UCL News


UCL and National Science and Engineering Week 2009

9 March 2009

National Science and Engineering Week is a ten-day celebration of science, engineering and technology which runs from 6-15 March.

National Science and Engineering Week, 6-15 March 20009 The nationwide programme of events aims to demonstrate how science benefits everyday lives and its role in meeting some of the major challenges of our time.

Topics as diverse as Formula 1, the St Pancras station roof and water sanitation are brought together by scientific processes and engineering knowledge. At UCL, scientists and engineers regularly bring their research to schools, museums and public lectures, demonstrating the variety and significance of their work. From self-cleaning glass to sustainable engineering, below we feature some of the activities and research being undertaken by UCL staff and students, and opportunities to hear more in person.


Professor Louisa Harra, UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory

The Hinode spacecraft was launched on 22 September 2006 from Kagoshima, Japan. The space mission, a collaboration between the UK, US and Japan, explores the magnetic activity on the Sun. The Hinode uses a combination of optical, extreme-ultraviolet (EUV) and X-ray instrumentation to study the interaction between the Sun's magnetic field and its corona to increase scientific understanding of the causes of solar variability.

Professor Louise Harra, the principal investigator of the EUV Imaging Spectrometer instrument, said, "This instrument measures flows and turbulence in the solar atmosphere. In order to achieve the appropriate resolution, the instrument is three metres long. As there are mass constraints in all spacecraft, we needed to make this instrument 60kg. To do this, we used carbon fibre technology for the structure based on formula 1 racing car technology. The Maclaren company produced the carbon fibre for us. The science museum is currently hosting an exhibit which demonstrates multiples uses for racing car technology and the Hinode spacecraft features as an example.

"The scientific discoveries from the mission to date are wide-ranging and have had a high impact in the field. Solar flares (a violent explosion in the Sun's atmosphere) are the most energetic phenomena in the solar system and data from the Hinode spacecraft can now measure quantitatively the build-up to these explosions. Magnetic waves have been found nearly everywhere on the Sun which may provide a source of energy for waves propagating into interplanetary space. The source of the slow solar wind has been discovered. Hinode has the capability to measure the polar regions, and has found very high magnetic field regions exist there. There are also many jets of hot material being spewed out from the polar regions. Here is an example of the detail that Hinode can observe."  

Find out more about the Science Museum's 'Fast forward' exhibit featuring a display on the Hinode Spacecraft.  


Professor Ivan Parkin, UCL Chemistry

"The glass roof of St Pancras station is one of the largest in Europe, covering an area of 10,000 m2. You would think that this roof would make an ideal contract for a window cleaning firm. However, with the advent of self-cleaning glass, the window cleaners do not have to make the 50m climb. 

"Self-cleaning glass was first marketed in the UK by Pilkington Glass in 2002.  The glass is transparent but has a very thin coating of titanium dioxide on its exterior surface.  This oxide is normally used as a whitener for things like paper, paints and toothpaste but when very thin (1/1000 the thickness of a human hair), it is transparent. This coating works in two ways. Firstly, the action of sunlight on titanium dioxide produces reactive radical species that eat away at dirt and debris. Secondly, sunlight promotes the formation of a very wet and able surface; a surface in which rainwater forms sheets rather than droplets.

"Together with Professor Wilson (UCL Eastman Dental Institute), I am involved in researching special forms of titanium dioxide surface that contain nanoparticles of silver oxide.  Our research has have shown that these coatings are particularly good at killing microbes in the environment and that these coatings could play a role in the reduction of hospital acquired infections by providing surfaces that effectively self-sterilise simply by lighting a room on the coated surface. 

Read Professor Parkin's interview in 'The Naked Scientists' on titanium dioxide.


Paul Hellier, PhD candidate, UCL Mechanical Engineering

"Engineers without Borders (EWB) is a UCL society open to all students at UCL with an interest in international development and sustainability. As our name suggests, we are predominantly composed of engineers, but our society is for everybody: no major world problem can be solved or even effectively dealt with by just a single profession.

"Engineers have played a vital role in the development of human society. Now - more than ever - our expertise is crucial. We are faced with the challenge of redesigning a society that is sustainable and we are facing extensive loss of irreplaceable habitats, animal life, and human life on an unprecedented scale. As engineers, we are amongst the best equipped to contribute to whether humanity succeeds or fails.

"The national EWB organisation is growing rapidly and EWB UCL is the first of hopefully many new branches in London. We've got off to a great start, with some really interesting speakers giving very well attended talks at the university. In the near future, we hope to organise a practical (and hopefully fun) training weekend on the subject of appropriate sustainable energy for development, and also a visit to the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales. We plan to visit local schools very soon in order to run some practical workshops on water and sanitation. I've been lucky enough to be involved in these before and the enthusiasm of the children is very rewarding!"

To get involved with EWB UCL, or to find out more, email us or visit our website


Calendar of events during National Science and Engineering Week

UCL Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology
On 11 March, the UCL Petrie Museum will hold a talk about the building of pyramids in ancient Egypt. The lecture will demonstrate how the step pyramid changed into the perfect shape most famous in the Great Pyramid of Giaz. The lecture will start at 3pm at the museum. Admission is free and all are welcome. For more information, contact Debbie Challis.

Hampstead Scientific Society: Talk by Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock

Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock (UCL Physics & Astronomy) will speak at the Hampstead Scientific Society on 'Climate Change: What can space teach us about our planet?' The lecture will take place on 12 March at the Hampstead Scientific Society at 8:15pm. It is open to the public and free of charge.

Find out more on the Hampstead Scientific Society website.  

UCL Cancer Institute seminar
On 13 March, the UCL Cancer Institute will host a seminar featuring two of the UK's most eminent cancer specialists, Professor Mel Greaves (UCL Cancer Institute) and Professor Mike Stratton (Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute), to discuss the current thinking on cancer development and the cancer genome. The seminar will begin at 5pm in the Lecture Theatre 1, Cruciform building (Gower Street) and will be followed by a drinks reception. Visit the UCL Cancer Institute for more information.

UCL Grant Museum of Zoology
Sieve through genuine fossil-rich sediment at the UCL Grant Museum of Zoology from a time when London was patrolled by sharks and rays. Find a 50 million year old shark's tooth and take it home…

On 14 March, the museum will be offering a day of free hands-on activities for the whole family. Explore the amazing fossils from prehistoric creatures with interactive specimen-based games. For more information, visit the webpage of the Grant Museum

UCL Lunch Hour Lecture: Professor Robert Brown
Around twenty years ago, tissue engineering began to stir European public hopes that synthetic materials could produce new, functional tissues to replace bodily decay and damage. The trouble is that despite many repetitions, 'successes' towards that dream are few and modest. Professor Robert Brown (UCL Orthopaedics and Musculoskeletal Science) will deliver a Lunch Hour Lecture on 17 March about recent work at UCL known as bio-mimetic engineering, which may now offer new avenues for the production of new tissue without cell-dependence.

Find out more about Professor Brown's talk.

UCL Environment Institute symposium
What political action should governments take on environmental issues and how can different countries work together towards sustainability? How will urban centres respond to climate change and coastal areas adapt? These are some of the questions that will be addressed at a one-day symposium on the 17 March at the UCL Environment Institute, 'Climate change adaptation: the science, the political processes and some preliminary findings and costings'.

Visit the UCL Environment Institute to find out more and to register for the workshop.