Celebration of Science 2024 - Awe and Wonder

This year, our Celebration of Science will take place over the 16th and 17th April, and will feature a range of exciting keynote and departmental talks, as well as PhD poster and speed talk competitions

A nebulae captured from a telescope

Welcome to our Celebration of Science!

Following on from the success of last year's Science Week, our Celebration of Science is a two-day event aimed to celebrate the contributions of scientists from across our Faculty, and beyond! This year's keynotes include Professor Teresa Anderson of Manchester University, astrophysicist and science curator at the and Professor Leigh Fletcher, planetary scientist and NASA fellow. Additionally, we have several excellent talks to be presented by academics within our departments and Research Centres, including using electron beams to bring leather tanning into the modern era and a brief history of molecular electronics at Lancaster.

As in previous years, we will also be hosting the PhD speed talk and poster competitions, with prizes of up to ?200 to be won, and not to forget the all-important free pizza lunch.

We hope to see you there to help us celebrate and recognise the research and achievements of our staff and students!

Keynote Speakers

Professor Teresa Anderson, MBE

Director, Jodrell Bank Centre for Engagement

Teresa Anderson is Founder and Director of The University of Manchester’s Jodrell Bank Centre for Engagement and is a professor of Cultural and Creative Industries in the School of Arts Languages and Cultures at the University of Manchester. She has a BSc in Physics, a PhD in Electrical Engineering, and a Master’s degree in Fine Art.

The Centre first opened in 2011 and (pre-COVID) attracted over 150,000 visitors each year, including 25,000 school children, who participate in a curriculum-linked Education programme. The Centre takes innovative approaches to increasing diversity and engaging new audiences with science, including events (such as ‘Girls Night Out’) that create welcoming and non-intimidating spaces for women/girls and others who may feel that STEM ‘isn’t for them’.

In 2016, Teresa, together with Tim O’Brien, co-founded the at Jodrell Bank, which brings together science, music, art and culture to celebrate human creativity and break down the barriers between these sectors. The festival typically attracts 25,000 people to Jodrell Bank over the festival weekend.

Teresa led, together with Tim O’Brien, the ten-year project that resulted in Jodrell Bank being awarded status in 2019.

She also led the 8 year long project that resulted in the opening of the £21million ‘’ at Jodrell Bank in June 2022.

In 2013 Teresa was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list for services to Astrophysics. In 2014 she was awarded the Institute of Physics Kelvin Medal for Public Engagement with Physics.

Talk: Science in Culture; innovations in public engagement at Jodrell Bank

Jodrell Bank Observatory is known for the iconic dish of the Lovell Telescope, its ground-breaking research and its role in the early space race.

Recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2019 and home to the innovative Bluedot festival, the site is also now home to the spectacular First Light Pavilion.

It’s also, now, a point at which science and culture combine and collaborate, in the form of the Jodrell Bank Centre for Engagement (JBCE), which welcomes the public, schools, festival-goers, heritage buffs and culture vultures to the Observatory, engaging them with its work.

Teresa Anderson, Founder and Director of JBCE will talk us through the process of setting up the Centre, its aims, innovations and aspirations. She will talk us through the ups and downs of gaining World Heritage Status and the Bluedot festival (mud included) and explore the place of science in culture and culture in science.

Teresa Anderson

Professor Leigh Fletcher

Professor of Planetary Science, University of Leicester

Leigh Fletcher is a Professor of Planetary Science at the University of Leicester, specialising in the exploration of the gas and ice giants within our solar system by using spacecraft, space telescopes, as well as astronomical observatories here on Earth.

He obtained his BA and MSci in Natural Sciences at Cambridge University in 2003 and 2004 and respectively, before going to Oxford to complete a PhD in Planetary Physics. Since then, he has worked as a NASA fellow at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and has worked on numerous space missions, including the Cassini mission to Saturn, in addition to the Juno and JUICE missions to Jupiter.

Leigh has acquired a number of prizes over his career, including the Harold C. Urey prize for outstanding achievements in planetary science by an early-career scientist, the NASA Group Achievement Award and the Sir Arthur Clarke Award for Space Achievement in Academic Research for his work on the Cassini mission.

