Dream Fellowships

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EPSRC's Dream Fellows in conversation.

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Jonathan Williams - EPSRC Dream Fellowship - Transcript

Hi I'm Jonathan Williams and I work at the University of Bath in the department of Chemistry and I've been awarded an EPSRC Dream Fellowship. Quite why they had to call them Dream Fellowships I'm not sure, but anyway as part of that they have asked the Dream Fellows to put together videos to say a little bit more about what the dream fellowships are about and what they mean to them. They have actually provided us with three specific questions and the first of these is what does the dream fellowship mean to you? So really I think there are two main aspects to this, the first one I guess is that it will just give me more time to concentrate on the research programmes that we have already got running, but also as well as that to be able to take on more ambitious projects, perhaps things that we wouldn't have felt were in our comfort zone before because I can learn about some of the science behind projects that are new to me. So that is going to be one interesting aspect.

I think one of the driving forces for that when I was looking back and thinking OK what have I been doing in terms of research, I've been an independent academic for about twenty years now and I can actually just about trace back the chemistry that we are doing now to the last project and then right back to the stuff that we started with at the beginning. It is very different chemistry that we are doing now, but there is still that tenuous link, I've never really taken a break and said OK let's start with a blank sheet of paper, let's see if we start from something that isn't building on what we've done, that isn't related to what we have done, how can we then take forward some ideas from there - so some new projects that are outside of my comfort zone. One thing that I have done already, I have reorganised the way that I run my week so at the moment I am in my office at home, it needs some decorating and some sorting out, but the principal is there and it is a functional office and that gives me a little bit more un interrupted time to focus on getting projects done and thinking through things. So I'm all linked up to the internet and I can work from my office computer at work from home which is kind of useful.

Maybe one of the downsides of the dream fellowship is that it is called the dream fellowship. You get quite a lot of jokes about it with people popping by for a chat saying 'Hi Jon still dreaming' yeah Ok still dreaming. Anyway moving on from there the next question is how will I be spending my time, or what will I actually be doing whilst I am on the dream fellowship? I've technically started on the dream fellowship, but I don't yet have the person in to take over my teaching so it's sort of half on but not fully there just yet. The start though of this fellowship coincides for me with the end of a research era. Over the last decade now we have been involved in an area that we call borrowing hydrogen methodology and borrowing hydrogen methodology is essentially the use of metal catalysis, which take hydrogen away from a substrate or compound and that makes it more reactive towards doing a reaction. It goes away and does the reaction and the metal catalysis puts the hydrogen back before anyone notices what has been going on. So it's been a very successful project for us, but all good things come to an end and the last student working on that has finished and gone off to New Zealand to do a post doc. So I sense then a bit of a risk, I need to make sure I come up with some new ideas and of course my research group is doing that at the moment. Some things are looking really quite promising with some of the newer areas that we are moving towards, but it would be nice to start looking at some other things which are not going on in the group at the moment. One of the areas that I'm particularly interested in is Bath has a strong track record in sustainable chemistry, green chemistry, we have the Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies and what I'm hoping to do is to collaborate with centre colleagues, some in chemical engineering and also in other areas of chemistry. We've got a couple of things that we want to start with, one is that we have got a conceptually new way of trying to generate biodiesel, now we can start looking at that in a chemical lab on a small scale, but we want to collaborate with people who can then make that scaler multi multi ton process for making biodiesel, so that's quite an exciting challenge.

Another area is that we want to use sunlight as the energy source for driving chemical reactions and again that is still going to need catalysis, but I also need to find out more about other electrical chemistry and areas in order to drive that forward. So the thinking time and understanding the area behind it will be quite an important thing. OK back to the new ideas. One of the things the dream fellows are being encouraged to do is to undertake some creativity training or creative problem solving. I have to admit that at the start I was a bit sceptical about creativity training - is someone just creative in the first place, can you train someone to be creative, but I don't think it's about that, I don't think it's about thinking about the initial idea. As I understand it what it is more to do with is how you take that initial idea and then create a workable solution to it. You divide your wacky idea up into manageable chunks and go away to think about it, put the pieces back together and at the end of the whole process you try to take the initial creative idea and deliver that into something that is in some way useful. So that's going to be interesting. We made a start on that with my research group, we had someone come in and do a one day session which I thought was really useful although my research group would rather had been doing something else so in some ways that fell a bit flat, but I think at least I know now the areas that I want to concentrate on and focus on and look at the creative problem solving process in more depth.

