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For Your Inspiration: Making a material difference

Join Mark Miodownik and colleagues from UCL’s Institute of Making for an exploration into the amazing world of Materials Science.

Materials scientists build and shape our world.
Mark Miodownik, Ben Oldfrey, Zoe Laughlin, Background photo by David Gilbertson via Unsplash

Event description

You maybe haven’t learnt much about Materials Science at school, but so much of our world depends on it, from how your toilet flushes to why a lightbulb produces light.

Mark Miodownik, Zoe Laughlin and Ben Oldfrey, all from UCL’s Institute of Making, will introduce you to this fascinating topic and explore some of the exciting ways materials will shape our future, from self-healing roads to tackling ocean plastics. They will also discuss what their day-to-day life is like, why they chose to work in this field, and how they got into their jobs. A perfect event for any teenagers interested in a career in science. 

For Your Inspiration events are designed to give young people a chance to explore the amazing range of careers to be found in the world of science, and to uncover some interesting areas perhaps not commonly taught at school. These events are designed with secondary students in mind, but all ages are welcome!

About the speakers

Mark Miodownik is a materials engineer and Professor of Materials and Society at UCL where he teaches and runs a research group. He presented in the 2010 CHRISTMAS LECTURES. 

He received his PhD in turbine jet engine alloys from Oxford University, and has worked as a materials scientist in the USA, Ireland and the UK. For more than ten years he has championed materials research that links the arts and humanities to medicine, engineering and materials science. This culminated in the establishment of the UCL Institute of Making where he is Director and runs the research programme. His current research interests are animate materials, innovative manufacturing, and sensoaesthetic materials.

Mark is a broadcaster and writer on science and engineering issues, and believes passionately that to engineer is human. He has written for The Observer, The Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Guardian. He regularly gives popular talks on engineering and materials science to tv, radio, festival, and school audiences. He is a regular presenter of science and engineering BBC TV programmes. He wrote the New York Times best selling book Stuff Matters.

The chair for the evening will be Nicola Davis who writes about science, health and environment for the Guardian and Observer and was commissioning editor for Observer Tech Monthly. Previously she worked for the Times and other publications. She has a MChem and DPhil in Organic Chemistry from the University of Oxford. Nicola also presents the Science Weekly podcast.


Zoe Laughlin is a designer, maker and materials engineer. Zoe is a co-founder/director of the Institute of Making. She works at the interface of the science, art, craft and design of materials, her work ranges from formal experiments with matter, to the art of making the best spoon in the world.

From a young age she loved making things and has forged a career around this passion. She holds an MA from Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design, and a PhD in Materials from the Division of Engineering, King's College London.

Zoe’s work as an artist has included the staging of a number of large-scale public performative events in partnership with national institutions such as Tate Modern and the Victoria & Albert Museum. Her work has been shown in London’s Science Museum and is included in the new permanent collection of The Design Museum.

She can often be found on television or radio celebrating all aspects of materials and processes of making, and hosts The Things That Make Us podcast.


Ben Oldfrey is a research fellow working between the Global Disability Innovation Hub and the Institute of Making at UCL. 

He has a strong passion for making and materials of all kinds, with an interest in the real world demands of human-device interaction. His PhD combined the development of hyper-elastic nanocomposites with deep learning algorithms to produce soft skin-like sensors with application in smart prosthetic liners.

He has a major focus now on low resource settings and works on a diverse range of projects looking at innovation and systems at various levels: from the community repair of devices in informal settlements; to market shaping strategies for assistive technology in low resource settings. 

He is based in London, and can usually either be found in his underground soft materials lab in Mechanical Engineering or in the UCL Interaction Centre. He is currently working with the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office’s Frontier Technologies Hub, on their global response to Covid-19.


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Please note, this event is earlier than usual and is aimed at a family audience.

The event will go live at 4:55pm, and the introduction will begin at 5:00pm. If you register but miss the live stream, the video will be available to you via the same link for up to a week after the event date.