UCL Health of the Public


Spotlight on Prof Clare Elwell

20 June 2024

This month we speak to Prof Clare Elwell (Vice Dean for Impact, Faculty of Engineering Sciences) to find out more about the 2024 UCL Festival of Engineering and how we can engineer a healthier world.

Clare Elwell

What is your role and what does it involve?

I’m a Professor of Medical Physics at UCL and I’m also Vice Dean for Impact for the Faculty of Engineering Sciences.

I’m currently leading on the upcoming UCL Festival of Engineering: Six Days to Change the World, a free to attend week long celebration of engineering innovations between 15-20 July across the UCL campus. Lots of activities for all the family!

How are you improving the health of the public? 

My research focuses on delivering portable low cost and non invasive brain imaging technologies which have transformed our ambitions for how, when and where can image the brain. I lead the Brain Imaging for Global Health project to understand and protect brain development in infants exposed to adversity early in their lives.

What do you find most interesting or enjoyable about your work? 

I love not knowing where the next challenge is coming from! As a technology developer, I’m continually responding to unmet needs in healthcare and have worked on projects investigating brain injury, malaria, autism, depression, malnutrition and sports performance.

Most enjoyable is the opportunity to work with a range of different end users and communities from across the globe.

How have cross-disciplinary collaborations shaped your research?

Cross-disciplinary collaborations are key to all of my work and my projects just wouldn’t be possible without them. We’re using this as one of the key themes of our Festival of Engineering. Come along to see how teams from across engineering are working with clinical and life scientists to create innovations in healthcare including smartphone diagnostics, sensorised surgical gloves and AI enhanced medical imaging.

What advice would you offer to others interested in developing cross-disciplinary research?

Effective communication is paramount. Each discipline has its own language  - be prepared to listen and learn the language of your collaborators whilst helping them to understand yours. Also spend time in your respective work places. When I first started work as a medical physicist I spent a lot of time working with the clinical teams on the neonatal intensive care unit understanding how the brain imaging systems I was developing were going to be employed in that context. 

What's next on the research horizon for you?

The advent of low cost portable brain imaging systems has led to them being much more accessible and easy to commercialise. This raises questions around how individuals’ brain data is being used and protected. I’m really interested in the field of neuroethics and how we create guidlelines and governance for the responsible use of brain imaging and the data it produces.

If you could make one change in the world today, what would it be?

I’ve spent my career developing technologies and had the privilege of seeing them used in numerous different high and low resource settings. I’d like to see a focus on technological innovations being used for the benefit of all of humankind so we can deliver equitable solutions for global populations.