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Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology

CEB Bigger Picture Talks

See the bigger picture, join the discussion

Our departmental seminar series, Bigger Picture Talks, runs throughout the academic year, inviting thought-leaders from across the world driving significant advances in our impact areas of energy, health and sustainability to share and discuss their work with us. This is a fantastic opportunity for us to hear from other leading researchers, develop new connections and collaborations, and discuss some of the wider questions in our field. We hope they will inspire new ideas for us all to take into our own research.

The seminars are predominantly for an internal audience, but are often open to all members of the University of Cambridge, and sometimes wider. We endeavour to open the events to as wide an audience as possible, and will share recordings where we are able, but due to the nature of research talks, they often feature pre-publication results, so this is not always possible. You can find our upcoming seminars on our listings, and see our previous speakers below. 

Upcoming talks

Our next Bigger Picture Talk will be announced soon! Please check back for updates.

Past speakers



Professor Andy Woods, University of Cambridge: Decarbonising heating systems

In this talk, Professor Woods will outline some of the challenges associated with decarbonisation of the energy system, exploring both supply and demand, including the intermittency of renewable supply, the fluctuations in both daily and seasonal energy demand, and the possible role of geological hydrogen and carbon storage. He will then focus on the decarbonisation of heating systems, with a case study of St Johns College, including opportunities for energy efficiency, the design of air, ground and river heat pump systems, and upgrading building fabric. He will consider the implications of scaling up such approaches, for example across the UK, and their impact on net zero.



Professor Susan Daniel, Cornell University: Regulation of the coronavirus fusion peptide interaction with the host membrane and its impact on viral infectivity

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) necessitates develop of effective therapies against the causative agent, SARS -CoV-2, and other pathogenic coronaviruses (CoV) that have yet to emerge. Focusing on the CoV replication cycle, specifically the entry steps involving membrane fusion, is an astute choice because of the conservation of the fusion machinery and mechanism across the CoV family. For coronavirus, entry into a host cell is mediated by a single glycoprotein protruding from its membrane envelope, called spike (S). Within S, the region that directly interacts with the membrane is called the fusion peptide, FP. It is the physico-chemical interactions of the FP with the host membrane that anchors it, enabling the necessary deformations of the membrane leading to delivery of the viral genome into the cell when a fusion pore opens. Thermodynamic, kinetic, and intermolecular interactions are useful to understand molecular level FP interactions with the host membrane. This knowledge can be leveraged to stop the spread of infection. Here, we examine the impact of calcium ions on CoV entry. Using cell infectivity, biophysical assays, and spectroscopic methods, we found that calcium ions stabilize the FP structure during conformational change that then allows its insertion into the host membrane, resulting in increased lipid ordering in the membrane. This lipid ordering precedes membrane fusion and correlates with increased fusion activity and higher levels of infection when calcium in present. As such, depletion of calcium ions leads to structure and activity changes in the fusion peptide that correlate well with in vitro experiments using calcium-chelating agents to block cell infection. In a final set of experiments, we show calcium channel blockers can block virus infection in lung cells.



Professor Lynn Loo, Princeton University - Getting to net-zero: decarbonising at the exajoule and joule levels

International shipping is responsible for 90% of worldwide trade. Contributing approximately 3% of global carbon emissions, the emissions of international shipping is higher than that of Germany, the sixth highest emitting nation in the world. While the International Maritime Organisation has articulated a decarbonisation target for the sector to reduce more than 50% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and 70% CO2 by 2050 compared to 2008 levels, the pathway to achieving this ambition is not clear given that low- and zero-carbon fuel alternatives are unlikely to be available at cost and/or scale in the next decade. 

In 2021, the Global Centre for Maritime Decarbonisation (GCMD) was established with a singular mission to help the industry eliminate its GHG emissions through shaping standards, financing projects, deploying solutions and fostering collaboration across sectors. Strategically based in Singapore, the world’s largest maritime bunkering hub, GCMD is supported by both the private and public sectors. In this talk, I will highlight the strategic directions and partnerships of GCMD and provide specific examples of studies and pilots with which we hope to help the industry accelerate its decarbonisation agenda.

In the second half of my presentation, I will provide an update on the progress of my research team at Princeton in developing ultra-violet absorbing solar cells for electrifying glass surfaces and wirelessly powering electrochromic smart windows. Since our first demonstration of these devices, we have made significant advances in materials design and development; our best solar cells to-date boast average-photopic-response-weighted transmittances above 80% with near-perfect colour rendering indices above 95%, both of which are records for solar cells that prioritise light transmission and aesthetics.



Professor Dame Julia King, Baroness Brown of Cambridge: Net zero is not enough

Professor Dame Julia King, Baroness Brown of Cambridge, will discuss her work on the need for adaptation as well as mitigation in the face of climate change, even on a Net Zero or 1.5 degree aligned path.

Baroness Brown of Cambridge is a British engineer and crossbench member of the House of Lords, present Chair of the Carbon Trust and the Henry Royce Institute, and was the Vice-Chancellor of Aston University from 2006 to 2016. She currently serves as: Vice Chair of the Committee on Climate Change and Chair of the Adaptation Sub-Committee; non-executive director of the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult; member of the WEF Global Agenda Council on Decarbonising Energy. She is the UK's Low Carbon Business Ambassador.



