Physical Sciences - providing solutions to the key questions of our age

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A showcase event featuring leading researchers from across the UK celebrated the far-reaching impact of the physical sciences, from quantum physics and two-dimensional materials to sustainable plastics.

The Physical Sciences Showcase was hosted by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) at the Institute of Physics (IoP) in London, and sponsored by the IoP and Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC).

Eleven exhibitors demonstrated the broad impact of the physical sciences, ranging from a virtual reality demonstrator hosted by the University of Sussex to illustrate the workings of a quantum computer, to the molecular ‘cage prison’ developed at the University of Liverpool to trap pollutants.

The event brought together academics and industrialists from across a broad range of disciplines to share, discuss and celebrate the far-reaching and varied impacts of physical sciences research.

EPSRC Executive Chair Professor Lynn Gladden delivered an opening address emphasising the importance of engineering and physical sciences to meeting the government’s target of increasing investment in R&D to 2.4%.

Keynote addresses were given by figures from across academia and industry. Professor Sir Michael Pepper of UCL observed the unpredictable nature of impact derived from new knowledge, pointing to the example of terahertz technology which when first developed in the 1990s proved to be a very good detector between cancerous and healthy tissues, but is now used in automotive workshops to investigate defects.

Dr Liz Rowsell, corporate R&D director at Johnson Matthey, argued that the wealth of expertise in people is critical and diversity is extremely important, adding that a thriving fundamental science base is also crucial.

Professor Tony Ryan, of the University of Sheffield, explored the value of communicating science and the importance of multidisciplinarity, arguing that physical scientists must work with colleagues from across other disciplines to maximise their impact.

A panel discussion was chaired by Professor Gladden and featured Dr Malcolm Skingle, Director of Academic Partnerships at GSK, physicist and inclusion campaigner Dr Jessica Wade of Imperial College London, RSC Director of Science and Communities Dr Jo Reynolds and theoretical physicist Professor Tom McLeish, of the University of York.

Responding to questions from the audience, they discussed changing the narrative around science to recognise the importance of failure to the scientific process; generating impact through public engagement; and the importance of collaboration between industry and academia.