University of Surrey FHMS/FEPS Festival of Research

Opening Remarks 20 June 2018

What a fantastic initiative close to my own heart. I have to tell you that my own research on optics and photonics has for many years been directed towards medicine and biology – in areas such as surgical guidance, breast cancer, respiratory diseases, sleep, burns and scars. The field of research is called biophotonics or biomedical optics and next week I will be off to Florida and Spain to present invited lectures…perhaps I should have put my hand up for the main event today?  Looking at the programme, though, I see no shortage of excellent talks.

Since arriving at Surrey in January, I have discovered that one of the many things we do particularly well here is to work across boundaries – especially connecting technology researchers in physics and engineering to those using or studying the impact of their technologies – and we do have depth at Surrey, of particular relevance to today’s event, in signal and image processing, communications, computer science, machine perception and AI and digital innovation in general.

These core strengths find applications in 5G, sensor networks, robotics, virtual reality, cyber security, distributed ledger technologies…..and, wait for it,…. in health and medicine… areas such as patient monitoring, medical imaging, food provenance, environmental monitoring, animal health and more.

So, why today’s event then, with all these good things happening?  Well, because research is about discovery and discovery involves unknowns and unknowns exist at interfaces.  Today is about the excitement of the unknown.

Take it upon yourself today to learn something new – actually, this will be hard not to do – but also take it upon yourself to meet someone new.

Take it upon yourself to be adventurous, to explore, be bold, and ask questions.

Who knows, you may initiate an exploration of a lifetime – you just never know.  And the worst that can happen is that …… will have fun!

In many ways, events like today mirror what our Research Themes are designed to do.  As I wrote in my blog – you do read my blogs, right?  Good.

So, a Research Theme should:

  • Create an open, transparent and inclusive environment in which researchers can come together to create synergies that would otherwise be less likely to occur;
  • It should provide a nurturing environment in which the good values of the organisation (icare) are transmitted and individuals are mentored and supported. Themes would ordinarily be expected to comprise multiple disciplines, or break down existing silos;
  • And it should establish a critical mass – say on the order of 100 people or more.

So, today’s event, indeed, shares many of these attributes…

Our currently active themes are:

Urban Living and Sustainability – please visit the new websites, and the stands.

Then, we are trying to decide which of the other themes we want to activate. They are:

  • Lifelong health and wellbeing;
  • Digital innovation;
  • Innovation for health; and
  • Space and aerospace.

Indeed, today contains elements of many of these themes.  In my blog, I talk about alternatives and options – if you are interested, take a look, and I invite your feedback – and thanks to those who have already provided it.

Right now is an incredible time to be working in research in the UK. The government’s Industrial Strategy represents the biggest investment in research and innovation in a generation. All the new money is about industry and impact.  The Surrey Ambition has always been about this – to do research that makes a difference – to make an impact, and to work with industry.

The four pillars of the strategy are:

  • AI and the Data Economy;
  • Ageing Society;
  • Future of Mobility; and
  • Clean Growth.

Good matches to Surrey’s themes….but how about the match with what you do?

How can you engage with industry?  Where can you get help to do so?  Well, that is a good topic for today – ask around at coffee time….there are many here who can help you make the connections.

Some brief words on what we are doing in the VPRI office to help strengthen our research & innovation at Surrey.

First and foremost, we are seeking to support the Research & Innovation elements of the Surrey Advantage, our Corporate Strategy, as well as begin to implement the recommendations of the two reviews conducted early last year, on research services and on innovation.

Specifically, our priorities are:

  • To support the research scale-up and strategic hires agenda;
  • Double the PGR numbers over 5 years;
  • Establish a more strategic discretionary “fighting” fund for research and research equipment, particularly matching funding for external applications;
  • Integrate the R&I services portfolio and make it more researcher friendly;
  • Create greater linkage and two-way flow with the Research Park;
  • And refresh our research strategy, and integrate it with an innovation strategy.

We are, indeed, keeping busy!

Finally, a plug for the Falling Walls event to be held at Surrey on 3 September – calling all students, researchers, staff and entrepreneurs – from Surrey as well as other leading academic institutions across the UK – to present your innovative idea, research project or social initiative in three minutes.

Yesterday, I spoke with a young man, who we hope will join us at Surrey, and who works at Harvard University on battery research; then in the news, I saw that Norway is trialling battery powered aeroplanes, and will phase out petrol motor vehicles by 2025. Then, I saw that an IBM computer has been engaged in a debate with a person on the topic: Should we subsidise space exploration? And persuaded 20% of the audience to change its mind.  Amazing.

We are truly limited only by our capacity to imagine the future.  Happy imagining today!