The College of Engineering and Physical Sciences was honoured to welcome Matthew W. Barzun, Ambassador of the United States of America to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland as well as Christine Prince, US Embassy Second Secretary, last week as part of a visit to the city of Birmingham.

Ambassador M.Barzun

For his visit to the University, the Ambassador enjoyed an interactive tour of the Research Centre for Computational Neuroscience and Cognitive Robotics (CN-CR) and met with students from across the University to find out more about their participation in outreach work with young people, as well as how they are applying what they learn in their studies.

Having a keen interest in technology and experience in the internet sector, the Ambassador was invited to visit the CN-CR where he was given an overview of the team’s pioneering work into neuroimaging and a demonstration of adaptive learning for hemiparesis rehabilitation.

Professor Jeremy Wyatt from the School of Computer Science said: ‘CN-CR is concerned with one of the most exciting endeavours in science, understanding the human mind. The philosophy of CN-CR is that this can be done via computational modelling of brain functions such as learning and vision, implementing those in robots and simulations to test them, and also using those robots in tasks such as rehabilitation of motor function after stroke damage to the brain.

'We were delighted to be able to present some of our latest work to the ambassador, including that on how the brain integrates information from sound and vision, how robots can help stroke victims recover motor skills, and how artificial cognitive systems can help people with dementia.'

The Ambassador also met with students from the School of Electronic, Electrical and Computer Engineering to find out more about their participation in outreach work. Students Lucy Stephens and Tim Rudkin were invited to discuss their work with young people following the First LEGO League regional tournament, which they hosted at the University at the beginning of January. The event focused around school children and organisations demonstrating their science and technology skills to solve a range of problem based scenarios on the theme of natural disasters. With support from staff and students, teams presented a research project displaying prowess on designing, building and programming a robot, using LEGO, to clear-up and make people safe in the aftermath of an earthquake and tsunami.

Tim said: ‘I was delighted to have the opportunity to highlight the hard work and dedication put in by some of the Engineering lecturers and staff of the University; to somebody as influential as Mathew Barzun.  By organizing and running the First Lego League, they have gone above and beyond what is expected in order to promote Engineering and the University to the general public.  It was a privilege to share this with the Ambassador.’

Matthew W. Barzun was selected by President Barack Obama as National Finance Chair for the president's 2012 re-election campaign.  He previously served as U.S. Ambassador to Sweden from 2009 to 2011.  Ambassador Barzun is an internet pioneer who was the fourth employee at CNET Networks, where he worked from 1993-2004.  Ambassador Barzun served in a number of roles at CNET, including Executive Vice President, Chief Strategy officer, and member of the executive committee.  During his time there, he launched Download.Com, which grew to become CNET's biggest site and he led the effort to build one of the first comparison shopping sites on the Internet, Shopper.Com.  He went on to co-lead all of CNET's online properties including CNET.Com and News.Com.