World Engineering Day for Sustainable Development: Q&A with Stuart Macpherson

Today marks UNESCO’s World Engineering Day for Sustainable Development, a celebration of the achievements of engineering in the modern world. It’s also a chance to improve public understanding of how engineering and technology is central to modern life and sustainable development. 

One engineer driving sustainable change is Lumai’s Stuart Macpherson, Optical Engineer and co-founder of Sustain/Education. We sat down with Stuart to discuss his journey so far and what engineering and sustainability means to him.

How did you first get into engineering? 

I studied physics at the University of St Andrews and completed a PhD in solar energy materials at the University of Cambridge. My PhD was motivated by the fact that solar panels are a known solution for gathering clean energy but have drawbacks relating to how they are built and deployed. To combat this, my group developed and analysed new solar materials that could be easily printed and used more widely to boost adoption for a more sustainable planet.

Following this, I joined Lumai 18 months ago to use my optical physics expertise in combating another sustainability issue. I am currently working with the team on the development of our 3D optical computing technology to meet ever-increasing AI datacentre performance demand while also minimising energy consumption.

What sparked the idea for Sustain/Education? 

During my time with my PhD research group, my colleagues and I were encouraged to consider the wider community impact of the tech we were working on. As a result, my co-founders, Dr Beth Tennyson, Prof. Sam Stranks and I formed Sustain/Education to provide modern, sustainability-themed teaching resources to primary schools. Our charity is dedicated to supporting the next generation by empowering them to explore sustainable solutions.

Working with primary schools across the UK, we help students become scientists and task them with measuring sunlight and wind to understand how much energy their school could generate from solar panels and wind turbines. We have plenty of resources available for primary school age children, for whom there is a distinct lack of climate education in the UK curriculum. 

Many students are aware of climate problems but aren’t typically taught about solutions and positive actions until later in life; we wanted to change this, combating climate anxiety in the process.

How will technology boost future sustainable development? 

Lumai’s 3D optical AI processor is many times faster than traditional computing and existing transistor-based digital electronics. It is capable of energy-efficient and ultra-fast, parallel processing and significantly reduces energy use and heat production in datacentres. This is one example of how technology can be key to sustainable development.  

To build on advances in technology, it’s also crucial that large corporations take on the responsibility of building sustainability into their development plans. We need governments, businesses and tech innovators to work together so that we can create a greener future for all.

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