UCL Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy


STEaPP year in review 2020

18 December 2020

As 2020 draws to a close, we look back at some of the highlights and key achievements from the department across the year

Snow in Quad

This year we are reflecting on a year quite like no other. The COVID-19 pandemic has uniquely tested our ability to adapt and work in challenging conditions, but has also shone a light on the brilliance, resilience, determination and kindness of everyone in the STEaPP community.  I feel enormously proud of all that the Department has achieved this year and the way in which people have worked together to make that success happen.

The past year has brought into sharp focus the need for the expertise and skills that we offer in UCL STEaPP. The COVID-19 crisis has showed that, now more than ever,  science, technology and engineering expertise is needed in tackling global challenges, alongside stronger, iterative and more dynamic ties between the worlds of policy and academia. Our department, our network, our honorary and visiting staff, and our collaborators have risen to this challenge and applied vast and diverse capabilities to address the pandemic.

During the past year as we have seen a number of successes and below is just a small highlight of the excellent work and achievements from across the STEaPP community.

Whatever the next year brings, I would like to take a moment to thank both our staff and students for their patience and strength of character in allowing us to make the best of an extremely challenging year. You have all adapted rapidly and put in so much effort to try reach some level of normality in our ways of working. Much of our successes this year would not have been possible without the exceptional support of our entire professional services team led by Ayden. I would also like to give a special mention to Sarah, Alan and Joe whose efforts and knowledge have been vital to the transition to remote delivery of our MPA.

STEaPP’s numerous successes would not exist without each and every one of you.

Wishing you all a happy and healthy 2021,
Professor Jo Chataway, Head of Department

Our people

This year we have welcomed a number of new staff at STEaPP and seen a number of our colleagues take on new roles. These include:

  • Dr Irina Brass was promoted to Associate Professor
  • Dr Saheli Datta Burton joined as Research Fellow (GiST)
  • Dr Adam Cooper was promoted to Associate Professor
  • Dr Ellie Cosgrave was promoted to Associate Professor
  • Jasmina Cubra joined as Acting Executive Assistant to Head of Department and Receptionist
  • Dr Jose Llanos joined as Research Fellow in Privacy Aware Cloud Ecosystems (PACE)
  • Dr Julius Mugwagwa was promoted to Associate Professor
  • Professor Sir Geoff Mulgan joined as Professor of Collective Intelligence, Public Policy and Social Innovation
  • Susan Needler  joined as HR and Facilities Manager (Interim)
  • Ana Rita Pinho joined as Policy Advisor
  • Dr Sarah-Louise Quinnell was appointed as Lecturer (Teaching)
  • Tan Sapsaman joined as Department Manager
  • Alan Seatwo was appointed as Lecturer (Teaching)
  • Dr Srinidhi Vasudevan joined as Research Fellow, Cyber Readiness for Boards
  • Dr Carla Washbourne was promoted to Associate Professor
  • Caroline Wijnbladh joined as PETRAS Business Partnership Executive

Many members of STEaPP have won awards and recognition this year, some highlights include:

This year the STEaPP Athena SWAN Self-Assessment Team, led by Professor Arthur Petersen, submitted its first application for an Athena SWAN Bronze Award. The results of the submission are expected in a few months.


December saw the launch of the STEaPP-led International Public Policy Observatory (IPPO). IPPO is a £2m collaboration, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), which aims to strengthen bridges between policy and research to mitigate the biggest social impacts of COVID-19 and accelerating the UK’s recovery. Professor Joanna Chataway is PI and will work with a large team based at UCL, other UK universities and think tanks and international partners.

Professor Madeline Carr was named as the Deputy Director of REPHRAIN, the National Research Centre on Privacy, Harm Reduction and Adversarial Influence Online. REPHRAIN will develop a wide range of tools to keep people safe and informed online, including automated tools to flag online harms in social media and a map to identify and avoid different threats such as fraud or disinformation.

A new report by Dr Ellie Cosgrave, working with The Business of Cities and Nesta, explored how cities and subnational governments (SNGs) can improve their capabilities and capacity for innovation by expanding their networks internationally. Early this year, Dr Cosgrave also co-published a report which set out a series of recommendations for London to ensure women and girls are socially, economically and politically empowered in public spaces.

In June, an evaluation of the Emirates Mission to Mars, led by Dr Ine Steenmans, Dr Jean-Christophe Mauduit, Professor Joanna Chataway and Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti, revealed the ways that space missions can generate wider transformative value for society and examines how the UAE has utilised the mission as an inspiration and catalyst for domestic change.

Dr Julius Mugwagwa, Dr Carla Washbourne & Remy Twiringiyimana with Anne Marie Kagwesage (University of Rwanda) successfully completed a year-long project on African science granting councils case studies in nine countries, funded by IDRC, Canada. The STECS Project was succeeded by a short-term STECS Plus Project (July to Oct 2020) investigating the role of science granting councils in responses to the Covid-19 pandemic.

There have been a number of other research projects funded through the year:

We are very proud of the STEaPP DTP community for making it through a very disrupted year and overcoming the personal and academic hurdles this year has thrown at you. Thank you for your hard work and resolve.

