Professor Ruth Wilcox - University of Leeds, EPSRC Challenging Engineer [RW]
[Colleague talking with Professor Wilcox]
My name is Ruth Wilcox, I'm from the University of Leeds and I'm professor of biomedical engineering. The research that we do here is aimed at improving treatments for back pain. Eighty per cent of people will suffer from back pain at some point during their lives and many will go on to have further more severe episodes. It's a major healthcare issue across the world. In the UK alone its costs about £10 billion a year because of lost working hours and because of social benefits, as well as the healthcare costs.
We are taking high resolution photos of what's happening to the joints in the spine so we can see how they move relative to one another. For fractures to the vertebra, which are very common particularly in elderly patients who suffer from osteoporosis, we are looking at a technique called verteboplasty which is a minimally invasive technique where the surgeon injects cement into the vertebra that's fractured and once the cement is set it holds the fracture stable. This is a lot less invasive than open spinal surgery so its suitable for elderly patients, but at the moment it is not really optimised so we are using our laboratory test and our computer models to predict what would be the best types of cements, the best volumes to inject and where to inject them, to try and optimize that treatment for different types of patients.
Today we are testing this new treatment on a sheep's spine. We also look at treatments for the discs, that's the soft tissue in-between the vertebra. As we get older the discs tend to degenerate and they shrink in size and that causes pain as we are moving around. So we are looking at ways in which we can treat them, again minimally evasively, by injecting a gel, a peptide gel, into the nucleus of the disc to effectively inflate it slightly and restore the natural movement in the disc without having to go in and do major surgery.
The advantage that we really have at Leeds is having these laboratory facilities as well as quite extensive computer simulation facilities and so we are able to do the two things in parallel which is really quite unique. The EPSRC funding has been absolutely critical - we've had funding over a number of years which has developed a series of projects in parallel with each other, which has enabled us to build up the experience necessary to be able to develop these tests. Back pain is a problem right across the world and we have the potential to develop new treatments that could help not just patients in the UK, but industry and the healthcare providers as well.
Challenging Engineers Films - Professor Janet Barlow - EPSRC Global Engineering Challenges - transcript
Professor Janet Barlow - University of Reading, EPSRC Challenging Engineer
My name is Janet Barlow. I'm interested in urban meteorology - the way that buildings and the atmosphere interact with each other.
The snow is really good for showing flow around buildings. We are all aware in the face of climate change that we have to make our buildings more energy efficient - buildings constitute about 45 per cent of UK CO2 emissions, so this is a pressing problem. But in the dash to make buildings more energy efficient are we giving up on human performance within them. We've all had the experience of perhaps an air tight building that gets too stuffy, or having to prop open a door when there is air conditioning to get more ventilation. So are these new ventilation systems for energy efficiency up to human performance, that's our basic research question. And given that the knowledge economy is a very important part of UK GDP, around about 12 percent, we really do need to think about how we as human beings perform in buildings and question whether we are designing buildings in the right way.
M C Schafer, from the University of Southampton, is an engineer who specialises in human computer interaction and also how we respond physiologically and cognitively to our environment.
Catherine Noakes, who's at the University of Leeds, is a ventilation systems engineer so she uses computer simulations of flow within rooms, if you like making the invisible visible. And finally my role in this project is to think about how buildings react to their micro climate and how they are created too. We need really simple models of buildings and wind tunnels so these are what we call a street canyon, two rows of terrace buildings Coronation Street style, and what happens is that the thermal environment of this building is changed by flow around the building up stream of it. And that can get very complex, so it's the sort of experiments that we do to unpick those complex processes.
But we have to look into which are the most important things to measure and I think we have to start with human beings, what are we sensitive to, how is our performance effected and take that as our grounding point if you like for the research.
Climate change is a problem facing us right now and it affects us across a range of sectors, but we need to find win - win solutions to climate change. In the drive for energy efficiency we must make sure that we don't lose out in some other sector, like the way that we live and work in our buildings.
Challenging Engineers Films - Professor Jeremy O'Brien - EPSRC Global Engineering Challenges - transcript
Professor Jeremy O'Brien - University of Bristol, EPSRC Challenging Engineer
My name is Jeremy O'Brien and I'm Director of the Centre for Quantum Photonics here at the University of Bristol.
Our centre is all about harnessing uniquely quantum mechanical effects for new technologies in information and communications sectors. We are interested in communication systems whose security is based on the laws of quantum physics. And there the idea is that if you encode information into a quantum mechanical system like a single particle of light, a photon, then any information extracted from that photon causes a disturbance in the state of the photon, which is detectable by the two legitimate parties who are communicating.
We are also interested in sensors which are becoming ubiquitous in healthcare environmental monitoring and security. We make them even more precise than they already are by harnessing quantum mechanical effects. And finally we are interested in quantum computers. These are computers that are ultra-powerful in particular applications. If you want to calculate the properties of a new molecule or a new material or something, then you need this type of computational power that a quantum computer offers.
This is a laboratory where we are testing all of these types of technologies at the prototype level, with the ambition of being able to scale these technologies up and make them practical. Its very hard to explain quantum physics and it typically takes many years of study before people begin to start to understand it. I guess the way I would attempt to explain it and I do to under graduate students for example, is that if you and your ancestors had gone about your business on the atomic scale for the last millennia, then quantum physics would be natural to you and normal and the macroscopic world, ie the world that we do actually live in, would seem very strange and bizarre to us. The only real surprise is that things behave differently at these different scales.
The EPSRC is very focussed on grand challenges at the moment and one of them is quantum physics for new quantum technologies and that is very much a grand challenge that we're speaking to here at our centre in Bristol.
This area of research is extremely important because it spans a very large spectrum of science technology and society more generally, ranging from secure communications systems which are important for corporations, governments and increasingly important for individuals as well, as we store and transmit more and more personal information on our mobile phones for example, and to design new materials, new pharmaceuticals and new clean energy devices which is the ultimate application, I believe, of quantum computers and is going to have profound impacts on every aspect of our economy and society I would say.