Chris Knowland

Chris Knowland

Head of Science and Innovation, San Francisco

Part of Global Science and Innovation Network

17th June 2013 San Francisco, USA

Rain, Neuroscience, and Sustainability: Two Days in Portland

Arriving in Portland, Oregon recently on the 6am flight from San Francisco, I immediately felt at home – as much as I love the California sunshine, like many Brits I secretly miss the grey skies and drizzle of the UK, and I was delighted to see that the Oregonian weather was very similar. With the help of a large coffee, I had braved the early start for a jam-packed two-day visit that covered two very different but equally important areas of applied science.

My first port of call was at an event hosted by the National Academies and Portland State University (PSU), on the topic of urban sustainability. Like many of the Science & Innovation Network’s priority areas, this is a strategic imperative not only for the UK, but for the US (and many other countries) as well. Although the precise challenges differ between our two nations, issues of population growth, resource scarcity, and environmental impact are prominent on both sides of the Atlantic. And in both cases, technologies such as remote atmospheric monitoring and big data analysis present significant opportunities – as long as they are appropriately implemented. PSU is unique in the strength of its ties to the city in which it’s located, and in fact the university’s urban sustainability group is housed in the same building as the City of Portland’s sustainability team.

The urban sustainability meeting highlighted the emergence of a new field, the ‘science of cities’, in response to the global challenges of urbanisation. One example of how this is being prioritised in the UK is through the Technology Strategy Board, the UK’s innovation agency, which has a particular focus on the built environment. Part of this is the recent award of a £24m grant to the city of Glasgow to implement a technology demonstrator project. The Science and Innovation team in San Francisco is working to increase the profile of major projects like this with key US stakeholders.

On my second day in Portland I visited a team of scientists at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), one the biggest postgraduate medical research universities in the US. The team I was visiting works on a topic that affects us all – the biology of ageing. This includes the cellular and neurological basis of cognitive decline, or in other words, why our brains slow down as we get older. With one in six people in the UK currently over 65, and that figure projected to rise to 25% by 2033, ageing is a key priority for the UK’s Medical Research Council.  In September this year, SIN will support scientists from OHSU’s Healthy Aging Alliance on a visit to a similar group at the University of Edinburgh, where the two institutions will identify opportunities for closer research linkages between the US and UK in this crucial area of science.

I look forward to continuing our work with the world-class researchers I met in Portland – and to future trips there, come rain or shine!

About Chris Knowland

Chris joined the San Francisco Science & Innovation team in August 2012. Prior to this, he worked in sustainable investment research and financial media in London, with a particular focus…

Chris joined the San Francisco Science & Innovation team in August 2012. Prior to this, he worked in sustainable investment research and financial media in London, with a particular focus on renewable energy and environmental markets. He holds an MSc in Environmental Technology from Imperial College London, and a BA in Biological Sciences from the University of Oxford. In addition to his duties as Head of S&I in San Francisco, Chris acts as a coordinator for energy issues across SIN North America.