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UCL Biochemical Engineering



Guest Speech for UCL Engineering Faculty Graduation – Wed 9th March 2022, Dr Ranna Eardley-Patel

By Kim Morgan, on 10 March 2022

Thank you for the opportunity to address you on this joyous day, and to be able to express my gratitude to UCL, especially my former EngD supervisor, the fabulous Prof. Nigel Titchener-Hooker.

As UCL engineers, we have been given world-class training in how to understand the fundamental nature of things and to apply that knowledge to create technology and harness resources. Basically, we have the power to make our planet a better place.

I agree with Jeremy Bentham – it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong. It was the highest privilege to use my training directly in the efforts to get the AZ Covid-19 vaccine manufactured and deployed, and then go on to be a technical advisor within the UK Vaccines Taskforce, and soon as part of CEPI. All of us here will need the skill to condense and communicate complex information, so that others can understand and use it to make the “right” decisions going forward.

Our UCL science and engineering network includes heroes such as Sirs Nadhim Zahawi, Patrick Vallance, Benjamin Hodgkinson, Professors Suzy Farid, Martina Michelleti, Vaughan Thomas, Drs Matthew Cheeks, Ines Hassan and many more; we could, and we did, contact and work with each other to combat the pandemic, in part due to our existing connection as alumni. It is an honour to be part of this incredible, global community, that has repeatedly stepped up in times of great need.

Don’t be afraid, don’t be shy or modest about your abilities to tackle hard things. We can do hard things together. My guest today is Dr Elizabeth Petrie. We met via the UCL Karate Club, where she taught me how to kick and be kicked! Almost 20 years on, we are still friends, supporting each other through the tough times, as well as celebrating the happy ones, together. To paraphrase Dr Maya Angelou, modesty is a learned affectation that is no good. Humility is better, because it says “there was someone before me, I am following in somebody’s footsteps”.

As educated humans, we need to continuously question ourselves and our peers. Studies show that the more powerful and successful a man becomes, the more people trust and like him. Unfortunately, the inverse has generally been the case for self-assured, happy women who are viewed as “entitled”. It wasn’t until I identified this unconscious bias in myself that I unlocked how to become confident and be a better mentor to others.

Our beliefs determine how we experience the world. Our boundaries deliver our beliefs to us. We identify our boundaries when they are crossed, and we are upset by the incursion. I purposefully chose a career path in vaccines manufacturing because deaths in my community by preventable diseases feels wrong me.

To discover your purpose, find out what makes you angry, and pursue it. Identify what it is that affects you so deeply that whenever you encounter it, you initially feel the need to look away. Focus there. You will know you have found it when you feel energized and free, yet still held.

So, for those of you with a new title, be it Bachelor, Master, Doctor – well done. Own it, and be rightly proud of your letters as they are bestowed upon you by this amazing institution, because you earned it.

Ensure that your legacy is to make our world a safe, sustainable place of equality and freedom. Trust yourself, for you know what you know, and you have great ideas. I, we, believe in you. Congratulations and thank you!

13 February 1633 On this day in 1633 Galileo Galilei arrives in Rome to face charges of heresy for advocating Copernican theory

By Vasos L Pavlika, on 2 March 2022

This was a crucial day for the History of Experimental Physics, this is to be distinguished from Theoretical Physics first propagated by the Giant Aristotle (384-322BCE) who was not opposed to experiments, but it was Galileo that spawned the dawning of experimental Physics. There are so many great experiments in Physics/Science that one could discuss, in fact, a great course to teach must perhaps include Galileo’s cannon-ball experiment, Rutherford’s (1871-1937) gold leaf experiment, the Michelson-Morley experiment, Mendel’s (1822-1844) experiment with peas (that I was fortunate to discuss this week at UCL when introducing Statistics to our researchers and considering the “goodness of fit” of his results and the claim that Mendel doctored his results), Penzias(1933-) and Wilson’s (1936-) experiment on background radiation, and Eddington’s (1882-1944) eclipse experiment along with many others, but this is for another post.

Galileo the great Italian Mathematician/Physicist left his hometown without a degree, just a reference but rose to the dizzy height of Professor of Mathematics at Padua University. Of course, he is also well known today for the Galilean transformations that are the limiting case of the Lorentz-Fitzgerald transformations which were instrumental in the development of Special theory of Relativity under the directorship of Albert Einstein (1879-1855).