Ok what else, one of the other things that I am going to be doing quite a lot of is making some short visits to some of the leading academics in the world, or people I consider to be some of the most creative chemists. It's not about trying to steal their research ideas, but to find out what it is about them that has given them the insights they have, that has allowed them to make exciting chemistry and try to work out how they have gone about that process.

Final question, what do I personally want to get out of my fellowship? Well following on from that creativity theme I suppose what I want, and hopefully I will have this for the rest of my career, is to be able to use those techniques from the creative problem solving in order to try to harness creativity and exploit it and get something that's deliverable prior to that. I definitely want to be more ambitious with some of the projects that we take on. I want to stay out of my comfort zone and take on new challenges, not just what we have been doing for the last twenty years, another new catalyst, another organic reaction, there's a lot of commonality with what we have been doing, even if they are discreet in areas and I wanted to push beyond that to see if we can carry on after the end of the fellowship doing some useful things. It would be nice, of course, if all of the ideas worked and it was very successful and some good papers resulted and some good research and that it was useful stuff that people could actually use and do things with. Hopefully that will happen, we will have to wait and see what ideas come out and if the ideas that we have got do indeed work. It would be nice to be rich and famous at the end of it, but we will have to see on that one. Is anyone still listening to this, haven't you got anything else to do? That's it really, what the dream fellowship is all about. Cheers.

Edmund Linfield - EPSRC Dream Fellowship - Transcript

[Edmund Linfield]

So what does the Dream Fellowship mean to me? I think the answer is opportunity. My research is in the field of terahertz science and technology. The terahertz frequency range of the electro magnet spectrum is between the microwave and infrared regions. It hasn’t been very exploited to-date owing to the lack of cheap, compact, sources, detectors and systems. Yet there is a huge range of applications for terahertz science and technology across the physical, biological and medical sciences.

Now I'm very fortunate at the University of Leeds to work in a very strong terahertz research group with excellent facilities. We work with a number of international collaborators from the States, from Europe and the Far East and we are taking some of our technology and looking to exploit it with industry.

So you might ask why do I need a Dream Fellowship? What will I do with that Dream Fellowship? The answer is that I think it will give me time to reflect and to think about what we are doing, to look at new research directions, to consider how we are doing cross-disciplinary work and to see how we can do things better.

What will I do during the fellowship? Well, firstly I plan to visit a number of labs in the States, Europe and Far East and look at how they do their research, particularly focusing on cross-disciplinary research. I want to see how they do that most effectively and the procedures they use to do that. I also want to see how they take early research and look to translate that to industry and see how that can be done in the best possible way. Moving back to my own research group in Leeds, I'd like to look and think about how we could do our research more effectively. How we can be more creative with our ideas and also how we can ensure that the ideas of all the staff in our team can get reflected, be they're a lecturer or senior academic, be they're a post-doctoral researcher, be they're a PhD student or one of our under graduate students who is doing a project with us. How can we ensure that everyone's ideas are heard and that we can make the most of them? We have got some excellent facilities for doing terahertz science and technology, can we make more use of them by working with people outside Leeds and through collaborations. Equally others have got good facilities that we haven't got at Leeds, can we work more with them to develop the whole field?

So by the end of the fellowship what will I have got? I hope I would have got more effective research within our team at Leeds, new ways of doing cross-disciplinary research and I will be helped to know what we should be doing at the terahertz research field at the University of Leeds over the next decade and perhaps be able to influence the international community in their research as well. And possibly, I may even have found a new research direction to work on that is not terahertz science and technology.

Alex Yakovlev - EPSRC Dream Fellowship - Transcript

[Alex Yakovlev]

Hello I'm Alex Yakovlev. I'm a professor of computer systems design at the University of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne and I am one of the lucky ones to obtain a Dream Fellowship from EPSRC.

Today I would like to address three important questions. The questions are – what does this Fellowship mean to me? How will I be spending my time during those two years of the Fellowship? And essentially what do I want to get out of my Fellowship?

So what does this Fellowship mean to me? Well literally I think it is just to have dreams during this time and obviously dreams would be much better if I had the freedom to dream with this Fellowship. Freedom to think, look around, see beyond the usual horizons if visibility allows to do so. Being different from the rest, also referring to this fellow to the right of me, and thinking differently, differently to the way that I have been thinking and to the way others think. It also means an opportunity to search not only for solutions that I don't know, but also for the things that I don't know that I am not aware that I don't know.

