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Our quirky podcast Never Lick the Spoon! brings to life the teeny tiny world of molecules. It is presented by Isabella von Holstein, the Institute's Research Manager. You can find the podcast on iTunes, Google podcasts or Spotify. Older episodes were presented by Kieran Brophy, the previous Communications Manager. 


What sorts of science and engineering challenges do museums have in looking after their collections? In this episode I explore how Imperial’s research into data science, polymers and lasers is being used to understand and preserve historical and archaeological objects.


A team at Imperial are building a robotic laboratory called DIGIBAT. This will automate research into materials for energy storage and energy generation. Robots won't just discover new materials. They'll also do the laborious work of testing all the many combinations of those materials to find out which make the best batteries and fuel cells. 

What do fertilizer, body lotion, paracetamol tablets and mayonnaise have in common? Well, they’re all engineered mixtures, and they all have a long list of unpronounceable chemicals on the back of the packet. How can adjusting these chemicals affect the climate impact of the product? We dive deep into formulations.

Episode 25 - In plane sight

What are the sustainable alternatives to kerosene to power aircraft into a net zero world? And what would it take to scale their production up to meet demand? I talk to two authors of the recent IMSE briefing paper on low carbon fuels for aviation. We talk energy, technology readiness levels and the need for multidisciplinarity.

Episode 24 - Desirably defective

Silicon-based solar panels are four times as efficient as plants at harvesting energy from sunlight. But they're expensive to produce because the material they're made of has to be very precisely engineered. What if we could make solar panels out of copper oxides, where the imperfections in the material are what makes them effective? I talk to two researchers who used a supercomputer to discover this.

Molecules that change shape when light falls on them have many uses. Like the Trojan Horse, they can look benign, but transform into a weapon under the right circumstances. This week we explore how photoswitchable molecules could help tackle the next pandemic.


Episode 22 - Crystal healing

This month, we're focusing on a chemical process which is all around us: how crystals form. Humans have been using crystallisation to harvest salt from seawater for millennia. In the modern industrial world, it's used to make sugar, gemstones and silicon chips. So it’s a bit of a surprise to find a completely undiscovered phenomenon, of a crystal healing itself, happening in crystals of paracetamol. How have we missed this? Why is it happening? And how could it be useful?

Episode 21 - Soilless soil

One way of increasing food production is to develop substitutes for soil which can be used to grow plants. Why is 3D printing a good way of doing this? And how could it be used make new non-Earth type soils for farming in space?

Episode 20 - Concrete jungle

How could we make our cities greener, and how would that change how liveable they are? In a first for this podcast, I talk to a current Masters student at Imperial about her research project developing a new type of concrete that can support life.

Episode 19 - Printing life with light

3D printing, or additive manufacturing, is a method of producing objects by printing them in layers. The layers can be made out of metal, ceramic or, most often, plastics. But could we actually print living cells into tissues or organs?

Episode 18 - Understorey stories

In the last few decades, thousands of acres of rainforest have been cleared for palm oil plantations in southeast Asia, with a consequent loss of biodiversity. Currently in Africa, coconut palm production is industrialising. Can this be done more sustainably than in Southeast Asia? I talk to two PhD students at Imperial who are using DNA sampling to explore biodiversity in coconut agriculture, and its links to ecosystem resilience and also economic resilience for farmers.  

Episode 17 - Reduce, Reuse, Digest?

We're all being urged to reduce, reuse, recycle our plastics these days. But some types of bacteria have already evolved to be able to eat some kinds of plastic. Could these organisms help solve the plastic waste crisis?


Episode 16 - An Apple (Watch) a day (Part II)

Last time we heard about some of the positive aspects that wearable tech has been bringing to modern life, now we hear about its dubious side. From big tech trying to guess if you're happy or sad so they can sell you stuff, to healthcare apps that monitor much more than they should. One thing is for sure - by the end of the episode you’ll be checking every T&C on every app or piece of tech you have at home - if you don’t do so already!

Episode 15 - An Apple (Watch) a day

In a two part special on wearable technology, we are joined by experts that look at this booming industry from completely different perspectives. In the first episode we look at wearable tech's exciting potential, including how mass consumer devices, that previously simply nagged you to walk more, are becoming more like sophisticated medical devices. And since heart rate data from Fitbits were able to predict infection outbreak, could this lead to a better understanding of disease transmission in the community?


Episode 14 - State of the misinformation

We take a break from our usual molecular bread and butter and look at the recent American presidential election. After all, American presidents are made of molecules too, right? We begin our story back at the 2016 presidential election, where Russia (and others) tried to influence the outcome of the result by spreading misinformation through social media channels. But what happened in 2020? We find out!