Returning to Galileo, during his hearing with the church he was forced to recant his views supporting the Copernican (1473-1543) theory that the sun is at the centre of the solar system and not the earth as was proposed by Aristotle and Ptolemy (100AD). One may ask, how did he know this? Well, Galileo was one of the first to use the telescope (which by the way he greatly improved on the design of Hans Lippershey (c1570)) for non-military purposes (recall it was invented so that the location of an invading army could be determined from afar), thus he pointed the telescope at Jupiter and observed the orbits of its moons and determined that they orbited Jupiter and not the earth. Galileo thus had scientific/numerical evidence to verify this. However, when he (Galileo) recanted his views to the church and was then subsequently put under house arrest he uttered the now immortal words:

“E pur si muove” or “Eppur si muove”

Which can be translated as “And yet it moves”, referring to the earth orbiting our nearest star.

Galileo was certainly a man that changed the way that Physics/Science is advanced and ushered into the world the so-called Scientific Method that one suspects all “good” experimenters are instinctively familiar with.

But I recall the words of Karl Popper (1902-1994) and my “old friend” Richard Feynman (1918-1988), during one of his interviews saying that

“One can never verify a theory but one can only falsify it” which I think encapsulates it.

Emmy Noether is the most remarkable mathematician you’ve never heard of

By Vasos L Pavlika, on 4 January 2022

Her theorem is considered as important as Einstein’s Theory of Relativity

She had a number of very eminent admirers of her work including A. Einstein (1879-1955) who was very impressed with her work. Her work is concerned with symmetry breaking and conservation laws, well known in the Quantum and Relativistic worlds.

Emmy came to Göttingen University in 1915 having been invited by David Hilbert (of the 23 problems fame, Kurt Godel (1906-1978 solved the second) Paul Cohen (1934-2007 proved the Continuum hypothesis) and Felix Klein (1849-1925 of the bottle fame), who wanted her expertise in invariant theory to help them to understand certain problems in general relativity, Hilbert had observed that the law of conservation of energy appeared to be contradicted in General Relativity. Noether provided the resolution of this paradox, providing a fundamental tool for modern theoretical physics, with Noether’s first theorem, which she proved in 1915 and published in 1918. She not only solved the problem for General Relativity, but also determined the conserved quantities for every system of physical laws that possesses some continuous symmetry. After looking at her work, Einstein wrote to Hilbert:

“Yesterday I received from Miss Noether a very interesting paper on invariants. I’m impressed that such things can be understood in such a general way. The old guard at Göttingen should take some lessons from Miss Noether! She seems to know her stuff“.

Like many of the great Jewish scientists in Germany at the beginning of twentieth century she was expelled from Germany due to the emergence of the Nazi movement along with “Giants” including Max Born (1882-1970), and Richard Courant (1888-1972) who wrote the now-famous books that I have in my office at UCL, “Mathematical Methods for Physicists” by Courant and Hilbert. Staying with books a great book to read to delve into the workings of Max Born’s mind is “My life, Recollections of a Nobel Laureate” by Max Born.

Miss Noether is certainly an unsung “Giant” of Mathematics and Physics.

17 equations that changed the world

By Vasos L Pavlika, on 15 November 2021

I have read this book by Ian Stewart and it is wonderful. It is strange that Newton’s second law of motion is omitted but as the Navier-Stokes equation (which is just this law) is included I will not object. Of course, there are some misnomers here namely Pythagoras’ theorem as the result was known numerically to the Babylonians computing triples in sexagesimal (base 60, which we still have remnants of in the measurement of time), furthermore Euler was not the first to be led to the square root of -1, this was first done by the great Italian algebraist Cardano (1501-1576) in solving cubic and quartic equations. I am not sure which one of these beautiful equations is my favourite but the one that caused the most fascination was Euler’s polyhedral formula which amazed me as I suppose on looking at geometric figures (normal Mathematicians) do not notice that V+F=E+2, where V=the number of vertices (nodes), F=the number of faces, E=the number of edges (lines) and from here he spawned the geometric discipline now known as topology (named after the Greek for place). We all know of a topological map (most train networks are topologically accurate but not geometrically accurate) i.e. the position of a node relative to another is important but not its distance or angular orientation.


If you want to be a physicist, you must do three things

By Vasos L Pavlika, on 20 October 2021

“…first, study mathematics, second, study more mathematics, and third, do the same.” Arnold Sommerfeld
So true!! My two final year Physics modules as an undergraduate were Relativity and Quantum Mechanics, these were really just Mathematics modules with the occasional word thrown in from time to time. The other six were Applied Mathematics modules.

