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

Professor Sarah Tabrizi, UCL: New Genetic Therapies for Huntington's disease and Other Neurodegenerative Diseases.



Register to Attend: Link

Past speakers

Professor Shelly Singh-Gryzbon, CEB: Pre-Procedural Planning of Transcatheter Heart Valve Interventions with Clinical Imaging and in silico Modelling


The extensive use of transcatheter devices has resulted in a paradigm shift in the clinical workflow for structural heart intervention. Pre-procedural planning, procedural guidance and follow-up care are critical to the success of these interventions. With a growing number of transcatheter heart valves available and a host of adverse outcomes to avoid, current decision-making processes are guided by clinical imaging, with 3D printing and image-based virtual simulation being recently adopted. However, these modalities cannot adequately capture or predict the dynamic interaction between implanted transcatheter devices and native anatomy. Thus, in silico models can be integrated as an additional tool to support the clinical decision-making processes. This lecture will provide an overview of recent advances in patient-specific in silico modelling of THV interventions and highlight the potential for clinical imaging with simulations to aid clinicians in patient selection and planning for transcatheter replacements of the aortic, mitral, and tricuspid valves.

Date: 7th February 2024

Time: 1:30pm - 2:30pm

Location: Lecture Theatre 1 - Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology, Phillipa Fawcett Drive, Cambridge

Professor Michael Grätzel, EPFL: From Molecular Photovoltaics to Perovskite Solar Cells


Photovoltaic cells using molecular dyes, semiconductor quantum dots or perovskite pigments as light harvesters have emerged as credible contenders to conventional devices. Dye sensitized solar cells (DSCs) use a three-dimensional mesoscopic junction for photovoltaic electricity production. They possess unique practical advantages in particular highly effective electricity production from ambient light, ease of manufacturing, flexibility and transparency, bifacial light harvesting, and aesthetic appeal, which have enabled industrial mass production and commercial applications. They served as a launch pad for perovskite solar cells (PSCs) which are presently being intensively investigated as one of the most promising future PV technologies, the PCE of solution processed laboratory cells having currently reached 26.1%. Present research focusses on their scale up to as well as ascertaining their long-term operational stability. My lecture will cover our most recent findings in this revolutionary photovoltaic domain.

Date: 19th January 2024

Time: 1:00pm - 2:00pm

Location: Lecture Theatre 1 - Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology, Phillipa Fawcett Drive, Cambridge

Professor Marcella McManus, University of Bath: One and one isn’t always two – the arithmetic of carbon

Net Zero is big in policy, politics, industry, and technology. How we get there, whether we will get there, and what we will do to get there are critical conversations. How do we know what is the best option and how do we create the right environment for a more circular economy? First up is measuring. This talk will explore the use of life cycle based carbon accounting and why we need to improve when measuring novel, dynamic and emerging systems using and reusing materials and resources.

Professor Tim Korter, Syracuse University: Can You Hear the Shape of a Crystal? Terahertz Vibrational Spectroscopy of Challenging Pharmaceutical Crystals

Solubility is a property of great interest in the pharmaceutical industry where solid-state drug formulations must maintain proper oral availability to be effective. The crystal structures of pharmaceuticals are the key to understanding and engineering enhanced solubilities. However, numerous drug molecules have unknown solid-state structures and new approaches are needed to address this. In this work, terahertz vibrational spectroscopy is used to measure the unique low-frequency vibrations of molecular crystals. Material-specific terahertz spectral signatures arise from the packing arrangements of the crystal components. The terahertz data are then used in partnership with quantum mechanical crystal structure prediction methods to achieve complete three-dimensional structural information about these challenging pharmaceutical solids. An overview of the approach will be described using molecular examples ranging from simple maleic acid to the more complex glibenclamide that highlight terahertz spectroscopy as an orthogonal means for solving pharmaceutical crystal structures.

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.