Talk: James Webb Space Telescope: A New Voyager for the Outer Solar System

The first two years of JWST scientific operations have produced a treasure trove of new discoveries, from the earliest galaxies and stars, to the myriad environments closer to home. Spectacular infrared images of all four giant planets have provided new views of their vigorous weather systems, wispy hazes, and ionospheric emissions, and revealed the delicate structures in their dusty and icy rings. But the key strength of JWST for Solar System studies are the integral field unit spectrometers, NIRSpec (0.6-5.3 µm) and MIRI (4.9-28.5 µm). These provide spatially-resolved infrared spectroscopy at high spectral resolution across their fields of view, enabling three-dimensional studies of temperatures, clouds, and composition within all four giant planet systems.

Uranus and Neptune fit perfectly within JWST’s small fields-of-view, whereas complex mosaics are needed for Jupiter and Saturn. The JWST discoveries include maps of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot and South Polar aurora; observations of Io, Ganymede and the jovian rings; maps of Saturn’s northern summertime hemisphere; tracking of Titan’s seasonal storms; observations of Saturn’s crystalline rings; and global maps of Uranus and Neptune from the troposphere to the ionosphere. The latter represent one of the most significant new datasets for Ice Giant science since the days of Voyager-2, and it is hoped that these rich observations will be the start of a long-term programme monitoring the evolving appearance of the giant planets over the lifetime of JWST. This presentation will showcase some of the key giant-planet results from JWST, and how they connect to previous (Voyager, Cassini), current (Juno, Hubble), and future (JUICE, Clipper and Uranus Flagship) exploration.

Leigh Fletcher

Towards the Future

Rob Apsimon

RELIEF – Bringing leather tanning into the 21st Century

Dr Rob Apsimon, School of Engineering

Leather tanning is a process which has existed for thousands of years, with modern processes being largely unchanged in the past 150 years and considered to be one of the top polluting industries in the world, having a significant environmental impact in developed and developing countries alike. Since 2018, we have been developing a novel technology to tan leather with electron beams, while essentially eliminating the wastewater produced from conventional tanning and are working closely with Gucci to bring this disruptive technology to market in the next few years.

Can school readiness evaluations identify children with special educational needs?

Dr Amy Atkinson, Department of Psychology

Children with special educational needs are currently being identified too late in the UK, and this can have devastating consequences for affected children and their families. There is therefore an urgent need to identify children with special educational needs earlier. Recent research has demonstrated that the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile, a school readiness evaluation conducted universally in England at 4-5 years of age, can identify children with autism - but is there the possibility it could be used to identify children with special needs more generally?

In this talk, I discuss two large-scale samples: the Born in Bradford longitudinal cohort study and Connected Bradford. Children judged as being not “school ready” on the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile had considerably higher odds of being identified as having special educational needs relative to children judged as being “school ready”. School readiness was also highly predictive of academic achievement across primary and secondary school, and Not in Employment, Education, or Training (NEET) status at 16-17 years of age, demonstrating the power of routinely collecting data to identify students who may have unidentified special educational needs. These findings will provide practical recommendations for educators and policymakers within England.

Amy Atkinson
Xiao Hua

The New Era of Good Cholesterol

Professor David Middleton, Department of Chemistry

Abstract TBC

Applying our Expertise

Putting environment into the energy transition

Professor Alona Armstrong, Director of Energy Lancaster

Despite the fundamental role of the environment on energy sources, that we need to decarbonise energy because of the environmental implications of carbon-rich sources, and the potential consequences of energy system change on ecosystems, the environment is often sidelined. Yet, there is much opportunity to design in environmental impacts into energy system decarbonisation to mitigate both the climate and ecological emergencies, with multiple benefits for society. This talk will outline research undertaken at Lancaster that has developed understanding of the environmental consequences of renewable energy infrastructure through to decision support tools that promote better management of renewable energy plant. It details how the findings have informed policy and practice, underpinned by a collaborative and co-development approach.

Alona Armstrong
Ben Robinson

From thin films, to single molecules, and back again: Molecular Electronics at Lancaster

Professor Ben Robinson, Director of Material Sciences Lancaster

The use of single molecules as electrical components such as wires, diodes and switches offers a pathway to the ultimate level of device miniaturisation. However, as we have developed new theoretical approaches and ever more sensitive experimental techniques to probe structural and electrical properties at molecular length scales – typically just a few nanometres – we observe new, and often counterintuitive, effects arising from the quantum nature of the electrical and thermal transport through the molecules.

