The Dr Theo George Wilson Lecture is the flagship event in IMSE's calendar of activities. It draws together a diverse audience from across Imperial’s student and staff body, as well as from our community of friends and stakeholders. Our objective is to inspire and engage the IMSE community by increasing its awareness of wider challenges and activities. This lecture is open to all.

Dr Theo George Wilson

The IMSE Annual Lecture is sponsored by Dr Theo George Wilson. Imperial alumnus Dr Wilson completed his PhD in the Department of Chemistry in 1952, and is now based in the US. True to IMSE’s spirit of collaboration, Theo decided to use his legacy gift to the College to help gather experts from different disciplines and from around the globe to deliver a prestigious series of lectures. Explaining his decision, Theo said: “I want to play a part in furthering the tradition of great scientific advances by Imperial. I hope my gift will be of great benefit to students in the future.”

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The Dr Theo George Wilson 2024 Annual Lecture

Building Microbial Chemical Factories: Design, Assembly, and Engineering of Biological Routes to Chemical Compounds

by Professor Kristala L. J. Prather (MIT)

Register here


Biological systems have the potential to produce a wide array of compounds with uses that include fuels, materials, bulk chemicals, and pharmaceuticals. Our group is focused on applying principles from metabolic engineering and biocatalysis towards the design and construction of novel biosynthetic pathways for specified target compounds.  This “retro-biosynthetic design” approach is aided by advancements in the development of new tools under the umbrella of synthetic biology that facilitate re-engineering of biological systems.  As new pathways are designed and constructed, typical challenges such as low product yields and titers can hamper development of commercially-relevant processes.  The sheer volume of chemicals that ultimately need to be produced also requires the use of a broader range of feedstocks than those traditional employed in bioprocesses.  In this talk, I will review our group’s sustained efforts to both produce novel compounds through biological synthesis and develop strategies to address the inherent limitations.


Kristala Jones Prather is the Arthur D. Little Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT and an investigator in the multi-institutional Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (SynBERC) funded by the National Science Foundation (USA). She received an S.B. degree from MIT in 1994 and Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley (1999), and worked four years in BioProcess Research and Development at the Merck Research Labs (Rahway, NJ). Her research is focused on using novel bioprocesses to design recombinant microorganisms to produce small molecules. Prather is the recipient of a Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation New Faculty Award (2004), an Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Award (2005), a Technology Review "TR35" Young Innovator Award (2007), a National Science Foundation CAREER Award (2010), and the Biochemical Engineering Journal Young Investigator Award (2011). She has been recognized for excellence in teaching with the C. Michael Mohr Outstanding Faculty Award for Undergraduate Teaching in the Dept. of Chemical Engineering (2006), the MIT School of Engineering Junior Bose Award for Excellence in Teaching (2010), and through appointment as a MacVicar Faculty Fellow (2014), the highest honor given for undergraduate teaching at MIT. Prather has won numerous awards for her research, including the Andreas Acrivos Award for Professional Progress from the American Institute of Chemical Engineering in 2021. She was named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2018. In 2023, Prather was appointed head of MIT's Department of Chemical Engineering.

Prather is known for her teaching, mentoring, and advocacy. In 2016, she was profiled on Spellbound, how kids become scientists. In 2015, Prather served on the advisory board of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars SynBio Project. She has been involved with several initiatives to support MIT students of color.

Professor Prather has co-authored more than 75 manuscripts and two book chapters, and has five issued patents with several additional applications pending.

Engineering Biology Symposium

The IMSE annual lecture will serve as the keynote speech for our Engineering Biology Symposium. This event will be held from 10.30-18.00.

Discover the latest innovations at the intersection of biology and engineering through dynamic presentations and interactive sessions. Don’t miss this opportunity to connect with leading experts and peers in the field—register today and be part of shaping the future of engineering biology.

Follow this link to register.

Our distinguished speakers

2023 Francis de los Reyes: Re-Thinking Innovation and Engagement to Address the Global Water and Sanitation Challenge

2023 Annual Lecture

The 2023 annual lecture was delivered by Professor Francis de los Reyes III the Glenn E. and Phyllis J. Futrell Distinguished Professor of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering and Alumni Distinguished Undergraduate Professor at North Carolina State University.

Watch Professor de los Reyes lecture here


Most people don’t think about or don’t want to think about what happens to human waste- fecal material. Where do we poop, where does it go? This is a big, global problem: 2020 WHO/UNICEF data show that 3.6 billion people- 45% of the current global population- don’t use a toilet or latrine where the fecal material is safely treated and disposed. Similarly, access to clean drinking water is not universal. In 2020, 771 million people still lacked even a basic level of drinking water service. Every minute, one child dies from diarrheal diseases, which are strongly associated with poor water and lack of sanitation. More than one billion people in 14 countries suffer from neglected tropical diseases associated with poor water and sanitation, such as helminthiases, trachoma, and schistosomiasis. While disparities to access are evident, and most issues are in rural areas and Sub-Saharan Africa, there are also populations in developed countries without access to water and sanitation.  

The lack of success in meeting WaSH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) targets (identified in SDG6) highlights the complexity of the water and sanitation challenges. Technology is just one aspect: the interconnected impacts of culture, economics, policy, and human behavior on water and sanitation issues make the problems complicated. In this talk, key factors in systematically addressing WaSH challenges will be discussed. A focus will be discussing how innovation and community engagement can be harnessed to meet the global WaSH challenge.