So how will I be spending my time? Well, while I have time and money I would like to dream, think, read, meet people, inspire them and be inspired, look for analogies which often drive new ideas, new solutions. These analogies can come from the natural world, so they come from physics, the areas that I don't normally spend my time on. I would like to write, talk, organise seminars and perhaps start new projects and initiatives.

So what do I personally want to get out of my Fellowship? Well I will be looking for a bunch of new problems, new directions for research, and new ways of interacting with fellow researchers and students. These are the general things that I would like to do, but I would also like to sit and think more technically. So I would like to be able to see if I can make a difference in system design, micro electronic design, by showing the world that one can build energy modulated computers. The traditional way of building computers is based on the fact that we want to get gigahertz out of them and we would like to save energy as much as we can. In this Fellowship I would like to explore areas where energy takes a much more active role so, for example, this active role you can see in this mechanically driven torch which produces light when you make mechanical energy. We can talk about, for example, this ball which doesn't have any battery in it. It was produced some ten years ago by a company that built electronic circuits called self-time circuits. This is something that I also know how to do. When you hit this ball against the floor it produces a very peculiarly sound which is being generated by the fact that you have energy stored in an internal combustion. So I also have certain theoretical hypothesis that I would like to pursue. One such hypothesis would be whether energy can be seen as a common measure of computational effort, no matter whether the computers are analogue or digital or whether we are talking about hardware or software. And I also have certain engineering puzzles that I would like to solve. For instance can one build a sensor which is powered by the energy from a signal that it sensors. Obviously such devices that could be built in this research could be implanted in the human retina or they could be part of the implantations that we have in different parts of our bodies. So these are the things that I would like to do with this Fellowship. Thank you.

Steven Bishop - EPSRC Dream Fellowship - Transcript

[Steven Bishop]

What do financial crisis, pandemics and traffic jams have in common? They are all manifestations of our interconnected world. We have seen that connectivity can lead to failures, an event in one part of the system may have knock-on effects elsewhere. This means that collectively we have an extraordinary challenge to agree on designs for new infrastructures, because of the demand for greater transparency. To meet this demand engineers and scientists have to frame their ideas so that politicians, everyone in fact, can understand the motives and solutions.

My name is Steven Bishop and I work at University College London. And my dream is to find novel, creative ways of allowing people to interact with visual and spoken narrative, so that they can understand connectivity. I spend a lot of my time trying to develop mathematical and simulation models that help us understand how systems behave. When it comes to policy-making, the process cannot be separated from the people. Sometimes whether a particular decision is taken up or not may depend on a simple narrative – find the right narrative solution and the problem becomes much clearer.

To achieve my dream we really do need to think differently. Firstly we need to arrive at a narrative solution based on an underlying scientific framework. To do this, I will need to bring communities of writers together with computer scientists and scientific modellers. But it’s not just about technology – art is fantastic at creating discussion and actually pushing boundaries. I will explore how a visual approach may be used to open people's minds to new connectivities that they haven't seen before and perhaps new solutions as well. I want to help people change. To do this I must help them look at the box in which they live in, as well as thinking outside of it.

Libby Burton - EPSRC Dream Fellowship - Transcript

[Libby Burton]

Hello my name's Libby Burton. I'm Professor of Sustainable Building Design and Wellbeing at the University of Warwick. I've just been awarded what's called a Dream Fellowship which sounds fantastic and it is fantastic. It's been awarded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and it's a new scheme to try and promote creative multi-disciplinary work that doesn't usually get funded through the normal academic routes. The Dream Fellowship is really important to me because it's a sign that what I am doing is seen to be important and valuable and it's given me renewed enthusiasm and energy for my work.

So what is my vision for the Dream Fellowship? My vision is to try and promote a new approach to the design of the built environment, one that puts people at the centre and uses evidence in doing so. Let me ask you a question, if you had to choose just one, to be happy or to be healthy, what would you choose? I bet you'd say you would like to be happy because most of us only fear being unhealthy because we think it will make us unhappy, but actually you can be well and unhappy and vice a versa. We know a lot now about what will make us happy, a lot of research has been carried out in the last ten to twenty years. We know, for example, that good relationships are central to our happiness, we also know that having resilience, being able to experience flow in what we are doing, get absorbed in things, having meaning, is all important to our happiness. But what do we do to actually make sure that we have greater happiness as a society? Well, my interest is the built environment, the buildings and spaces that surround us every day. What if we could make that environment an environment that helped us to be happier – for example we could have homes designed with spaces that minimise the friction between members of families. Imagine streets and neighbourhoods which gave you the privacy you needed, when you needed to retreat from society, but at the same time allowed us to meet people for the first time, bump into our neighbours and so on. We could have work places that enable us to concentrate really well and be creative in the work that we are doing. So over the next two years of my Dream Fellowship I will be dreaming about these possibilities.

