On the 20 November 2017, the Royal Society hosted a major conference at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester on the topic of research, industry and infrastructure in the North West.

Scientists from businesses and universities came together to discuss the challenges and opportunities of 3 priority areas for the North West: materials, human health and data.

This event was the first of a new series of creating connections conferences to be held across the country, tackling regional scientific and technical challenges of the next decade.

If you weren’t able to join us in Manchester, we’ve picked out some important messages from the day.

Human health

Talks focused on two main areas: health informatics and infectious disease.

  • ‘Big data’ will continue to impact healthcare in areas such as genomics, personal health tracking and global disease management. However, a high volume of data doesn’t necessarily mean high quality. A sustainable healthcare system must ensure patients are fully informed of the ways that their data is being used.
  • In the future, a patient’s first port of call will likely be replaced with a digital interface. Developers and healthcare providers will have to carefully consider the value and thus cost of this technology.
  • As the nature of healthcare changes, new social contracts need to be established. The lack of antibiotics must be properly addressed and basic hygiene principles should be culturally engrained.

Materials

Talks covered the use of new methods to develop materials, highlighting the successful collaborations occurring in the North West.

  • Materials science is booming in the North West with good collaboration between industry, academia and catapult schemes. New facilities are being built such as the Leverhulme centre for functional material design, and the Henry Royce institute which will drive the commercialisation of ideas.
  • New projects are exploring the use of automation and computational chemistry in material science. Machines capable of testing thousands of formulations are being designed and built, helping formulators to develop new products.
  • A diverse energy sector exists in the North West, producing around 50% of the UK output. Drawing on the lessons from wind energy, new processes and materials are being developed to lower the cost of energy, particularly for nuclear.

Data

Talks showcased how cutting-edge research, development and innovation in the North West is harnessing the power of artificial intelligence to improve our health, wealth and wellbeing. Speakers in this session argued that:

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) has the potential to transform healthcare in the North West, from individual patient experiences to healthcare delivery across the entire system. There are a number of local pilot schemes, such as the CityVerve project, which brings together data from a range of sources to inform personalised self-management of chronic lung disease and better collaborative care.
  • In policing, machine learning can improve the assessment of domestic violence risk, which can aid police officers in making decisions in real-time. It is the application of AI to public service delivery that will drive many of the changes to day-to-day life that people experience as AI becomes more prevalent.
  • New applications of AI are also bringing to light new societal challenges and choices. These are likely to include trade-offs between explainability and algorithmic performance, and transparency within new forms of, increasingly algorithmic, decision-making.