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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

Check back soon for details of our next seminar.

Past speakers




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 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

Stimulus-Responsive Nanotechnologies for Drug Delivery and Immuno-Oncology

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.




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.


There are no upcoming talks currently scheduled in this series.

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