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Science Minister visits thriving innovation ecosystem at White City

Amanda Solloway

The Minister for Science, Research and Innovation Amanda Solloway MP visited Imperial’s White City Campus yesterday (@imperialcollege).

The Minister visited the White City Campus yesterday to see first-hand how the innovation district is flourishing. She was welcomed by Provost Ian Walmsley (@Imp_Prov) and Professor Nick Jennings, Vice-Provost (Research and Enterprise). The visit follows a virtual roundtable Imperial hosted with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) on 6 August to highlight the launch of UKRI’s new Open Access policy, in the context of the R&D People & Culture Strategy.

Inspiring the next generation of inventors

The Minister heard about how Imperial is inspiring a new generation and local communities to explore STEM ideas, as part of the work that takes place at The Invention Rooms, the College’s dedicated space for innovation and the community in White City.Tom Pearson, Head of Special Projects (Academic Partnerships) and lead of the community engagement programme at White City explained to the Minister that throughout the pandemic, the team stayed connected with residents by providing support in new ways – for example, by distributing more than 3,000 science activity packs to local families.

Graham Hewson, Head of Hackspace and Incubation, walked the Minister through the Advanced Hackspace, where she had the opportunity to see specialist manufacturing equipment, electronics, wood and metal workshops, as well as a wide variety of prototyping tools.

Minister Solloway inside the Hackspace
The Minister with Eifion Nightingale, Advanced Hackspace Fellow, at the Metal and Wood Workshop inside the Advanced Hackspace

Mr Hewson explained that the Hackspace brings together inventive minds from all backgrounds, disciplines and levels of expertise across the College network, to collaborate, experiment and innovate –where members have the opportunity to turn ideas into real breakthrough prototypes and solutions.

Global centre for air pollution

The Minister also saw how university-based R&D is co-located with industrial collaborators in the Sir Michael Uren Hub, a 13-storey building comprising state-of-the-art laboratory and office facilities, housing interdisciplinary research initiatives from across Imperial’s departments and faculties.

The Uren Hub is home to the world’s leading centre for the study of air pollution, led by Professor Frank Kelly and the Environmental Research Group (ERG). Professor Kelly spoke to the Minister about a new project, which aims to create an outdoor air quality display and works with local communities beyond White City. Professor Kelly and his team will design and co-create a robust, low-cost, battery operated, outdoor air quality display unit with the residents of Lambeth and Southwark.

Professor Frank Kelly speaking to the Minister

Professor Frank Kelly presenting to the Minister inside the data visualisation room

Professor Kelly also highlighted the WELLHOME– West London Healthy Home and Environment Study, funded by UKRI Strategic Priorities Fund – Clean Air Consortia. Working in partnership with local community, the WellHome consortia will focus on the quality of air inside and outside over 100 homes with an asthmatic child selected from across the social spectrum.

The ERG will work with the Hackspace at White City for both projects. It will be utilised to fabricate prototypes of the air quality display units. In WELLHOME, they will use the Hackspace to 3D print miniature passive samplers to place in participant’s homes to collect air samples, which will be analysed in ERG’s laboratories to better understand air quality in homes.

Entrepreneurial community

The Minister learnt about how Imperial supports an entrepreneurial community at White City: the Imperial White City Incubator offers support to technology start-ups for all stages of company growth and the team gives start-ups the access to support and training to give their company the best possible chance of success.

Minister Solloway inside the Puraffinity Lab at the Incubator
Minister Solloway inside Puraffinity’s shared lab at the Incubator

The Minister also toured the shared labs and met researchers from Puraffinity, a green technology company focused on designing smart materials for environmental applications. Puraffinity has been part of Imperial’s entrepreneurial ecosystem for the past six years, participating in several Imperial Entrepreneurship programmes including the Venture Catalyst Challenge and WE Innovate. They moved into the Incubator labs and will be graduating to a bigger facility on Campus to accelerate their growth.

Professor Nick Jennings, Vice Provost (Research and Enterprise) said:

“We are creating a vibrant ecosystem that brings together local government, business, academics, students, entrepreneurs and residents to educate, research and innovate for the benefit of society- and I’m really pleased that the Minister was able to appreciate that first-hand today.”

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