2017 Speakers

LAST YEAR'S
TALKS

Meet the speakers of the Falling Walls Conference 2017

Sayed Azam-Ali, University of Nottingham

Field: Global Food Security

Sayed Azam-Ali is the Chair in Global Food Security at the University of Nottingham and the CEO of the Crops for the Future Research Centre in Semenyih, Malaysia, the first and only institution in the world to focus on underutilised crops in agriculture. The essential problem tackled by Sayed is that currently, only four basic crops make up 60 percent of the world’s food production. This extreme lack of diversity in crop plants carries severe risks for global food supply, especially when considering changing climate conditions due to global warming. To alleviate these risks, Sayed aims at tapping the 7000 species of edible crops currently unused, expanding the diversity of crops we eat while making sure that the world can continue to feed itself. More...

 

Alexander Betts, University of Oxford

Field: Refugee Studies

Alexander Betts is the Leopold Muller Professor of Forced Migration and International Affairs and heads the Refugees Studies Centre at the University of Oxford. His work on the economics of refugee assistance, migration and humanitarianism has influenced thinking about refugee policy worldwide. Alex is challenging the traditional view that refugees have to be a burden to their host countries and proposes a new economic model that takes into perspective refugees’ skills and talents. He shows how freedom of movement and the right to work can help in tapping this inherent potential. In a new era of mass dislocation, he advocates a new logic of integration that builds on basic human rights and the opportunities of markets and mobility. More...

 

Sarah Chayes, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace  

Field: Corruption

Sarah Chayes, a senior fellow in the Democracy and Rule of Law program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, combines academic rigor with practical experience in her field of corruption. Having lived in Afghanistan for nearly a decade, first as a reporter, then running a small business in downtown Kandahar, and finally as special adviser to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the US military, she gathered first-hand experience on the damage and erosion of trust caused by a kleptocratic government. Her research has since expanded to investigating systemic corruption on a global scale, making her one of the most prominent voices in her field. More...

 

Esther Duflo, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Field: Poverty Economics

Esther Duflo is the Abdul Latif Jameel Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics at MIT. One of the world’s leading economists, she has spent the past 25 years looking for effective remedies to global poverty. In countless field trips and by introducing innovative experiments to her discipline, she seeks to understand the economic lives of the poor with the aim to help design and evaluate social policies. The results of her work have deeply influenced contemporary aid and development strategies and her research has gained her numerous awards and honours, including the McArthur Fellowship and the Princess of Asturias Award for Social Sciences. More...

 

Jennifer Lavers, University of Tasmania

Field: Marine Ecology

Jennifer Lavers, a research scientist at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania, studies the shocking effects of plastic pollution on ocean ecosystems, in particular seabird populations. Her 2017 reports on extraordinary pollution levels found on a remote and uninhabited island deep in the Pacific Ocean listed as UNESCO World Heritage, has served as a global wake-up call on the alarming state of our oceans. Based on her outstanding field research and equipped with haunting examples of wildlife destruction by human hand, Jennifer advocates for urgent action by governments, companies and individuals in order to avoid a complete and irreversible collapse of the world’s oceans. More...

 

Dennis Lo, Chinese University of Hong Kong 

Field: Chemical Pathology           

Dennis Lo, director of the Li Ka Shing Institute of Health Sciences and Professor of Chemical Pathology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, discovered in the mid-1990s that a baby’s DNA can be found in the mother’s blood. He then spent the next decade-and-a-half trying to translate his findings into clinical use, a time during which he developed a ground-breaking new method of non-invasive prenatal diagnostics that revolutionised screening tests for Down syndrome and other genetic conditions, affecting millions of pregnant women. Dennis’s current work focuses on a technique called “liquid biopsy” which helps in detecting head and neck cancer, and other cancers from a drop of blood – even before symptoms arise. His ultimate goal is to create a blood test that finds multiple types of cancer while the disease is still curable. More...

 

William E. Moerner, Stanford University

Field: Super-Resolution Microscopy

William E. Moerner is a Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Physics at Stanford University. His persistent research into super-resolution imaging, visualizing the pathways of individual molecules inside living cells, eventually awarded him the 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry which he shared with colleagues Stefan Hell and Eric Betzig. His ardent research allows today’s scientists to peek into the nano-scale worlds of proteins and smallest molecules, creating a new understanding of diseases and innovations in many scientific fields. More...

 

Valeria Nicolosi, Trinity College Dublin

Field: Nanomaterials

Valeria Nicolosi is a European Research Council Professor at Trinity College Dublin and internationally regarded as a leading expert in the field of adaptive nanostructures and nanodevices. In her research she focuses on novel materials such as graphene, a one-atom thick carbon sheet which is super strong, lightweight and electrically conductive, properties which form the basis for new technologies that can enable next generation semiconductor and energy storage devices. Next to faster and lighter smartphones, tablets and other electronics, her recent research holds the potential to impact the development of 3D printed, long lasting batteries that can be embedded within any type of material, from smart watches to clothes and implanted cardiac devices. More...

