Never Lick the Spoon

A quirky podcast from the Institute for Molecular Science and Engineering at Imperial College London, that brings to life the teeny tiny world of molecules.

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Tuesday Mar 19, 2024

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.
In this episode my guests refer to two chests in the collections of the Victoria & Albert museum. The first is the Mazarin Chest with its Japanese lacquer surface. The results of the conservation of the lacquer have been published in Scientific Conservation. The second is a 17th century embroidered box. Vibrational modelling on this casket was carried out by Kerstin Kracht (Technical University of Berlin) to build a crate to allow this to be safely shipped overseas for display.

Monday Oct 16, 2023

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. 

Episode 26 - The ingredients list

Wednesday Jul 05, 2023

Wednesday Jul 05, 2023

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

Thursday May 25, 2023

Thursday May 25, 2023

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.
Read the IMSE briefing paper about low carbon fuels for aviation here.
Read our blog post about the launch event.
Watch the briefing paper launch event and discussion on YouTube.
We also refer to the 2023 Royal Society policy briefing in the podcast. 

Friday Mar 17, 2023

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.
The research we're discussing is published here:

Thursday Jan 26, 2023

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.
The research we’re discussing is published here:

Episode 22 - Crystal healing

Monday Nov 21, 2022

Monday Nov 21, 2022

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

Thursday Oct 20, 2022

Thursday Oct 20, 2022

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

Tuesday Sep 20, 2022

Tuesday Sep 20, 2022

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.  

Monday Aug 22, 2022

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?

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