Frontiers in Natural Sciences

The 2024 Dean’s Lecture will be held on Monday 19 February 2024.

Register for the Dean’s Annual Lecture 2024.


16.30: Registration

17.00: Welcome from Professor Ian Walmsley, Provost, Imperial College London

17.05: Keynote address from Professor Sir Shankar Balasubramanian, Herchel Smith Professor of Medicinal Chemistry at the University of Cambridge

17.45: Vote of Thanks and panel introductions by Professor Oscar Ces, Head of Department of Chemistry, Imperial College London

17.55: Panel session: “Disruptive startups including university spinouts are key to UK economic growth – what are the barriers to their growth and how do we unlock the potential of this sector? Discuss”.

Featuring Professor Sir Shankar Balasubramanian, Sir Mark Walport, Chief Executive of UK Research and Innovation, Dr Malcolm Weir, formerly CEO Heptares Therapeutics Ltd, Sarah Haywood, Managing Director, Advanced Oxford, and Richard Broyd, Blenheim Chalcot/ScaleSpace

18.25: Closing remarks by Professor Richard Craster, Dean of the Faculty of Natural Sciences, Imperial College London

18.30: Reception & SME showcase


Reading your DNA: What can it tell us?

DNA is a linear molecule made up of four building blocks, often abbreviated to the letters G, C, T and A. The sequence of these four letters constitutes a code that comprises 3.2 billion letters in a copy of the human genome. The International Human Genome Project used an approach developed by Fred Sanger to generate the first human genome reference in a global collaboration that spanned a decade. Over 20 years ago, during the course of some basic scientific experiments, a collaboration with David Klenerman and our co-workers, unexpectedly led us to conceive and then pursue a different way of sequencing DNA. The initial experiments ultimately led to a rapid, low-cost sequencing approach, which was developed and commercialised through a company we co-founded, called Solexa. Today the technique is able to sequence human, and other, genomes at a cost and speed that shows over a million-fold improvement compared to when we began the project in 1997. I will also discuss the impact of the technology on life sciences, medicine and society along with a vision of what the future holds.


Sir Shankar Balasubramanian is the Herchel Smith Professor of Medicinal Chemistry at the University of Cambridge and senior group leader at the Cambridge Institute. He works on the chemistry, structure and function of nucleic acids. He is a co-inventor of the leading next generation DNA sequencing methodology, Solexa sequencing (now Illumina) that has made routine, accurate, low-cost sequencing of human genomes a reality and has revolutionised biology. He has invented chemistry to decode several modified (epigenetic) DNA bases and DNA secondary structures (G-quadruplexes) in the genome and has made seminal contributions towards the understanding of their dynamics and function. His work on small molecule recognition of nucleic acids has revealed molecular mechanisms that can be exploited to modulate the biology of cancer. His collective contributions span fundamental chemistry and its application to the biological and medical sciences. Sir Shankar was knighted in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours in 2017 for his services to science and medicine and awarded the Royal Society’s Royal Medal in 2018. In 2021, he was awarded the 2020 Millennium Technology Prize jointly with David Klenerman and the 2022 Breakthrough Prize for Life Sciences jointly with David Klenerman and Pascal Mayer for their work on sequencing technologies.



FreshCheck was founded in 2015 by John Simpson and Alex Bond –
PhD alumni from Imperial College London. The initial research looked to
use siderophores that are excreted from microbial cells, as markers of
microbial contamination.

The team have now developed a complete hygiene verification system that uses a colour-change swab and free-to-use app to confirm cleanliness. This helps ensure safe environments for the food, healthcare and hospitality industries. As the first affordable tool, the team hope to expand hygiene awareness to new markets too.

P Happi

P. Happi is a unique, scientifically-proven bio-active serum that helps a woman’s intimate microbiota find and remain in its happy balance. Containing live natural bacteria that actively do their bit in targeting the unwanted bacteria from your intimate area, P. Happi champions the good in there to boost your body’s natural defences.

Chiara completed her PhD at the Dept of Chemical Engineering at Imperial College London. Her motivation to start P. Happi started with her personal frustration with recurrent UTIs, and her desire to develop effective but non antibiotic solutions to support other women.



Woost Ltd is dedicated to creating a paradigm shift in the diagnosis of gynaecological conditions starting with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) with the use of menstrual blood testing. Close to 400M women worldwide suffer from PCOS, a chronic, symptom-heavy disease with links to diabetes, infertility, depression, CVD and cancer; nevertheless, it takes 3+ doctor visits on average leading to 2-8 years to get a diagnosis, during which women suffer in silence from considerable physical and mental ill health. We are taking a novel approach by decentralising diagnostic testing and directly offering women at-home tests to track biomarkers in menstrual blood for an earlier diagnosis of PCOS, the prevention of correlated diseases and overall the improvement of women’s quality of life. Our test devices will be easy-to-use, affordable and accessible to any woman anywhere to monitor their gynaecological well-being. We are devoted to building a community, in which women’s health concerns are effectively targeted and more importantly, being heard.


Multus’ goal is to make cultivated meat the affordable and sustainable choice, for everyone. The team are pioneering the design and production of the key ingredients required to accelerate the affordable scale-up of cellular agriculture. Their technology aims to provide a truly sustainable alternative to today’s global dependence on traditional animal farming.

RFC Power

RFC Power is dedicated to helping the world store renewable energy, simply and safely so it can be used whenever it’s needed.

The company was spun out from Imperial College’s Departments of Engineering and Chemistry by the institution’s innovation arm in 2017 and is underpinned by a number of scientific breakthroughs published in top tier scientific journals conducted in the labs of Nigel Brandon, Anthony Kucernak, Javier Rubio Garcia and Vladimir Yufit over the last 8 years



Co-founders of Notpla, Rodrigo Garcia Gonzalez and Pierre Paslier, met while studying Innovation Design Engineering at Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art. 

After their first video of an edible bubble encapsulating water went viral, they collaborated with chemists and chemical engineers from Imperial College to develop their first product, Ooho. 

Notpla creates truly sustainable packaging solutions from seaweed and plants that disappear naturally, giving consumers the convenience of single-use, without the plastic waste. Winner of the prestigious Earthshot Prize, Notpla are famed for their edible liquid packaging, Ooho, their takeaway box coating and single-use film sachet replacements. To date, their solutions have already replaced 2.8 million pieces of single-use plastic from entering our environment.


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