Imperial College London

World Engineering Day: Engineering for A Healthy Planet


An image of the Earth

For World Engineering Day, we explore the work of four of our Materials Scientists.

The 4 March is World Engineering Day! This year the theme is Engineering for a Healthy Planet: Celebrating the UNESCO Engineering Report. All of our researchers investigate ways to make the planet a better place through engineering better healthcare, new materials, exploring alternative energy sources and more.

Four of our researchers provide an insight into their current work, which is helping to create a more sustainable planet. 

Professor Robin Grimes FRS FREng: Reimagining Nuclear Energy in the Road to Net-Zero

An image of Robin GrimesProfessor Robert Grimes FRS FREng recently led a study for the Royal Society to investigate how a new generation of (SMR) and (AMR) nuclear reactors could help the UK cut carbon emissions - by harnessing surplus energy to heat homes, produce hydrogen, and decarbonise industry. 

The report outlines how the method of 'co-generation' could allow nuclear power to compensate for the intermittency of renewable electricity. Through this, nuclear plants could switch from the generation of electricity to other applications when wind, solar or other sources meet the demand.

Professor Grimes highlights that the design of future nuclear plants could be modified to provide a constant output of heat for other uses such as hydrogen production and district heating. This approach could complement renewable energy and help the UK meet its net-zero carbon emissions pledge by 2050. 

Nuclear cogeneration: civil nuclear energy in a low-carbon future, published 7 October by the Royal Society. 

Professor Mary Ryan FREng: Transition to Zero-Pollution 

An image of Professor Mary RyanProfessor Mary Ryan FREng champions the Transition to Zero Pollution initiative on behalf of the College. This is a new transdisciplinary research initiative that aims to eliminate pollution in all its forms, working in partnership with industry and government to realise a vision of a sustainable, zero-pollution future.

Professor Mary Ryan, Vice-Dean (Research) of the Faculty of Engineering, said: “Addressing the challenge of global pollution will require a radical shift in industrial systems, technologies, and business models, underpinned by the development of innovative policies and governance structures – all of which will require integrated research across many disciplines.”

She added: “We see CO2 as a pollutant, a major and urgent pollutant, but not the only thing we should be thinking of.

"It’s really about an entire system. Thinking about how to address pollution at source and understanding the impact of it in the whole life cycle.”

Read an interview with Professor Ryan about the Transition to Zero Pollution research strategy.

Watch the Transition to Zero Pollution and Sustainable Mobility at Imperial seminar.

Dr Robert Hoye: Charging Smart Devices and Efficient Solar Cells

An image of Dr Robert HoyeDr Robert Hoye has recently contributed to a study that outlined how environmentally friendly materials could harvest enough energy from indoor light to power wireless smart devices. This research investigated a more sustainable way to power our smart devices by developing indoor solar cells that could harvest energy and power devices using indoor light. 

Dr Hoye is also working on developing electronic materials to be made at low temperature, using simpler equipment that can still achieve the same performance. This has applications in solar cells, in solid-state lighting and for the clean production of hydrogen from sunlight. Further research will look into increasing the efficiency of solar cells through the development of an oxide printer that deposits protective oxide semiconductors onto the top solar cell without damaging the solar cells.

Last year, Dr Hoye collaborated with the Henry Royce Institute on the Materials for photovoltaic system's roadmap. This demonstrated the strategic response from the Materials Science community towards the government's net-zero emissions target in 2050.

In addition to this, he has worked with RAEng to develop a resource kit for teachers to help teach children about Engineering materials for a greener planet.

Professor Alexandra Porter: Measuring Air Pollution in Cities 

Professor Alex PorterProfessor Alexandra Porter is conducting a study to better understand the impact of pollution in cities on human health, with partners at the University of Surrey and the University of Edinburgh.

The study, named INHALE, aims to measure the impacts of pollution in different urban environments from the cellular to an individual level. Researchers hope to understand which components of pollution are most damaging to human health and how to mitigate the effects of pollution. The nationwide lockdown has also helped the study investigate the differences between pollution levels as traffic returns to cities. 

The INHALE study is currently recruiting healthy volunteers and asthmatic volunteers, who are aged 30-70 and live or work in West London. The study involves wearing a monitor and obtaining samples of blood, urine and sputum (phlegm). If you are interested please contact Ms Sally Meah at the Respiratory Unit, Royal Brompton Hospital on 020 7351 8051 or email The study has been approved by the Dulwich Research Ethics Committee and you will be fully reimbursed for your travel expenses whilst participating in the study.

For healthy volunteers, the study will examine the degree of exposure to environmental pollution and the potential effect of the pollution on your lungs. For asthmatic volunteers, the study will examine the degree of exposure to environmental pollution and its potential effect on your asthma.


Kayleigh Brewer

Kayleigh Brewer
Department of Materials


Engineering-Materials, Materials
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