Henning Schwabe, BASF: The Green Transition as Process Systems Challenge

The “Green Transition” towards a sustainable circular economy is a goal widely accepted yet hard to realize. A global network balance of mass and energy flows could accelerate the transition.

Henning Schwabe is leading BASF ’s innovation program into digital technologies to reduce sustainability impacts. He has a master’s degree in chemical engineering with a focus on process systems engineering.




Professor Martin Green, University of New South Wales: How cheap can solar photovoltaics become?

Over the last decade, the cost of photovoltaic solar energy conversion has dropped very dramatically with solar photovoltaics “now the cheapest source of electricity in most countries” and “offering some of the lowest cost electricity ever seen”, according to the International Energy Agency.

However, improvements are in the pipeline that are leading to an era of “insanely cheap” solar power, within the coming decade.

Several recent studies have detailed how the technology can provide a path to an essentially zero carbon energy future by 2050 without the undesirable cost trade-offs once thought necessary. The developments leading to these cost reductions will be described as well as the pending improvements that will allow solar to continue on its trajectory to even lower future costs.



Dr Angelo Amorelli, bp: Greening energy - a big engineering challenge

Dr Angelo Amorelli is the head of bp’s global research teams, providing specialist chemical, biological and engineering support to bp businesses and therefore responsible for bp proprietary product and process solutions & strategic university partnerships.

He joins us to discuss the challenge of moving energy production to cleaner, renewable sources.



Professor Yvonne Perrie, University of Strathclyde: Designing delivery systems for mRNA vaccines

The efficacy of RNA -based vaccines has been recently demonstrated, leading to the use of mRNA-based COVID -19 vaccines. mRNA vaccines can induce potent immune responses without the need of translocation into the cell nucleus. Furthermore, mRNA manufacturing can be optimized to be low-cost, fully synthetic and scalable. mRNA vaccines are divided into conventional non-amplifying mRNA and self-amplifying mRNA (samRNA) vaccines and with all types, due to their polyanionic nature and susceptible to enzymatic degradation, delivery systems are needed to facilitate the clinical translation of RNA -based vaccines. To date, lipid nanoparticles (LNPs) based on ionizable amino-lipids are the most advanced RNA delivery systems and this technology is now being deployed in COVID -19 vaccines. Within our laboratories we have investigated the impact of the delivery system formulation and platform and the route of administration. To achieve this, we investigated the immunogenicity of a self-amplifying mRNA encoding the rabies virus glycoprotein encapsulated in 3 different non-viral delivery platforms (lipid nanoparticles, solid lipid nanoparticles and polymeric nanoparticles). These were administered via three different routes: intramuscular, intradermal and intranasal. Immunogenicity data in a mouse model showed that lipid nanoparticles and solid lipid nanoparticles induced similar responses upon intramuscular and intradermal administration and comparable potency with the commercial (non-RNA based) vaccine. Our results demonstrate that both the administration route and delivery system format dictate self-amplifying RNA vaccine efficacy, with lipid nanoparticles and solid lipid nanoparticles given via either intramuscular or intradermal route promoting the highest responses.



Dr Marianne Ellis, University of Bath: Cultured meat as a protein alternative

Laboratory-grown meat offers a sustainable solution to meeting the food demands of our global population. But how close are we to producing cultured protein on the scales needed, and what challenges do we face in the developing the necessary infrastructure? Head of Chemical Engineering at the University of Bath, Dr Marianne Ellis shares her work developing reactor and plant technology to make cultured meat a viable solution to tackling global hunger.



Professor Zhenan Bao, Stanford University: A skin-inspired dynamic polymer network for energy storage applications

Recent years have witnessed a sharp increase in demand for high-density energy storage devices, in which the Li-ion battery plays an increasingly significant role.

However, the conventional Li-ion battery, which has been studied and commercialized for decades, is nearing its theoretical capacity limit. It is therefore crucially important to develop a new generation of batteries to fulfil the aggressive energy density requirements of modern mobile phones, portable computers, electrical vehicles, and other electronic devices.

Silicon and Li metal anodes are potentially promising candidates to replace the graphite anode in Li-ion batteries. However, their cycling stability is still limited. In this talk, Stanford's Chair of Chemical Engineering, Professor Zhenan Bao, will present her group's approach of using dynamic polymer networks for addressing the mechanical and chemical instabilities in these high-energy density electrode materials.

Latest news

CEB hosts chocolate-themed Sutton Trust summer school in collaboration with Nestlé  

4 October 2022

CEB recently hosted the first in-person Sutton Trust summer school back in August with an aim to engage young students with chemical engineering and biotechnology.

Organic ‘e-transmembrane’ device paves way for next-generation drug discovery

23 September 2022

Researchers in our Bioelectronic Systems Technology Group have developed a bioelectronic platform to grow and monitor 3D cell cultures in real-time, that can be used to deliver more predictive, high throughput drug screening assays.

Outreach at CEB: casting the net wider

12 September 2022

We have been increasing our activities targeting local, national and international schools to raise the profile of STEM subjects and encourage young students to study chemical engineering and biotechnology at Cambridge.


There are no upcoming talks currently scheduled in this series.