 

Yuval Nir, Tel Aviv University

Field: Neuroscience

Yuval Nir, a principal researcher at the Sackler Faculty of Medicine at Tel Aviv University, is an internationally recognized expert on the neuroscience of sleep. With his team, he explores how brain activity during sleep states, including dreams, can be connected to awareness and responsiveness when we are awake. The innovative techniques he applies include a combination of both human and animal models in order to find basic functions as well as more complex patterns of sleep in the mammal brain. Ultimately, his Lab’s challenge is to understand the link between sleep and cognition, with the hope of explaining why healthy sleep is essential for the mind to function. More...

 

Jian-Wei Pan, University of Science and Technology of China

Field: Quantum Technologies

Jian-Wei Pan, a Professor of the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei, is one of the leading pioneers in quantum science and technology worldwide. He was responsible for launching the world’s first quantum satellite in 2016 which opened a whole new world of possibilities for research into quantum teleportation and communication in space. The revolutionary technology is expected to lay the foundation for unbreakable quantum communication networks and quantum computer architectures. More...

 

Edgar Pieterse, University of Capetown

Field: Urban Studies

An expert on African urbanisation, Edgar Pieterse, director at the African Centre for Cities at the University of Capetown, knows what radical and rapid urban change means for a city, a country and a continent. His research takes a multi-faceted approach in analysing slums and the underlying systems that perpetuate poverty, while at the same time reimagining models of cities that can support 10+ million people in humane conditions. Pieterse’s work paves the way for a world that is radically urbanising and in dire need of new policy and planning approaches to tackle inequality and exclusion and shape the cities of the future. More...

 

Jürgen Schmidhuber, IDSIA, Lugano

Field: Artificial Intelligence

Jürgen Schmidhuber is the Scientific Director of the Swiss AI Lab, IDSIA (of USI & SUPSI), a non-profit research institute for artificial intelligence (AI). The media has called him the father of modern AI. His lab's deep learning methods have revolutionised machine learning, and are now available to billions of users through Google, Apple, Microsoft, IBM, Baidu, Amazon, and many other companies. His research group also established the field of mathematically rigorous universal AI and optimal universal problem solvers. He is the recipient of numerous awards including the 2016 IEEE Neural Networks Pioneer Award. As president of NNAISENSE, he aims at building the first practical general purpose AI. More...

 

Christina Smolke, Stanford University

Field: Synthetic Biology

An Associate Professor of Bioengineering and of Chemical Engineering at Stanford University, Christina Smolke is one of the spearheads in the young field of synthetic biology. Making use of advances in chemistry, biology and technology, synthetic biology designs biological systems that do not yet exist in the natural world. By engineering yeast to synthesize opioid drugs, she aims at making pain medicine more available in developing countries. Her breakthrough could lead to much faster and cheaper drug production and could bring on an age of more affordable medicine. More...

 

Leila Takayama, University of California, Santa Cruz

Field: Human-Robot Interaction

Leila Takayama, Associate Professor at the University of California, is on the forefront of making human-robot interaction more natural, easy and effortless. She uses her experience as a senior google researcher as well as a psychology professor to assess what humans want from robots and why they like or dislike certain traits. Takayama is a researcher, entrepreneur and innovator and her research has the potential to redefine how we interact with robots and what our future co-existence with them could look like. More...

 

Guus Velders, Utrecht University

Field: Climate Change

Guus Velders, the Professor of 'Air Quality and Climate Interactions' at Utrecht University, is an atmospheric scientist who had essential roles in many of the world’s most important policy deals to reduce dangerous pollutants and fight global warming. As world-leading expert in the field of extremely potent greenhouse gases called hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), he was one of the key figures who provided the scientific basis for the success of the 2016 Paris climate accord and important amendments to earlier climate deals such as the 1987 Montréal protocol. His long-standing dedication to the cause of climate change put him on Nature’s top 10 scientists in 2016 and Time’s 100 most influential people in 2017. More...

 

Timothy Walsh, Cardiff University ­

Field: Antibiotic Resistance

Timothy Walsh is the Professor of Medical Microbiology and Antibiotic Resistance at Cardiff University and one of the leading scientists into antibiotic-resistant bacteria. He led the discovery of the gene MCR-1 which helps bacteria in becoming resistant to an antibiotic called colistin. By continuously researching and monitoring the spread of new multi-resistant superbugs, he has also become one of the most prominent advocates of responsible antibiotic use. In the past years, there has been a growing awareness of the threat of an imminent “post-antibiotic era” in which common infections and surgeries could – once again – become fatally dangerous. More...