, programmed with the help of Jun Matsushita to look like this:

photo 1Of course, the secret is that the fate of our 100 micro-people is sealed: the urn will empty into the bath at the end of the show. Because it turns out social media chatter doesn’t change our fate – we need to act here in the physical, real world. The one in which the water is wet, the ice is melting, and the little people are struggling to stay dry.

photo 2That’s the reason the drowning is staged in a bath, with a hot-water urn above it, and tweets scrolling on a screen above that. All these activites – heating and processing water, and our endless online activity – they have a carbon footprint. They are all contributing to climate change.

photo 3

Happily, we aren’t at the end of the show yet – and New Atlantis gives the audience the opportunity to learn about how we might deal with water stress in the future – and make decisions within the world of New Atlantis about how we might move forward.

Lots of the details of production are on my blog, and if you’re thinking of doing something similar I’d be very happy to tell you more of what I’ve learned. I also explain a bit more about it in this interview for iScience.

If you’d like to check it out, New Atlantis runs until the 25th January at The Crystal.

Kat Austen is Artist in Residence at UCL Faculty of Mathematical & Physical Sciences

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10 Questions

By Despina Koniordou, on 16 January 2015

The Institute of Biomedical Engineering (IBME) interviews our researchers, academics, students, clinicians, affiliates and partners to find out a little more about who they are and what they do.

This month we speak to Professor Alister Hart, Chair of Academic Clinical Orthopaedics, UCL, Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon and Director of Research and Development, Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, about his career, life and favourite pastimes.


1. What is your job title?

Chair of Academic Clinical Orthopaedics at UCL, Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon and Director of NHS Research and Development at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital (RNOH).

2. What keywords would you pick to describe your work?

Orthopaedic implants, clinical outcome, imaging, blood metal biomarkers for implant function.

3. What brought you to the world of science/engineering/medical technologies/medicine?

I was first really inspired by science at school by my S-level chemistry teacher. I was introduced to the RNOH at around the same time when I used the RNOH library (I went to school locally in Watford) to research my biology A-level project, testing the strength of rat and rabbit tendons. Medicine became the only subject I wanted to do, and I always wanted to be a surgeon.

After school, I continued to be inspired by science via the small group supervision system provided by my Cambridge college, Gonville and Caius. This provided regular weekly discussions with world-leading medical researchers and scientists. The fellows at Caius included Sir Francis Crick, Prof Stephen Hawking, and the current master Professor Sir Alan Fersht (who also happens to now be my father-in law!) so the college had no difficulty in attracting the best teachers.

Interactive discussion of science continued during my MD, which I undertook whilst continuing in my training post as a specialist registrar in orthopaedic surgery. The direct relevance of my research to my clinical training enabled me to do both concurrently. I realised this was how I wanted to continue working throughout my career.

4. What is your favourite thing about your work?

Watching and encouraging the development of the young people in my research group.

5. What’s been your career highlight?

Publishing a paper in Nature when I was a SHO.

6. What is your favourite quote?

“I have not had time to prepare a short speech” by Winston Churchill.

7. Who has been your greatest mentor and why?

My wife. She is a cancer doctor at UCLH with a PhD and two young children. She keeps me grounded by telling me that a cancer diagnosis is much more devastating than arthritis, and academic orthopaedics is an oxymoron. She is much cleverer than me so I listen.

8. What do you do in your spare time?

I do whatever my wife tells me! Actually, I manage to sneak out to keep fit. In the last 3 years I have led expeditions in 5 continents, completed a quadrathlon, two road marathons (including NY), and two cross-country ski marathons.

9. What’s your favourite book at the moment?

How to make an impact by Jon Moon because my life is dominated by anything to do with getting my research ideas disseminated. One day I will return to stories of adventures in wild places.

10. If you had a superpower, what would it be and why?

My superpower would be grant-writing! Then I could spend more time doing sport.

 

Professor Alister J Hart is Chair of Academic Clinical Orthopaedics, UCL, Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon and Director of Research and Development, Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, and Visiting Professor, Imperial College London. His interests focus on the achievement of the best possible patient and radiological outcomes after hip and knee replacement, through implant design, surgical positioning and patient factors. He is co-founder of the London Implant Retrieval Centre (LIRC) with John Skinner, and has published more than 70 papers, and performed more than 3000 operations including 750 primary or revision hip and knee replacements.