The Impact & Invention Conference

The inaugural Impact & Invention Conference took place on the 21st of March 2024 at Durham University, involving an array of industry guests and academics from seven universities.

Highlights of the conference included a stimulating panel discussion featuring Professor Carl Stephen Patrick Hunter OBE from Coltraco Ultrasonics, Dr. Joanna Berry representing the Durham Energy Institute, and Professor Steve Dixon of Warwick University. In addition to this thought-provoking dialogue, the event showcased a series of presentations, recordings of which are included below.


Mr Chris DiBona – Key Note Address

Chris is an open source advocate, author, and software engineer best known for overseeing open source programs at Google. His work has included the release of thousands of open source projects as well as the development of influential developer outreach programs such as the Google Summer of Code and the Science Foo Camp (scifoo) in Mountain View, California. A long time advocate of open source, DiBona is the co-editor of two award winning essay compilations on the subject and a regular speaker at industry conferences.

Professor Richard Massey – ‘Downloading Data from (Above) the Cloud’

Durham, Princeton and Toronto Universities have buit an astronomical telescope that gets a clear view of the night sky that uses a helium balloon the size of a football stadium to fly above 99.5% of the Earth’s atmosphere. It was most recently launched from New Zealand in April 2023 then circumnavigated the globe for 40 days (and 45 nights). Unfortunately, the telescope was destroyed upon landing. However, attached to it were our novel ‘DRS’ (Data Recovery System) capsules. These contain 5 TB solid state data storage, a parachute, and an Iridium-satellite version of “find my iPhone”. Data from the telescope were copied to these, and two were dropped over Argentina. The capsules landed, reported their locations to within a few metres, and were safely recovered: with a relatively cheap invention, we insured against a loss event that came true. NASA have now adopted our system to offer on all their future stratospheric balloon missions.

Professor Paul Chazot – ‘Enlightening approaches to combat Neurodegenerative diseases: the 3Ns – Neuroprotection, Neuroplasticity & Neurorepair’

Neurodegenerative diseases account for nearly 1 billion sufferers worldwide and this figure is growing. These brain diseases are complex and challenging, with no effective therapies available to date to slow or stop their progression. Multi-multi-billion pounds have been spent on trying to meet this profound health need, with little or no success. I am a rational pharmacologist, of the “Jim Black variety”, and have been looking, over the last 30 years, for a solution to this tough nut problem, which required the crucial provision of the 3Ns, neuroprotection, neuroplasticity and neurorepair. I will talk about our two new strong candidate strategies to achieve this goal, based on a rational drug and infra-red light therapy. Notably, this was achieved with very little funds (£1000s, not billions), huge patience & resilience, a great biological team, a clever chemist, and some slightly “off-the wall” medics.

Dr James Osborn – ‘Space Situational Awareness in the 21st century’

Recent years has seen a significant increase in the number of objects (operational and defunct satellites, rocket bodies, debris and other unidentified objects) in space. This is driven by the reduced launch cost, a more robust space supply chain and the large economic value of space applications. There are currently 12,000 registered satellites in space with a large unknown number of other objects. Nobody knows where all of these objects are or where they are going. Given typical orbital velocities of 8km/s this is disaster waiting to happen, where a single collision could cascade into a debris field circling the Earth, significantly limiting our access to space and that of future generations.

Space tracking facilities tend to rely on radar technology. This facilities are based on technology developed in the 1950s to detect ballistic missiles. The facilities are big and expensive and there are currently ~5 stations in the world. This system delivers incomplete and slow space situational awareness. To protect the space environment for future generations and to support a dynamic use of space, we need continuous, complete, and precise monitoring of the space environment.

In Durham University we have invented a new generational of optical sensors. These new sensors are low-cost and built from off-the-shelf components, enabling 100s – 1000s to be distributed around the world. By leveraging modern astronomical, machine learning and big data techniques we aim to provide continuous, low latency space monitoring. Everything, everywhere, and all of the time.


Professor Carl Stephen Patrick Hunter OBE – DIRDI Director-General
Professor Carl Stephen Patrick Hunter OBE is Chairman of Coltraco Ultrasonics, a high-exporting advanced manufacturer, Director-General of the Durham Institute of Research, Development & Invention (DIRDI) at Durham University, Director of the Centre of Underwater Acoustic Analysis (CUAA) for the Royal Navy, Professor-in-Practice at Durham University Business School, Chairman of the Council on Geostrategy Forum, Visiting Fellow of the Royal Navy Strategic Studies Centre, Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society and of the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science & Technology and is Chairman of the British Exporters Association. He supports several Government departments in various public service roles.  A former Greenjacket Officer, his company has twice-won the Queen’s Award for Enterprise. He holds an Honorary Doctorate in Science from Durham University and the University Senate’s highest Dunelmensis Award, for his contribution to undergraduate development and scientific research.

Dr Joanna Berry – Durham University
Dr Joanna Berry is Associate Dean, External Engagement for the Faculty of Business, where she works closely with regional, national and international industry partners, as well as the School Executive Education team. Joanna is Associate Professor (Entrepreneurship) at the Business School, and Director (Business, Enterprise and Innovation) of Durham University’s globally renowned Durham Energy Institute (DEI). She sits on the University COP Steering Group and is Co-Programme Director of the new MSc in Energy Engineering Management, a joint programme run with Durham’s Engineering Department which launched in September 2023. She is Pathway Leader for the MBA Entrepreneurship Pathway, winning the 2020 Durham University Enhancing Learning and Teaching: Digital and Online Learning.

Professor Steve Dixon – Warwick University
Professor Steve Dixon is notable for his internationally pioneering research into techniques for Non-Destructive Testing and ultrasonics and particularly for application of electromagnetic acoustic transducers (EMATs) to industry. This world-leading research led to the award of the Roy Sharpe Prize in 2018 and to being the three-times winner of the John Grimwade Medal. An industry funded RAEng Professorial Fellowship led to him founding the Centre for Industrial Ultrasonics at Warwick University as Director, focused on delivering solutions to industry. He has worked with numerous companies, especially SMEs, to develop new instrumentation in the area of ultrasonics. He has created successful spin-out companies from his research, further optimising impact in multiple international industrial sectors.