UCL News


Spotlight on Dr Robert Thompson

18 January 2017

This week the spotlight is on Dr Robert Thompson, Enterprise Facilitator in UCL Electronic and Electrical Engineering, and Impact Fellow in UCL Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy.

Robert Thompson

What is your role and what does it involve?

I'm currently working three days a week as an enterprise facilitator in UCL Electronic and Electrical Engineering, and two days a week in UCL Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy as an impact fellow. 

As an enterprise facilitator, I am working with the world's oldest agricultural research institute to organise an exciting new project to develop ideas to help farmers in Africa and developing countries.

It involves lots of trips to labs and a huge farm, as well as visiting startup communities around London. I also do a lot of promoting as there is a competition for staff and students with an £8,000 prize - make sure you check it out.

As an impact fellow, I am working with a team of researchers and businesses to help make sure the Internet of Things is secure and safe.

This is all about making sure your kettle, fridge or self-driving car can't be hacked or give away all of your information. This project involves lots of meetings and trying to work out just where we can make a difference.

If I get any spare time, I'm also trying to keep up with my research interests while applying for grants and fellowships.

How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?

I've been around UCL for seven years now. In January 2010, I moved to London to start a PhD in UCL Electronic and Electrical Engineering.

During the following three-and-a-half years, I studied materials for electronic devices, learning about lasers, growing crystals and using huge microscopes.

After my PhD, I took a year out to train to be a secondary school teacher, but returned straight away for a research fellowship at the London Centre for Nanotechnology (again firing lasers at crystals to understand what happens).

I have also been very involved with public engagement and communication, talking about the research being undertaken by myself and at the university - I recently spent two months writing for BBC Science News and reporting on BBC radio. 

At the moment, I am traversing the post-doc obstacle course, looking for research positions and applying for fellowships (get in touch if you know of any good positions becoming available!).

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?

Like most in academia, I'm extremely proud of my Doctoral Thesis. While I look back on it with pride, I have somehow blocked out the memory of the all-nighters in the lab and propping my eyes open with matchsticks to write it. 

I am also very proud of my science communication work. In the past couple of years this has seen me in the UK final of Fame Lab, writing for the BBC, choosing songs for and speaking on SOHO radio, being approached by TV companies, and organising masterclasses for London school children.

Tell us about a project you are working on now that is top of you to-do list?

Top of my to-do list at the moment is organising and promoting the Hack.AgTech project.

This is an exciting new project that will see staff and students from UCL come together with agricultural scientists to try and develop technological solutions to aid farmers in developing countries. 

There is quite a lot to organise, with the project consisting of several events including two hackathons, where people will develop ideas, and entrepreneurship training to help people understand how they can develop their idea into a business. 

I've managed to book trainers coming from Australia, and some of the biggest industrial players in the field are onboard. It really should be a lot of fun when it all kicks off.

It all ends with a Dragons' Den-style event, where one of the teams taking part will walk away with £8,000 in investment and a prestigious mentorship programme. 

I'm currently trying to advertise the event so if anyone reading this finds it interesting please do check out the website.

What is your favourite album, film and novel?

Album: Songs in the Key of Life, by Stevie Wonder.

Film: Something that doesn't need too much thought (e.g. something with explosions and a love interest).

Novel - Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts.

What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?

I've just become a member of the Royal Society of Chemistry, so in honour of that…

'Did you hear about the chemist reading a book about helium? He just couldn't put it down.'

Who would be your dream dinner guests?

Bruce Springsteen, Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, Cameron Mackintosh, Glenn Close, J. K. Rowling, Eddie Redmayne, Erik Idle, Julie Walters, Charles Darwin and Amelia Earhart. 

(I'd need to increase the size of my dining table.) 

What advice would you give your younger self?

Don't hesitate, just do it. Whatever it is. 

(I still try to follow this advice now.)

What would it surprise people to know about you?

I enjoy singing and from time-to-time can be found in a basement bar in the West End with a microphone in hand and a piano accompanist to one side.

What is your favourite place?

A farm just outside of Glastonbury on the last weekend in June.