Houses of parliament

SET for Britain students present their research to MPs

Engineering students from across the UK will be presenting their research at the Houses of Parliament next week at the SET for Britain competition.

SET for Britain is designed to encourage, support and promote UK research scientists, engineers and technologists who are at an early stage of their career. Researchers who want to take part must first convince a selection panel that they can cut through technical jargon and explain their work in general terms.

Those who pass this stage are then invited to make a poster that summarises their research for an expert audience, which is displayed at the final, held at the Houses of Parliament on March 14th as part of National Science and Engineering week. Participants must be prepared to explain their work to non-scientists, including MPs and other visitors to the event.

Broken into three sections: engineering, biological and biomedical science and physical sciences (chemistry and physics), each section will have a separate two-hour poster exhibition and judging session during the day, ending with a reception and prize-giving which consists of medals and monetary rewards.

Final-year PhD student Katarzyna Tych from the University of Leeds will be travelling down to Westminster to explain her work on bio-electronics at the event.

Her poster describes a way of studying proteins with terahertz radiation (T-rays). Unlike conventional X-ray techniques, the T-ray spectroscopy system she has been working with does not damage the material being studied. The novel technique is also helping to de-mystify the relationship between proteins' structure and their biological function. This may help researchers understand how proteins' physical make-up affects how they perform vital tasks, such as driving biochemical reactions or activating genes.

"Because my project is so interdisciplinary, combining state-of-the-art electronic engineering with biology, I am already used to describing the project to researchers from all sorts of different backgrounds. Hopefully that experience will help on the day," she says.

"This event is a little daunting, but public engagement is becoming an increasingly important part of research so I was keen to take part,” she continues.

“I also wanted to get the message out that electronic engineering isn't only about tinkering around with wires and soldering irons, which is an image that can put girls off from studying the subject. I have been working with proteins, which are an essential part of all living organisms. The type of work that I have been doing could ultimately have implications for the design of novel drug therapies that 'lock' proteins to block or activate certain functions.”

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