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

There are no upcoming Bigger Picture Talks.

Past speakers

Professor Gregory Patience, Polytechnique Montréal: Research Perspectives in Chemical Engineering

During his 14-year industrial career at DuPont, Gregory developed catalyst at the bench scale, helped operate a 10 m$ pilot plant, and participated in the design and operation of a 150 m$ process to partially oxidize n-butane to maleic anhydride. At Polytechnique Montréal since 2004, he was awarded the Canada Research Chair in High Temperature, High Pressure Heterogeneous Catalysis, and secured 20 m$ million in grants and contracts and has trained 200 highly qualified personnel. His research focus includes converting monosaccharides to specialty chemicals (FDCA, DFF, HMF, DMF, lactic acid), depolymerizing plastics and waste electronics, converting natural gas to Fischer-Tropsch fuels, and fluidized bed hydrodynamics. He consults regularly for dozens of start-ups and multinational corporations like Total, Dow Corning, Exxon-Mobil, Johnson Matthey. Since 2017 he has published over 100 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters and has written two books. The University of Calgary, his alma mater, awarded him the Schulich Technical Achievement Alumni Award in 2020, in 2022 the Order of Engineers of Quebec conferred on him the Honoris Genius for Social Engagement, and in 2023 he was elected Fellow of the Canadian Institute of Chemistry.

Professor Maya Kaelberer, Duke University: Gut sensing

It has long been established that when an animal is given choice between a caloric sugar (sucrose) and a non-caloric sweetener (sucralose) that the animal will prefer sucrose over sucralose. Furthermore, this preference is independent of the sweet taste in the mouth. I study a special type of sensory cell, neuropod cells, in the gut surface. These neuropod cells communicate directly and rapidly with the brain in order to communicate what has been eaten by the animal. My team recently discovered that neuropod cells of the small intestine differentially sense sucrose and sucralose. And further showed that this distinction drives the animal to consume sucrose over sucralose.

Saied Dardour: Insights into the decarbonisation of the energy sector

According to the United Nations, more than 70 countries have set a ‘net zero’ target, covering more than 75% of global emissions. For all these countries, the transition to a low-carbon economy is a major challenge that requires nothing less than a complete transformation of the energy sector, which is responsible for about three-quarters of greenhouse gas emissions. This interactive lecture is designed to provide insights into what it takes to decarbonise electricity grids while introducing the audience to approaches and conceptual frameworks informing decision-making in the power sector such as, energy systems modelling, life-cycle assessment (LCA) and multi-criteria decision analysis (MCDA).

Professor Paul Fennell: Cement, iron and steel - steps to net zero, and beyond

With the exception of clean water, concrete is the material that is produced in the greatest volume in the world, but produces around 7 % of mankind’s global CO2 emissions. The production of iron and steel contributes a similar amount of CO2. Professor Fennell will discuss the challenges associated with decarbonisation, and some current work ongoing to develop alternative processes producing the same (or very similar) materials, with radically lower CO2 emissions.

Professor Alvaro Mata: From biological organization principles to supramolecular biofabrication and tissue engineering

Living systems have evolved to grow and heal through biological organization principles (BOPs) capable of organizing molecular and cellular building-blocks at multiple size scales. These BOPs emerge from cooperative interactions and chemical networks between multiple components, which allow biological systems to diversify, respond, and optimize. This talk will present our laboratory’s efforts to combine supramolecular events found in nature such as self-assembly, disorder-to-order transitions, or diffusion-reaction processes with engineering processes to design bioinspired materials and devices. I will also describe recent efforts aiming to go beyond “bioinspiration” and into “biocooperation”. I will describe methodologies to develop: dynamic hydrogels and in vitro models for cancer; self-assembling fluidic devices; and regenerative implants.

Professor Chihaya Adachi: The past, present and future prospects of OLEDs

In this presentation, Professor Adachi will discuss the importance of the charge transfer phenomenon in designing high-performance organic light-emitting molecules in OLEDs and  outlook the prospect of advanced CT technologies.

Professor Constantin Coussios, Oxford Institute of Biomedical Engineering: Engineering Tomorrow's Cancer Therapies

Tumour physiology presents a formidable barrier to the delivery of current and emerging anticancer therapeutics, including antibodies, oncolytic viruses, antibody-drug conjugates and mNRA. Furthermore, potent next-generation immunotherapies can be transformative, but for reasons that remain poorly understood are only highly effective in less than a fifth of cancer patients.  

Thermal and mechanical effects associated with extracorporeal stimuli, such as ultrasound, have a major role to play in enabling therapeutics to overcome the elevated intratumoural pressure, sparse vascularity and dense extracellular matrix encountered in the majority of solid tumours, in order to achieve better intratumoural distribution and therapeutic efficacy. In recent pre-clinical studies, these effects have also been shown to be able to mediate significantly enhanced innate and adaptive immune responses.

Professor Roland Clift, Centre for Environment and Sustainability, University of Surrey: The role of chemical engineering in sustainable development

Sustainable development is conceived, for example in the UN Sustainable Development Goals, as a process of social development subject to techno-economic and ecological constraints, rather than merely economic growth. This interpretation requires a re-evaluation of the role of engineering, and particularly chemical engineering. Chemical engineering can provide new processes and products, but it is also a main component of the emerging field of Industrial Ecology (IE) by applying chemical engineering thinking to physical stocks and flows in the economy - i.e. “chemical engineering outside the pipe”.

Professor Lorenzo di Michele, Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology, University of Cambridge: Synthetic cells: microrobots with life-like behaviours

Synthetic cells are fully artificial micro (or nano) devices constructed from the bottom-up, starting from elementary molecular components, in order to replicate responses typically associated with live biological cells, from environmental sensing, to communication, regulated metabolism, growth and motility. By designing and building these devices we can learn about biological principles, explore possible routes for the origin of life, and lay the foundations for next-generation technological solutions in healthcare and bioprocessing.

Driven by curiosity. Driving change.


There are no upcoming talks currently scheduled in this series.