Now Arnold was a real “Giant” of Quantum Physics, introducing new quantum numbers into mainstream Physics and mentoring/teaching many future Nobel Laureates (only J.J.Thomson (1856-1949) taught more). Arnold was fortunate to study courses with the “Great” 20th century Mathematician David Hilbert (1862-1943), of the 23 problems fame and who had General Relativity within his grasp after Albert Einstein (1879-1955) inadvertently divulged too much to him when he told him about the problems that he was having with the mathematics in the said theory. Most certainly Hilbert is not the person one would want to discuss Mathematical issues with whilst racing to the Relativity summit. I visited Gottingen in 2011 and viewed where Hilbert and Gauss once worked, this was quite a surreal experience, and we even had our photographs taken under the Gauss-Weber statue only to be looked at rather strangely by the locals who sadly were not aware of who Gauss (1777-1855) was and his status as the Prince of Mathematics. Regarding David Hilbert I would like to relay a real account of almost coming into contact with Greatness of the past. In 2001 I attended an Applied Mathematics and Analysis conference in Romania and I was kindly asked to chair a session, in this capacity I was asked to inform speakers that they had three minutes left of their talk (by raising a card with the number 3 written on it) , well during my session a very elderly professor perhaps in his late 80s who was very shaky on his feet, commenced his talk. I was worried that he would fall over during his talk, well he started his talk using only “chalk and talk” (the best way I might add) discussing a theorem of Euclid (Mid-4th century BCE) from the 13 books of the Elements. After 15 minutes I raised the 3-minute card and he looked at it, well 10 minutes later he was still discussing the theory without any sign of stopping, I looked around at the other professors in the hall for advice on what to do and they just nodded and said “let him carry on, don’t worry yourself”. After he had finished his talk, I asked why had he been permitted to do this, the news I received shook me to the core, they said “He is a very special professor, he did research with David Hilbert so we let him do whatever he wants”.

Returning to Somerfield he continued his career in Konigsberg and no doubt that we have all heard of the seven bridges problem that Euler (1707-1783) solved (negatively) giving rise to the theory of topology and graph theory.

The advice from Arnold is still as true today as it was when I was an undergraduate, I hope my Engineering students see this post!!

UK’s first gene therapy baby celebrates 21st birthday

By Samir Nuseibeh, on 20 October 2021

An incredible story really. Despite the ups and downs associated with gene therapy development over the past few decades, it’s moments like this that remind us of just how revolutionary it can be. And good to see that UCL has played a role in such a triumph!


TED talk just published on lab-grown food

By Kim Morgan, on 20 October 2021

Following the recent appointment of Petra Hanga here in UCL Biochemical Engineering, the following TED talk describes the importance of cellular agriculture as a new technology. In this TED talk, Isha Datar discusses the challenges and opportunities of a whole new approach to agriculture where you can “grow chicken nuggets” without ever harming an animal. I’m grateful to our Head of Department, Prof. Gary Lye, for sharing this

√(−1) – The Equation That Changed The World

By Vasos L Pavlika, on 20 October 2021

This is arguably one of the greatest equations in all of Mathematics, in fact Richard Feynman (1918-1988) as a 13-year-old stated that “it was the most amazing equation in Math” this was just after he stated that when he tried to self-teach himself circular trigonometry functions he was left confused. Of course, the equation introduces the use of the square root of negative one, however the existence of this number was known much earlier in fact it was known to the great Italian algebraists including: Scipione del Ferro (1465-1526), Gerolamo Cardano (1501-1575) and Niccolò Fontana Tartaglia (the stammerer) (1499-1557) who whilst solving the general cubic equation realised that the path of the solution led to numbers of the form a+b* root(-1) . In fact, they had “Mathematical” duals between themselves on who could solve cubic equations posed by the other, however this discussion is for another day. The square root of -1 is unfortunately today called imaginary and this is very inconvenient for Mathematics and the numbers created by using it along with another real number are called complex and we have Rene Descartes (1596-1650) to thank for that. Rene showed (and it is very easy to do so by reduction ad absurdum) that i is not greater than zero, it is not less than zero and it is not equal to zero thus consequently he decided to call it imaginary, and we are stuck with it.
Interest in root(-1) was ignited again by the Prnce of Mathematics J.C.G.Gauss (1777-1855) who at the age of 17 showed that an algebraic equation of order n has n solutions (taking into account repeated roots) so if one looks at x^2+4=0, then either Gauss was wrong (and I find such a statement tantamount to blasphemy) or we need a “larger” set of numbers. Of course, these numbers were not accepted immediately into Mathematics but now their axiomatic foundations are well understood.
Euler’s result which leads nicely to what we call de Moivres (1667-1754) theorem is such a beautiful theorem, I often wonder why it is not called Euler’s theorem as I doubt he would have missed it (even thought he was blind for the last 17 years of his life). Even in his blindness Euler became the most prolific Mathematician in history with Jabobi (1801-1854) of the Jacobian determinant fame being second. Euler also has another amazing formula (his polyhedral formula) which states that for a polyhedron with no holes: V – E + F = 2; where V is the number of vertices, E is the number of edges and F is the number of faces, this formula gave birth to graph theory and network analysis but alas “this page is too narrow to contain it” (for my Mathematical friends that was a reference to Fermat (1607-1665)).
There are descendants of Euler still alive today who decided not to study Mathematics citing that there would be too much pressure on them with the surname Euler if they studied Mathematics (I don’t blame them).