Blog on misinformation: http://wwwf.imperial.ac.uk/blog/the-forum/2020/11/02/misinformation-and-social-media-in-the-us-election-comparing-2016-and-2020/

Episode 13 - Lucky for some

It's our 13th episode! Far from being Triskaidekaphobes - that is of course the phobia of the number 13 - we’re lucky enough to have a returning guest who brings some much needed positivity on the Covid-19 vaccine search. We also hear how a chance fishing trip off of Seattle could provide scientists with the answer to just how many antibodies someone needs to fight the virus successfully - another piece of luck!

Link to the #TeamHalo home page: https://teamhalo.org/

Anna Blakney's TikTok account: https://www.tiktok.com/@anna.blakney 

Episode 12 - Snail fever

Turning our attention away from Covid, we look at a different disease that has plagued humanity since the time of the ancient Egyptians - and still claims 280,000 lives every year. What’s all the more tragic, is it's curable by modern medicine. We hear from 2 researchers who are part of a multinational, multidiscipline team who are trying to finally eradicate it.

WISER: Water Infrastructure for Schistosomiasis-Endemic Regions

Episode 11 - Batteries included

From the humble AAs we stick into the back of our TV remote controls, to our phones, laptops, and increasingly, our cars, batteries are now everywhere to be found. We hear from someone who spends more time than most of us examining these magical capsules that power our lives, and looks at what exciting new ways we could use them.

Ethical and environmental battery brands: https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/energy/shopping-guide/batteries

Episode 10 - Getting rid of Covid (Part III)

We have a returning guest with some exciting results from the initial tests of the vaccine! Anna Blakney gives us an update on vaccine trials, including when they now think it will be ready, along with her take on public health measures and the use of masks.

Episode 9 - Getting rid of Covid (Part II)

Continuing on from the last episode, Kieran hears about the work of a team at Imperial College who are now grappling with the next big challenge to producing a Covid-19 vaccine: how to make enough of the vaccine for billions of people. And since it's mental health week, we speak to the team about the pressures they face and how they are managing to cope.

Episode 8 - Getting rid of Covid

Most of us have been in some form of lock down now for several weeks. The only sure way we can get back to the life we had before is with a vaccine, which is what researchers at Imperial College London are trying to develop. Kieran speaks to one of the team about what it’s like developing arguably the most urgent tool ever needed.

Music: Viral Counterpoint of the Coronavirus Spike Protein by Markus J Buehler.

Episode 7 - Greenhouse mattresses

Carbon capture is mooted by some as a key tool in the fight against that other huge challenge facing human kind, climate change. Kieran finds out more about this emerging field by going on a tour of Europe’s first educational carbon capture pilot plant, and discovers how recycled carbon could be used to make mattresses!

Episode 6 - Bacteria hysteria

From HG Wells to David Bowie, "is there life on Mars?" is one of the most iconic questions yet to be answered. We speak to someone who could be one of the first people to answer that question in the next year! Also, the recent coronavirus outbreak shows us just how quickly disease can spread. With the growing threat of antimicrobial resistance is it just a matter of time before now curable infections - like bubonic plague - make their return?


Episode 5 - Sprouts and fatbergs, it must be Christmas!

Ever wonder why you hate Brussels sprouts? It turns out the answer could be in your genes! It's also the reason chemical in these controversial little vegetables was used as a paternity test! We also investigate an unintended side effect of our festive gorging - fatbergs - and how researchers in Imperial are exploring ways to use them as a biofuel. 

Episode 4 - Penicillin’s untold story

Every schoolchild will tell you that Penicillin, one of the great discoveries of the 20th century, was discovered by Alexander Fleming. But it was a young German refugee that brought Penicillin out of the scientific papers and into the hospital, his name was Ernst Chain. Kieran travels to University College London to speak to Ernst’s son, Benny, himself a pioneer in biochemistry.

Episode 3 - 3D printing and Brian Cox-ing

3D printing has evolved to the stage where we can now create aircraft parts, satellite components, medical implants and even copies of people’s faces. However, as Kieran finds out, this promising field also has potentially troubling aspects. Also, in the era of "fake news", we hear how science communication is more important than ever with the presenter of the BBC World Service programme "Digital Planet", Gareth Mitchel.

Episode 2 - Hey Alexa, please turn off the patriarchy

Kieran hears how the efforts of a Physics postdoc for greater recognition for female scientist resulted in her being named in Nature's 10 scientists that mattered in 2018, and we speak to the next generation of female entrepreneurs.

In our first episode, Kieran finds out how social you are can influence how you feel about social media. We also hear how researchers in Imperial are developing smart tattoos capable of monitoring health by changing colour, which could tell an athlete when they are dehydrated or a diabetic when their blood sugar rises.