Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering


Spotlight: Prof Clare Elwell

I went to an event at the London International Youth Science Forum (LIYSF) when I was 17, and I heard a talk about Medical Physics – and I’d never even heard of Medical Physics before – and that was a real “lightbulb” moment for me, because I knew then that I could use Maths and Physics to develop technologies in healthcare and make an impact in people’s lives, and that’s what’s really inspired me to continue working in this field – Clare on BBC Woman’s Hour


Clare Elwell, Professor of Medical Physics, has won the 2016 WISE Research Award, sponsored by Winton Capital. WISE inspires girls and women to study and build careers using science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). This award recognises the world leading research that Clare has carried out using novel optical imaging techniques to understand the human brain in health and disease.

One of Clare’s projects, The BRIGHT Project is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and investigates the impact of malnutrition on brain development in infants in rural Gambia resulting in the first functional brain imaging of infants in Africa. Her research is aimed at informing nutritional and other interventions targeted at protecting the ‘at risk’ brain and enabling children to reach their full developmental potential.

Presenting at the Gates Foundation Grand Challenges Annual Meeting 2016, Clare demonstrated how optical brain imaging, using a technique called Near Infrared Spectroscopy, was being used to provide markers of infant brain development over the critical first 1000 days of life. Speaking to the importance of such research, Clare remarked that “one third of the children living in resource poor settings fail to meet developmental milestones. This can impact academic achievements, mental health, and the ability to form and sustain healthy relationships. These children are surviving, but not thriving.”

Presenting the WISE Awards, HRH The Princess Royal, said: “If we want the best possible future for our country, we need to be using the talents of the whole population.” Salary figures released last year revealed that on average, women are paid approximately £5,000 less than men for a professorship in science in UK universities, and women make up just 12.8% of the STEM workforce. Campaigns such as the WISE Awards have made real strides in addressing and correcting the gender imbalances. Clare herself is an active member of both Medical Physics & Biomedical Engineering’s Athena SWAN and Outreach Committees, and her work with Year 12 students has solidified a gender balance of undergraduates studying Medical Physics at UCL.