Chemeng Matters in Parliament

Article by Staff Writer

MORE than 100 specially-invited guests gathered at the UK’s Houses of Parliament yesterday evening to share the positive impact that chemical engineering has on the modern world.

Ten UK chemical engineering university departments were showcased by IChemE for research that benefits the world around us, including creating technologies for a greener pharmaceutical industry, removing arsenic from groundwater, and revolutionising the way that diabetics monitor their blood sugar levels.

Chemical Engineering Matters for a Modern World was hosted by The Baroness Brown of Cambridge and IChemE’s UK Research Committee, and welcomed guests from the academic and engineering community, as well as policy-makers, opinion-formers and members of parliament.

Baroness Brown of Cambridge, Julia King, said: “As one of a small number of engineers in parliament it is particularly great to see so many engineers here this evening, and it really is essential that we all share the stories about the success and the benefits to the economy that engineering brings.”

One of the projects, from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Chemical Engineering, involved the research and development of glucose testing strips for diabetics. The spin-out company, AgaMatrix, now supplies over 1m test strips per month to the NHS in the UK alone and has designed a smartphone app linked to the diagnostic device. The research has changed the lives of people living with diabetes. An estimated 347m people worldwide suffer from the disease.

“The breadth of engineering work undertaken in the UK always amazes me,” King added. “It is crucial that the engineering community communicates this effectively with parliament to ensure engineering expertise and knowledge is used to make evidence-based policy decisions. Research and its impact is a vital driver of the UK economy and engineering is essential to the success of the UK economy.”

The research projects highlighted at the event were all chosen based on how impactful their work was in the ‘real world’. This was based on a definition from the Research Excellency Framework (REF) 2014, which describes ‘impact’ as having a positive effect on areas beyond academia. The research projects featured were from departments at University of Birmingham, University College London, Heriot-Watt, Queen’s University Belfast, Imperial College London, University of Manchester, University of Cambridge, University of Leeds, University of Surrey, and University of Strathclyde.

IChemE’s UK Research Committee chair, Raffaella Ocone, chemical engineering professor at Heriot-Watt University, was instrumental in selecting the final case studies. She said: “The work presented here today goes beyond chemical engineering. It is an opportunity to look at the scope of knowledge and competency required of chemical engineers as practitioners in a social context. These case studies show that chemical engineering draws on many different experiences and complement technical competence with a wider socio-economic perspective.”

Conversation naturally turned to concerns about how Brexit might diminish the positive impact that chemical engineering can have on the UK economy and modern life.

IChemE’s president, Jonathan Seville, voiced his concerns about reports that the Home Office is thinking of halving the number of visas available to overseas students.

“Chemical engineering departments are a complex ecosystem of overseas students, EU students, home students, overseas staff, staff from the EU, and staff from the UK. Interfere with any part of those ecosystems and disaster can result.”

Seville said it is not difficult to imagine that such visa cuts would lead to closures of UK engineering departments which are relatively more reliant on overseas students and staff.

“I would really urge those in this room that have influence over this to exert that influence,” he said, noting that any closures would hit recently-formed chemical engineering departments that have been established in areas of the country where there is deprivation and low opportunity as far as higher education is concerned.

“If they close, they will take opportunities for UK students with them. So we must not let that happen.”
King moved to ease concerns by noting that she had been briefed in the House of Lords that there will not be cuts to the number of overseas students allowed in the UK. However, she urged those gathered to actively communicate the importance of overseas students to UK engineering and in turn society.

“The very important fact is that our overseas students are subsidising the education of engineers of our UK engineering students. We desperately need them to go on doing that. We need those engineering graduates for all the exciting future projects [discussed here tonight].

“They are going to even more critical to growing our economy once we’ve left the European union…so those are messages that we must keep talking about loudly and clearly.”

To read the report and its ten research case studies, visit:

Article by Staff Writer

Recent Editions

Catch up on the latest news, views and jobs from The Chemical Engineer. Below are the four latest issues. View a wider selection of the archive from within the Magazine section of this site.