Competition challenges students and researchers to communicate impact ideas in three minutes

The IfM's PhD student Ali Niazi was one of a number of science enthusiasts gathered at the Department of Engineering this summer to pitch their innovative ideas to an audience, including a panel of judges, in just three minutes. 


The Falling Walls Lab Cambridge gave 18 students and early-career professionals of all disciplines, and from various universities and start-ups, the opportunity to showcase breakthrough research that creates a positive impact on science and society. 


Among the 18 presenters competing for a place at the Falling Walls Lab finale, to be held in Berlin, in November, were six presenters with affiliations to the Department of Engineering. They were:


  • PhD student Ali Niazi, Institute for Manufacturing (IfM)
    Presentation title: Breaking the wall of Sustainable Development Goals’ (SDGs) investment gap
  • Research Associate Dr Mohammad Saghafifar
    Presentation title: Breaking the wall of profitable CO2 capture
  • PhD student Nirmani Rathnayake
    Presentation title: Breaking the wall of valvular heart disease
  • Alumnus Robert Kunzmann, COO at AC Biode
    Presentation title: Breaking the wall of plastic recycling
  • Engineering Master’s student Igor Sterner
    Presentation title: Breaking the wall of language
  • Dr Pawan Shrestha, Royal Academy of Engineering Enterprise Fellow at Cambridge
    Presentation title: Breaking the wall of nausea free augmented reality (AR) glasses


PhD student Ali Niazi shared his proposal for an innovative framework that seamlessly integrates financial and impact considerations with regards to the SDGs.


“Aligning financial interests of investors with the SDGs introduces complexity and ambiguity into decision-making,” he said. “At the heart of our breakthrough solution, we will integrate traditional portfolio optimisation methods with multi-criteria decision-making approaches. This empowers us to prioritise investments based on financial viability, and the utility that responsible investors yield from, aligning their investments with the SDGs.”


He added: “By incorporating insights from behavioural science and employing machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), we aim to develop a human-like decision-making framework tailored to individual investors’ experiences in different contexts.”


Ali's research aims to help impact investors in the Middle East and North Africa region make informed decisions that balance financial goals with social impact, ultimately supporting sustainable development.


Photo credits: Lloyd Mann – University of Cambridge



The winner was Yizhou Yu, PhD student at the MRC Toxicology Unit, with his presentation titled Breaking the wall of dementia. Yizhou will go forward to compete in the Falling Walls Lab finale.


The runner-up was Cambridge Engineering alumnus Robert Kunzmann on his presentation on Breaking the wall of plastic recycling. 


Third place went to PhD student Swetha Kannan, from the Department of Pathology, who is also a member of the CRUK Cambridge Centre, with her presentation titled Breaking the wall of inequitable cancer care.


The audience award winner was Dr Nadia Radzman, from the Sainsbury Laboratory, with her presentation titled Breaking the wall of forgotten legumes.

Date published

25 September 2023

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