One of Switzerland’s finest sons by a country mile!!

Thoughts on Bertrand Russell

By Vasos L Pavlika, on 15 September 2021

Bertrand Russell is such an inspirational figure I hardly know where to begin. Russell was at Trinity College, Cambridge alongside G.H.Hardy FRS (1877-1947) who wrote the wonderful book “A Mathematicians apology” claiming in it that everything he had done was worthless, rather a strange statement. Hardy worked with the great Indian Mathematician S. Ramanujan FRS (1887-1920) (yes the man who knew infinity) and J.E. Littlewood FRS (1885-1977) creating fruitful collaborations. Bertrand (if I may) wrote his Principia masterpiece and named it in the spirit of I.Newton (1643-1727) who also wrote a Principia, this naming was actually quite common with Charles Lylle FRS (1797-1875) the father of Geology similarly writing his masterpiece with the title Principles of Geology (which I have in my office at home).

Bertrand’s work was in logic and included ideas of Kurt Godel (1906-1978) who worked on two of Hilbert’s (1862-1943) famed 23 problems in which the eighth is the legendary Riemann hypothesis and which is still unresolved (as stated on 8th September 2021) today. Godel developed his incompleteness theorem, and it is well known that Kurt took up a job at Princeton’s Institute of advanced study so that he could talk to Einstein and take long walks with him, I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall during these talks, but I recall reading that Kurt stated that he loved hearing Albert’s laugh as it made the whole room shake (awesome).

Returning to Bertrand (who won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1950, what an intellect) developed in 1901 what has become known as Russell’s Paradox and which overturned the life work of Gottlob Frege in a single swoop, however Russell states that Frege acted with incredible integrity and fortitude even though his entire life’s pursuits had been shown to be incomplete, thus:

As I think about acts of integrity and grace, I realise that there is nothing in my knowledge to compare with Frege’s dedication to truth. His entire life’s work was on the verge of completion, much of his work had been ignored to the benefit of men infinitely less capable, his second volume was about to be published, and upon finding that his fundamental assumption was in error, he responded with intellectual pleasure clearly submerging any feelings of personal disappointment. It was almost superhuman and a telling indication of that of which men are capable if their dedication is to creative work and knowledge instead of cruder efforts to dominate and be known. (Quoted in van Heijenoort (1967), 127).

Russell’s so-called Barber problem paradox is a misnomer as it was known to Frege and was not stated by Russell, the paradox can be stated as:

“The barber is the “one who shaves all those, and those only, who do not shave themselves”. The question is, does the barber shave himself?”

Thinking about this one soon realises that there is a circular contradiction.

Well Bertrand gives us more wise words in this quote: “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.”

“AT132” Audentes Therapeutics treatment for myotubular myopathy

By Samir Nuseibeh, on 15 September 2021

Irrespective of the advances made in gene therapy over the past two decades, it is clear that we still don’t have a full grasp over the safety elements associated with them – particularly when high doses are involved.

This was sad news to arrive in my inbox today regarding the development of “AT132” by Audentes Therapeutics to treat myotubular myopathy (MTM1):


Trial: https://lnkd.in/gB9qr334

Transduction of muscle tissue is notoriously difficult and requires high viral genome doses in order to achieve sufficient expression of a given transgene. Evidently, the developers selected extremely high doses off the back of this demand and are now suffering the consequences of this choice.

Whilst I admire the developer’s commitment to helping the MTM1 community, it does beg the question – are high viral genome doses really an acceptable rationale for gene therapy development, considering the risks associated with safety? I suppose we’ll let the biopharmaceutical industry dictate that…