And what am I actually going to do? I think to make any progress in this area we need to answer three key questions first. The first question is what do we mean by an environment that helps us to be happier, what objectives would we be pursuing as designers? The second question, if we know what we are trying to achieve, how do we do the research to find out what works and what doesn't, what sort of environments, how would we need to design those environments to help us to be happy? We need to know the best methods to be able to do that. And the third and last question would be, how do we ensure that that evidence is actually used in practice? And in terms of what I will be doing every day, there are all sorts of activities that I'm planning. I want to get people talking and thinking about what it means to design the built environment for happiness and wellbeing. I want to get people together and create a network of everyone who is interested in this subject, so for that I might use a website, I might start to blog and tweet, forms of communication that I've never really had time to learn about before.

I also want to travel and meet eminent academics across the world who have something they can teach me in this area and who can contribute to developing it. I want to run workshops where people from different disciplines can discuss the issues and think about what the best future directions are and what the best future methodologies are. And it's no good just talking to the academics, I also need to talk to the practitioners and the policymakers, to the architects the engineers, the urban designers, the professional bodies that represent them and also to the health professionals, the public health specialists, the occupational health therapists, to talk to them about what is needed to change the system so that we start to have a different approach to designing the built environment.

But we may need to change things more fundamentally, we may need to look at how training and courses can be developed, to think about design for wellbeing and we may need to offer more incentives to developers to think about it, so I'm going to explore the idea of introducing an award system, or kite mark which recognises design for wellbeing in the built environment in the same way that sustainability kite marks do at the moment. But through all of these activities I'm hoping that I'll be able to have some answers to the three questions I mentioned earlier and that might give us the basis to begin to create and adapt environments that help us to truly flourish as individuals, which is after all what we all want.

Yvonne Rogers - EPSRC Dream Fellowship - Transcript

[Yvonne Rogers]

So here we are in Stratford East, the site of the Olympics 2012. And behind me in the pub are a group of retired people who are eating and drinking merrily and they are off to the site to have a look themselves. I'm going to ask them to show me what they have got on their iPhone and I bet you they have more apps than I have.

My dream is to make computers engaging, accessible and exciting to as many people as possible. I'm particularly interested in people who are getting older and retiring. So here we are at the site of the Olympics 2012 and over here on the left is a huge stadium, beautiful structure and to its right is a helix obelisk type thing. I'm not sure what it is but there is a lot of creativity gone behind its inception and its design and I'm sure it's going to be an amazing central point of the Olympics stadium. And then to the right we can see Zaha Hadid's aquatic centre and this again is a beautiful structure, a very simple design and it's got a sort of scallop shape to it and inside I am sure it is just as beautiful. I think Zaha has tremendous creativity and I'd like to think that I would have some of that in my Dream Fellowship.

I'd like old people to think of computers not as something to be feared, but as something to look forward to using, even playful. But that requires rethinking the relationship between ICT and aging. So far a lot of work has focused on developing technologies for what's called assisted living. An example is an intelligent pill box that tells you which pills to take and at what times of the day to swallow them. I want to get away from that prosthetic device approach and instead engage old people in design and technology themselves, using current tool kits so that they are in control of their interactions with the technology and the environment. I'd like older people themselves to be involved in thinking about the design and use of technology to solve problems that they care about, such as loneliness, isolation and even what to do in the post pension era.

The dream fellowship will provide me with opportunities to think out of the box about aging as wisdom and computers as cognitive amplifiers. In particular it will allow me to think the unthinkable, even to rethink what it means to be human. To begin I will look at what it means to age well and enjoy quality living in later life. But to truly think out of the box I need to do something more. So this is where I thought I would do something quite different. I'm going to study creativity and cooking. You might well ask what? Well my idea is to juxtapose the challenges of aging with the understandings of creative cooking and I plan to move back and forth between the two. I'm going to start by going behind the scenes and observing what goes on in kitchens, for example, what goes on in a kitchen like this one at this pub where they have to cook 30 meals and have them all at the same time for parties like this. What kind of collaboration intense coordination is required? I'm also going to go to some of the kitchens of the tops chefs like Heston Blumenthal and see how he comes up with new dishes, new menus and what kinds of ingredients he uses to do that intense creativity.