PhD highlights from the year include:

  • Jeremy Webb has successfully defended his PhD thesis. The thesis is entitled Exploring preconditions for effective global response to climate change, looks into decision making, climate change signals and responses, actors and interests, and the “conditions” under which we might limit climate change and related impacts. Jeremy is now finalising his corrections to submit in the coming few weeks. The examiners were impressed with his thesis and have suggested that he works on a book given the deeply integrated nature of his thesis
  • Lucas Somavilla-Croxatto has submitted his PhD thesis, and will defend his thesis in early January
  • Zoe Henderson, Andreas Kopp and Emilia Smeds are working hard to finalise their theses, and are expected to submit their theses shortly and sit their vivas in 2021
  • Lise Andersen and Stefan Wolf Stärtzel have submitted their pilot studies and thesis proposals and will sit their upgrades in January and February. We look forward to their seminars to which all STEaPP colleagues are invited to attend
  • With help from Dr Ine Steenmans, two of our PhD candidates, Luke Bevan and Anina Henggeler, joined the UK's Joint Biosecurity Centre on policy research secondments
  • We have 12 new doctoral students who joined us in October onto a freshly redesigned STEaPP Doctoral Training Programme curriculum, and who collectively cover of an impressive distribution of projects across the research themes in STEaPP.


STEaPP continued to work with education-led programmes in supporting the capacity development of large partner public institutions. Led by Dr Ine Steenmans, STEaPP won a one-year executive education programme that by the end will see 200+ BEIS government analysts undertake training in Monitoring and Evaluation methods.

In November, Professor Yacob Mulugetta hosted a panel discussion with Dr Seleshi Bekele, Minister of Water, Irrigation and Energy in Ethiopia, on the acceleration of renewable energy development to meet universal energy access and security objectives in Ethiopia and East Africa, with respondent Damilola Ogunbiyi, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All.

Thanks to funding from the UCL Innovation & Enterprise’s Knowledge Exchange and Innovation Fund (KEIF), Dr Jean-Christophe Mauduit started a project with a UCL colleague, Dr Lacerda, which is looking into Portugal’s science advice mechanism to their Embassy in the UK. Previous work on this topic included meetings with the FCDO CSA Carol Mundell and UK Science Innovation Network (SIN) officers as well as other Embassies and delegations in the London area such as the Embassy of Costa Rica.

Policy Impact Unit

The Policy Impact Unit has continued to grow, with the appointment of a new Policy Analyst, Ana Rita Goncalves De Pinho. Rita has been leading on our work with the Institute of Healthcare Engineering and the Global Disability Hub.

Throughout the year, the team have been rolling out their ‘Introduction to Policy Engagement’ training, delivering it to over 70 researchers in our project collaborations and FES more widely. They have also developed a new module on writing and disseminating policy briefings, which has piloted and is ready to roll out to other researchers in the New Year.

The PIU also initiated a new ‘Meet the Policymaker’ lunchtime seminar series, which hosted talks from professionals working in central and local government, the UK Parliament and beyond to provide researchers and students with an opportunity to hear first-hand what it is like to work in policy roles.

In what has felt like a whirlwind of a year, the team has continued work with two healthcare manufacturing research Hubs, the Future Targeted Healthcare Manufacturing Hub (FTHM Hub) and the Future Vaccine Manufacturing Research Hub (Vax-Hub). The Vax-Hub, a joint initiative between UCL and the Jenner Institute at the University of Oxford, has been at the forefront of the UK’s vaccine research efforts, with co-director Professor Sarah Gilbert’s team at the University of Oxford leading development of the viral vectored AZD1222 vaccine in partnership with AstraZeneca. At UCL, researchers have been collaborating with Oxford to develop novel characterisation technologies using next-generation DNA sequencing, and also in formulating the vaccine to improve its stability and shelf-life. The PIU have led on producing two explainer briefings with the Vax-Hub targeted at a policy audience that look at some of the challenges of vaccine development and manufacture during a global pandemic.

Highlights of their work with the FTHM Hub have included a policy dialogue in February (when face-to-face meetings were still a thing!) where they looked at the challenges of manufacturing new targeted biological medicines and implementing these in the NHS in England. The team worked with Dr Irina Brass looking at the challenges of manufacturing these medicines in distributed sites including hospitals.  

The PIU have collaborated with the Dawes Centre for Future Crime on several policy briefings this year. In particular, the briefing on ‘AI enabled future crime’ received significant media coverage (including the front page of the Daily Star, who had an interesting interpretation of the research!) and interest from key policy stakeholders, including the Home Office, POST and parliamentary scrutiny committees. 

The PIU also began working with Professor Madeline Carr and the RISCS team this year to build capacity for policy engagement, particularly to strengthen relationships with key teams across Government. So far, they have compiled a directory of (approximately 30) RISCS projects which was requested by policy colleagues and is due to be published in the new year. They have also produced a policy briefing on the Evaluating Cyber Security Evidence for Policy Advice project, delivered policy training to our researchers and attended cross-government working group meetings to feed in RISCS research.

