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Ideas for Life – Science and Technology


Science and technology in the UK is all about arts, economics, business and health too. Did you know, the UK ranks second in the world for industry-university collaboration?

With the headquarters of many key international research organisations and charities in the UK, such as the Royal Society and the Wellcome Trust, UK universities are known for their involvement in international projects too.

In the Ideas for Life survey, a quarter of people said they wanted technology to improve people's quality of life.

Here are just four examples of how UK universities are stepping up to that challenge.

Peek into my eyes

‘Mobile opticians’ that you can fit in your pocket? That’s the theory behind the smart yet simple technology developed by a team at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine that aims to dramatically increase access to medical treatment and diagnosis for blind people.

Around 285 million people worldwide are visiually impared and 29 million of them are blind – with 90 per cent living in lower income countries, often with restricted access to proper eye doctors.

‘Peek’ is an adapted smartphone that has become a portable eye examination kit thanks to using a bespoke application and clip-on hardware.

LSHTM Peek Test
Picture: London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

It can carry out comprehensive eye examinations anywhere in the world, even in the hands of a non-specialist, and can be used to detect problems and stop them in their tracks.

The app could also be a great way for UK doctors or health visitors to do quick check-ups and help to streamline care within the NHS.

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Peek has been developed by Dr Andrew Bastawrous at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Stewart Jordan, an independent app designer, Dr Mario Giardini at the University of St Andrews, and Dr Iain Livingstone, at the Glasgow Centre for Ophthalmic Research, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde.

Funders include the British Council for the Prevention of Blindness, Medical Research Council, Fight for Sight and the International Glaucoma Association.

Peek - portable eye examination kit from LSHTM on Vimeo.

Seeing with Sound

Researchers at the University of Bath have combined psychology with technology to create an innovative computer device that helps blind people ‘see’ through sound.

The vOICe device, which creates a scale of tonal notes of an object’s height and width, could be used by blind people to provide navigational reference points.

Around 40 million people are blind and another 250 million suffer from visual impairments worldwide.

The team, led by Dr Michael Proulx, has shown that this type of intervention could be more successful than invasive techniques such as operations.

Android app to control cancer

'In an emergency situation I don’t sit down and look at my leaflets and go through the side effects because there’s so many of them….

'If you had that information electronically and I could have searched in one place that had all the drugs that I’m on in that place with their side effects listed, I could have put in the symptoms and gone, "Bang, I think it’s this".'

Those were the words of a cancer patient who responded to a call by the cancer charity Macmillan – and that helped inform scientists at Kingston University when they were trying to think of ways to streamline cancer care.

They designed an app that allows cancer patients to manage the side effects of their condition at home, to keep in touch with doctors about their symptoms, and to get advice and support – just by tapping their phone.

Pharmacy, chemistry and computing experts at the university joined forces to create the app, which supports bowel and breast cancer patients taking the drug capecitabine.

Patients using the pilot app can text their doctor their symptoms and also browse a bank of advice.

The next step will involve pilot studies with patients receiving capecitabine at an NHS cancer specialist centre.

Kingston University
Picture: Kingston University

Cancer detection clothing

Imagine if your bikini could warn you that you’d been sunbathing for too long. Or if your swimming trunks could detect areas of your skin at risk of skin cancer.

Cancer, textile and human computer interaction specialists at the University of Brighton have developed two potential products that could do that.

The smart textiles provide an early warning system for skin cancer and have been created as part of the university’s Barrier Solutions project, headed by Dr Joan Farrer of the Brighton Faculty of Arts.

One of the fabrics being developed changes colour in line with skin cancer risk; the other is centred around an app which alerts users to sun dangers when they are out and about.

Luckily researchers have Brighton’s famous beach nearby to test both products to the max...

Brighton Beach: Visit Britain
Brighton Beach (Picture: Visit Britain)


If you want to study in the UK, click here to find out about courses at UK universities.

For shorter, technical, specialist or academic courses at colleges in the UK, click here.

Visit Discover, Create, Innovate for more examples of UK research.

Universities UK logoIdeas for Life were part of Universities Week run by Universities UK in partnership with Research Councils UK, the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement and universities, research centres and public bodies across the UK.