I'm going to go on a training course myself to learn about the art and science of creative cooking. But to begin with I'm off to South Africa, a country going through massive transformation to observe how chefs from across the spectrum work together. I then plan to organise a workshop for people coming from quite diverse backgrounds to debate a controversial topic such as ageing bodies, expanding minds. Based on all the new insights I will then start to conjure up ideas for novel digital technologies to enhance the creative horizons of everyday old people. So, I've just started my job at University College London at uCLIC and this is my second day. I commute from Brighton and I got off the train here at Warren Street. Walking down Tottenham Court Road I looked up and I saw this bicycle outside this store, but actually it's a café, it's a coffee shop and I walked in as I was just intrigued. There is something about the way in which this has been designed, there is a lot of care and thought gone into it. If you look over here, there is a tree stump where all the sugars and stuff are put and they also make really nice coffee and lovely tea. Then the lighting if you look up there is just a few light bulbs. So I think there is a lot of creativity gone into this and I'm going to come here each day to be inspired.

I'd like to be even more creative, even a bit crazy with my ideas and research. I want to come up with new ways of thinking about things that will make a difference, so rethinking ageing as unleashing wisdom and rethinking ICT as interactive ingredients. I want to help with the verging ageing research agenda in the UK by doing things differently. That means getting away from the current mind set to the ubiquitous computing to one where ageing people themselves can tell their children and the rest of society what they can do with state of the art computers. Let them show us how they can be more actively engaged and in control of their interactions with computers, each other and the environment.

So I'm about to embark on my dream fellowship to rethink ageing, to rethink cooking and rethink ICT as interactive ingredients. I'm going to blog so you can keep posted, but for now see you later.

Steve Benford - EPSRC Dream Fellowship - Transcript

[Steve Benford]

Welcome to Wollaton Park in Nottingham. It's September 1st and it's a beautiful crisp morning. And that moment when I leave the bustle of the city, go through the park gates and enter this space, it's always very inspirational. The quiet suddenly opens up all sorts of possibilities for thought and ideas begin to flow and that for me is what this dream fellowship is about. It's about an opportunity to step back from what I normally do and to enter a completely new space where I think ideas will inevitably develop.

So what am I going to do in the Fellowship? Well, inspired I guess by the grand tours of the 19th century or perhaps the road movies of the 20th, I'm going to undertake a couple of road trips. I'm going to head out to the west coast of California where the mainstream computer entertainment industries are today and I'm going to find out how they work, what they do, what their thinking is and what their approach to creativity is. I'm then going to head east to Asia and look at the burgeoning economies of China and Korea and again ask the same kind of questions. The ultimate aim will be to refresh my research agenda for the next decade and then to convince my colleagues, and indeed my wider research community, that is where we all need to be heading.

Well, time to head off to work I guess so I'll leave you to enjoy the sirens in the background at Wollaton Park and I look forward to seeing you again soon.

Tom Curtis - EPSRC Dream Fellowship - Transcript

[Tom Curtis]

It's a fantastic opportunity. I can break away from the day-to-day things that I have to worry about to address issues that have been in the back of my mind for years and years. In particular, because of the prestige of the Dream Fellowship, I can use it carte blanche to say to people ‘back-off I've got something interesting and important to think about'.

But once I've got those ideas established, I think I need to understand what they mean, so to that end I've got to spend some time not thinking about just the pure theory I'm working on, but also how that theory can be deployed. So I'm going to use the Dream Fellowship to travel, to talk to people about deployment and also to have special bespoke workshops. I'm going to have three, where I invite people who I think can help me bottom out these ideas about deployment, so by the end of the year I will have both a new theory in my head and hopefully on some paper, but also some very concrete ideas for how that theory can be deployed and used in practice.

I want to make a difference if I possibly can. I'm torn between a sense of tremendous urgency that we need to find a new way to do things to provide the water and sanitation services for urban areas, I think we desperately need. And we need this quite fast, not fast tomorrow but certainly ten, fifteen, twenty years' time, we need to have a really different way of doing things otherwise it's just not going to happen. Yet if we are going to find this new way, then we are going to need new science and new science requires calm, detached and systematic thinking, which is not something you can necessary do in a hurry.

That tension drives me nuts – the tension between wanting to do something fast and knowing you've got to be slow and thoughtful about it. I don't mind if my way doesn't work, but I care passionately that I should try and if I don't succeed maybe at least I'll inspire somebody to come up with something that will.