The team have continued to see the impact of Dr Leonie Tanczer’s work on policy, which she now predominantly drives herself. This year, the Government referenced tech abuse in the context of the Domestic Abuse Bill for the first time and Leonie has been closely involved with policy development in this space. Dr Tanczer delivered a  briefing on tech abuse to staff in the Office of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner this summer, is frequently approached by policy officials and was heavily cited in POST’s recent rapid response briefing on technology and domestic abuse. The PIU also worked with the team to produce a short research video on the Gender and IoT project, which can be watched on YouTube. 

The team has recently published a policy briefing on compostable plastics with Professor Mark Miodownik and the Plastics Innovation Hub team as part of their ongoing collaboration. This has resulted in a new project starting in January and funded through the UKRI’s sustainable plastics research projects which will investigate how compostable plastics can be introduced and integrated into existing waste management infrastructure.  

The team have started a new collaboration with the Global Disability Innovation Hub, with whom they have worked on the impact of COVID-19 on the disabled community. This partnership resulted in the submission to an inquiry on lessons learned from COVID-19, and of representation of a comprehensive spending review to the HM Treasury. Together with the new UNESCO International Research Centre on Artificial Intelligence, and the European Disability Forum, they have also started to build a community on AI and Assistive Technologies. A Policy Note based on a joint roundtable, and highlighting the grand-challenges, and opportunities in this field will be published in the new year.   

The team also had the pleasure of adding the Institute of Healthcare Engineering to their partners. The PIU collaborated with the UCL-Ventura CPAP team, the Age Innovation Hub, and the newly launched Impact Fellowship Program. They have written a study case for the 4th Industrial Revolution APPG Report and submitted evidence to a select committee inquiry on the lessons learned from covid-19. Together with CelebrAge, they are planning a co-development workshop focused on healthy ageing in the new year. 

The PETRAS National Centre of Excellence for IoT Systems Cybersecurity

PETRAS announced 7 new research projects in 2020 which were brought in through open national funding calls, adding 4 new research institutions into the consortium. Despite a lack of face-to-face meeting opportunities, 7 user partners have been added to the PETRAS community this year, strengthening our collaborative ties with industry and government to ensure our research can be directly applied to benefit society, business, and the economy. 

PETRAS has grown during 2020, and the team has led a smooth digital transformation to bring together their remote membership. The PDRA Cohort Development Programme has had a robust start, including interactive sessions in 'Everything you wanted to know about AI', 'Effective Research Communications', 'Industry Development' and 'Designing Workshops'. The annual 'User Research Board' meeting was moved online, allowing a space for the research community and user partners to discuss transdisciplinary collaborations. Highlights of this exercise included knowledge sharing from experts to early career researchers, a panel discussion from the Forensic Capability Network on their digital transformation, and a public webinar convened by PETRAS with experts in the IoT and supply chain sector discussing opportunities and threats in 'smart' supply chain solutions

The team also ran 3 online events to provide networking opportunities for researchers and industry to connect across our research lenses and to encourage innovative collaboration and co-creation of project proposals. This has led to high quality proposals for our most recent funding call, currently being assessed.

As a response to the pandemic, the team released 17 weekly Landscape Briefings which summarised the latest news on the intersection between Covid-19 and the Internet of Things, providing a concise and easy way to digest an overview of developments. These Landscape Briefings were disseminated widely during the debate on contact tracing applications to inform decision-makers of the research landscape. Subsequently, 11 further Landscape Briefings with a sector-specific theme were published informing on developments in IoT as a response to the pandemic in sectors including critical infrastructure, AgriTech, health, transport, and supply chains. 

This work led to a webinar series in collaboration with the Institution of Engineering and Technology (COVID-19 and Tracing Apps - Where will this end?COVID-19: A Turning Point for Technology; COVID-19: Lessons Learnt with an International Lens; COVID-19: Lessons Learnt with an International Lens - Regions of Taiwan) which look at the use of digital technology to combat the pandemic; how to design for trust and privacy; and how technology is shifting the future of work. 

The PETRAS team also launched the first in a series of Industry Briefings in 2020. These Industry Briefings aim to highlight insights into the challenges of deploying IoT systems and provide a fresh perspective on the existing and emerging opportunities for industry and those working within different sectors. The first Industry Briefing focusses on cybersecurity for the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence in the healthcare sector. 

PETRAS researchers have made an impact on policy, with contributions informing a POSTnote on edge computing; a rapid response on technology and domestic abuse, a policy brief on the security of consumer IoT, and supporting research to inform a call for proposals for regulating consumer smart product cyber security.  

The 'Little Book' series aims to communicate sometimes complex and abstract ideas relating to the IoT in an accessible and easy to digest format. 2020 has seen this series included in the World Economic Forum's Global Action Plan, as part of an initiative to increase public education and understanding of connected devices. This plan builds off a larger 'State of the Connected World Report' in which PETRAS members contributed expertise to identify the top challenges and opportunities for the IoT to create a more resilient, equitable, sustainable, and connected world. 

Some highlights of recent PETRAS STEaPP outputs:

For further highlights from STEaPP’s 2020, visit our news pages and to see what the STEaPP community has been commenting on in national, international and trade media in 2020, view our STEaPP in the News highlights.