planet earth

A team of researchers from Imperial’s Department of Physics is bringing affordable and clean energy to Rwanda and India – while others are helping to screen for more effective cancer drugs to ensure healthy lives at all ages.

Fundamental research in the physical sciences often reveals new knowledge or leads to innovation or technology that can have a transformative impact on society and ultimately address a host of Sustainable Development Goals.

Since 1989, Professor Jenny Nelson FRS has conducted research in Imperial’s Department of Physics focused on understanding the properties of semiconductor materials and investigating their application in low-cost organic solar cells. Starting in 2010, Professor Nelson and her team began working with Imperial’s Grantham Institute to deliver clean energy systems for developing countries.

They have designed ‘mini-grids’ that incorporate solar and other renewable forms of power generation – delivering working solutions for a refugee camp in Rwanda and a rural community health centre in India. This work has therefore helped to bring affordable and clean energy whilst combating climate change (SDG-7/13) as well as promoting good health and peaceful societies (SDG-3/16).

Another Imperial physicist, Professor Paul French, has developed a range of innovative 3D fluorescence imaging microscopy techniques, which have, for example, revealed how immune cells tackle cancer. In 2020 Professor French’s group was awarded £4.5 million in funding by Cancer Research UK to develop imaging techniques to help screen for new, more effective cancer treatments – ultimately helping ensure healthy lives at all ages (SDG-3).

Head of Physics at Imperial, Professor Michele Dougherty FRS, says: “Research in the Department is often interdisciplinary and immensely varied –  from mapping galaxies, through to analysing Earth’s atmosphere, right down to studying the behaviour of cells and subatomic particles. Through a greater understanding of nature we often gain new insights into how to solve problems facing humanity – something which we actively champion and encourage.”