Professor Francis de los Reyes is the Glenn E. and Phyllis J. Futrell Distinguished Professor of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering and Alumni Distinguished Undergraduate Professor at North Carolina State University.  He is also Faculty in Microbiology and Biotechnology, and a University Faculty Scholar. He received his BS in Agricultural Engineering (magna cum laude) from the University of the Philippines-Los Baños, MS in Civil Engineering from Iowa State University, and PhD in Environmental Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

His research focuses on biological processes in waste/wastewater treatment and conversion to resources, environmental biotechnology and microbiology, and global water, sanitation, and health (WaSH) in low- and medium-income countries (LMICs). He has current research collaborations in the Philippines, India, China, South Africa, Pakistan, Kenya, Tanzania, and Malawi. He established and currently leads the Global WaSH Faculty cluster at NC State University and is leading a 6-university research center effort in WaSH infrastructure for underserved communities in the US and in LMICs. His research funding has been from the National Science Foundation, Gates Foundation, US Department of Agriculture, Environmental Research and Education Foundation, Water Resources Research Institute, utilities, and wastewater industries.

He is a TED Fellow, a WEF (Water Environment Federation) Fellow, and a Board Certified Environmental Engineer by Eminence by the American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists (AAEES). In 2020, he was named Corresponding Member of the National Academy of Science and Technology of the Philippines. He has received awards for research, teaching, and service from the WEF, the AAEES, the Association of Environmental Engineering Science Professors, NC State University, the Philippine-American Academy of Scientists and Engineers, University of the Philippines, and the Department of Science and Technology of the Philippines. His sanitation projects have won the RELX Group Environmental Challenge Award and the US Patents for Humanity Award. Professor de los Reyes served on the editorial boards of Water Research and the Journal of Environmental Engineering and is currently on the Editorial Boards of SciEnggJ and Transactions of the NAST-PHL. He is on the Board of the non-profit Gawad Kalinga USA, which aims to combat poverty by transforming the lives for the poorest 5 million families in the Philippines.

2022: Sossina Haile: Electrochemistry for Green Energy Technologies

The 2022 Dr Theo George Wilson Annual Lecture was by Professor Sossina Haile. Professor Haile’s research broadly encompasses materials, especially oxides, for sustainable electrochemical energy technologies. Her work in fuel cell science and technology has pushed the field to new insights and record performance metrics. In parallel, she has created new avenues for harnessing sunlight to meet rising energy demands.

Watch Sossina Haile's lecture on YouTube


Sossina M. Haile is the Walter P. Murphy Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Northwestern University, a position she assumed in 2015 after serving 18 years on the faculty at the California Institute of Technology. She earned her Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1992 and spent two years, 1991-1993, at the Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research in Stuttgart, Germany, first as a Fulbright Fellow then as a Humboldt Fellow.

Amongst her many awards, in 2008 Haile received an American Competitiveness and Innovation Fellowship from the U.S. National Science Foundation in recognition of “her timely and transformative research in the energy field and her dedication to inclusive mentoring, education and outreach across many levels.” In 2010 she was the recipient of the Chemical Pioneer Award (American Institute of Chemists), in 2012 the International Ceramics Prize (World Academy of Ceramics), and in 2020 the Turnbull Lectureship (Materials Research Society). She is a fellow of the Materials Research Society, the American Ceramics Society, the African Academy of Sciences, and the Ethiopian Academy of Sciences, and serves on the editorial boards of Annual Review of Materials Research, MRS Energy and Sustainability, and Joule. Her professional service includes past membership on the board of the Materials Research Society and current membership on the board of Ethiopia Education Initiatives.

2021: Teresa Lambe OBE: COVID-19 vaccines


The 2021 Dr Theo George Wilson Annual Lecture was by Professor Teresa Lambe OBE. Professor Teresa Lambe is a Principal Investigator/Group leader based at the Jenner Institute at the University of Oxford. She was at the forefront of the development of the Oxford–AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.

After the annual lecture there was an online "fireside discussion” with Professor Lambe and Imperial experts Professor James Moore JrDr Zoltán Kis and Dr Maria Papathanasiou

Watch Teresa Lambe's lecture on YouTube

2020: Saiful Islam: Making a Material Difference to Green Energy

Professor Saiful Islam

The 2020 Dr Theo George Wilson Annual Lecture was by Professor Saiful Islam. In 2020, Saiful was Professor of Materials Chemistry at the University of Bath. He became Professor of Materials Modelling at the University of Oxford in 2022. He gave the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures in 2016 for BBC TV. He sits on the Public Engagement Committee of the Royal Society and is a Patron of Humanists UK

Watch Saiful Islam's lecture on YouTube




2019: Tony Wood: Science and technology challenges in modern drug discovery and development

Science and technology challenges in modern drug discovery and development

Tony Wood gave the inaugural IMSE Annual Lecture in June 2019. At the time he was Senior Vice President for Medicinal Science & Technology at GSK. As of 2022 he is GSK's Chief Scientific Officer. He was elected a fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences in 2018 and is a member of the Scientific Advisory Panel of the British Pharmaceutical Society.

Read a news article about Tony Wood's lecture