In this presentation, I will give an overview of our current research in molecular electronics and the programme. I will discuss how, just like dropping a pebble in a pond and observing the way the resulting ripples can either constructively or destructively interfere with each other, electrons passing through a molecule or monolayer molecular film can give rise to room-temperature quantum interference effects, which can be utilised in everything from AI to converting waste heat into electricity.

Forging Connections and Bridging Gaps

Elliptic Curves and Lattices: A Surprising Connection

Dr Dan Fretwell, School of Mathematical Sciences

Pure mathematicians, like myself, are mainly interested in studying abstract objects and discovering their intrinsic properties. We get excited when we uncover deep and mysterious connections between these objects, often reaching peak excitement if the objects also have direct applications to the real world!

In this talk I will speak about current research that has provided me with such a high, building a new bridge connecting the world of elliptic curves (used in modern cryptographic schemes, e.g. ECDH, Bitcoin, SIKE, ECDSA etc) with the world of lattices (also used in modern cryptographic schemes, e.g. NTRU, Khyber, Dilithium). No prior knowledge of either topic will be necessary.

Dan Fretwell
Steve Hodges

Unlocking a Long Tail of Hardware

Professor Steve Hodges, School of Computing and Communications

Prototyping with electronics is easier than ever! A wide variety of platforms, tools and online resources support hobbyists and professionals alike. This has unlocked a ‘long tail’ of prototype devices from wearables to environmental sensors and from assistive technologies to electronic toys. But moving beyond one or two prototypes to a real product is still a long, convoluted, and expensive journey; people who don’t have significant hardware development resources and experience frequently lose their way.

In this talk I will illustrate the benefits of scaling beyond one or two prototypes by way of a specific example, the SenseCam wearable camera. I will explain what makes the scaling process for electronic devices hard, and introduce the research we are doing here at Lancaster to change this. We believe that an emerging set of tools and platforms will increasingly empower a diverse community of hardware creators to evolve their prototypes into products, thereby unlocking a long tail of hardware.

Transients in the dawning era of multi-messenger astrophysics

Dr Sam Oates, Department of Physics

The Universe contains a range of transient astronomical phenomena, sources of light which appear and disappear in the sky. These objects brighten or fade over timescales as short as a few milliseconds to several years and many are related to how stars die. By studying these events, we can understand physics when pushed to its limit, how stars evolve and even gain insight into how the Universe has changed across cosmic time. The transient Universe is set to be a defining focus of astrophysics over the next decade. Both in terms of the vast increase in the number of transients that will be detected and the new avenues with which we can study these phenomena, through multi-messenger observations such as combining electromagnetic (EM) observations with gravitational waves (GW). GRBs will be at the centre of the multi-messenger revolution, with the short GRB subclass the prime candidate EM-GW counterpart. In this talk, I will present an introduction to GRBs and my work in the field. I will then focus on how we find the electromagnetic counterparts to gravitational wave events, using the UV/Optical telescope onboard the NASA Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory, and briefly discuss prospects for the future.

Sam Oates

On Land and Sea

Jess Davies

Dig the dirt: Why businesses are turning to soil science to help deliver sustainability

Professor Jess Davies, Centre for Global Eco-Innovation

Businesses across sectors are increasingly realising that their bottom line is dependent on ‘dirt’. Healthy soils are essential for supporting crop growth, and in turn providing us with food, natural fibres, and biofuels. The current rate and extent of global soil degradation therefore presents major risks to many supply chains and industries. Awareness is also growing of not only the risks, but the opportunities that improving soil health presents for delivering commitments to address climate change, improve water quality, and stem biodiversity loss. This talk will highlight several innovative businesses and initiatives across fashion, food, and construction sectors connected to the Centre for Global Eco-innovation that are focusing on soils in their pursuit of sustainability. The talk will also discuss the science and partnerships needed to enable organisations and practitioners to enact soil sustainability.

Fishing for nutrients on coral reefs

Dr James Robinson, LEC

Marine heatwaves are transforming coral reefs, causing mass coral bleaching, regime shifts, and biodiversity declines across the tropics. Such ecological changes are expected to collapse reef fisheries, disrupting supply of nutritious seafood across the tropics, but we lack information connecting climate-impacted reefs to fisheries and seafood. Here, we use over 20 years of ecological data from Seychelles to assess how reef fisheries respond to climate-driven coral mortality, and collect information on reef seafood and diets to understand how coral reefs contribute to human health. These studies provide a lens for understanding how ecosystems support vital local seafood systems, helping efforts to support tropical food security through ecosystem management.

James Robinson