As part of the LCN’s Athena SWAN initiative, and as a commitment to diversity in STEM, we shine a spotlight on our fantastic researchers, who are pushing the frontiers of nanoscience for healthcare, information technology and the environment.
Read about their exciting research, career highlights, and their favourite part of their job below.
Professor Sandrine Heutz
Professor of Functional Molecular Materials in the London Centre for Nanotechnology and Department of Materials, Imperial College London
Research: My group focused on understanding and exploiting molecular properties for device applications, by using interdisciplinary approaches crossing chemistry, physics, materials science and engineering
The types of molecules we are using are polyaromatics, such as pentacene (5 rings of benzene attached together) and analogues of chlorophyll such as the porphyrin or phthalocyanine. Such materials classes are fascinating as they are involved in so many fundamental biological processes such as photosynthesis, but are robust enough to be used in paints. These attributes make them really attractive for new optoelectronic applications. In particular, we are looking at new ways to store and transmit information, and to harvest or save energy. Molecules have a footprint of only one nanometre, and offer wonderful opportunities for miniaturisation. We process them in thin films and nanostructures, mostly using vacuum-based techniques. Through tuning the growth conditions, we can control their local environment within a solid framework and therefore tune their many degrees of freedom: the electronic charge and spin, the optical properties, vibrational modes, etc. This fundamental insight and platform is then used to develop practical applications.
Career Highlight: Of course, the brightest highlight is becoming the co-director of the most exciting Centre, and I am so excited to have joined the leadership of the LCN! From a science point of view, seeing and understanding spin coupling in molecular films with a fantastic team of collaborators has also been a turning point in my career.
What do you enjoy most about your work? I was attracted to science because I love doing experiments and discovering new materials properties, and fitting them into a wider framework of reassuring rigour. These days I don’t get much time in the lab anymore, but the opportunity to discover together with my research group, and to be involved in their scientific journey, is a real privilege and also definitely a highlight.
Now that I am becoming more senior, my role includes thinking beyond my own group’s research, about wider strategy for Nanotechnology and Materials- but I am still focusing on identifying and facilitating discovery, so I am happy to stay close to what I love.
PhD Student, Hoogenboom & Saric group, London Centre for Nanotechnology
Research: I am currently in the 2nd half of my PhD where I use computer simulations, polymer physics and DFT calculations to probe how the Nuclear Pore Complex allows for selective transport into and out of the cell nucleus. I use a sticky-floppy chains in a background of sticky balls model to probe the relevant physics. My research relates to nanotechnology since the polymers and macromolecules going through the Nuclear Pore Complex have dimensions on the nanoscale.
PhD or Career highlight: A career highlight for me was getting my first first-author physics paper published during my PhD, it's reassuring to know that your work is welcomed in the physics community and field.
What do you enjoy most about your work? I really enjoy getting stuck into programming, be it developing efficient simulation code or creatively designing algorithms to probe the systems I am investigating. I also enjoy writing since this is where, for me, I obtain high levels of understanding of my research. There is also collaborating with other researchers who are also excited about my research.
Dr Da Huang
Postdoctoral Researcher, London Centre for Nanotechnology, UCL
Research: I am currently focusing on the research of DNA nanostructure-based nanodiagnostic and nanosensing devices with ultra sensitivities. I did my doctoral studies at Queen Mary, University of London, developing a controlled assembly DNA nanostructures platform on Focused Ion Beam nanopatterned surface for the fabrication of single-molecule resolution nanoscale biochips to regulate cancer cell behavior. I also worked on the real-time quantitative analysis of nerve growth factor in pharmaceutical industry and studied on synthetic promotor at the University of Sheffield for my master project. I studied Chemistry for my undergraduate period at Peking University.
Career highlight: I received my PhD degree in biochemistry from Queen Mary University of London, focusing on functional DNA nanostructure and biochips for cancer research with single-molecule resolution. I have also worked in Sinobioway Biomedicine Co.,Ltd. for developing real-time quantitive monitoring method for Nerve Growth factor.
What do you enjoy most about your work? The project towards the early warning sensing system for infectious disease that now I am working on will help people across the world to fight the outbreak of the disease. The work shares our responsibility to the society and the exploration of the unknown.
Dr Katharina Marquardt
Lecturer of Ceramic Materials in the Department of Materials at Imperial College London.
Research: I am a lecturer at Imperial College London in the department of material sciences in the Center for Advanced Structural Ceramics (CASC). We are an international team of researchers running multidisciplinary research to design, characterize, understand and develop innovative materials that range from new transparent ceramics to understanding analogue rocks
Career Highlight: My research is very broad and ranges from geo-materials to new ceramic matrix composites (CMC). In my growing research team, we complement bulk characterization with novel high-resolution techniques in the transmission electron microscope (TEM) as well as electron back scatter diffraction (EBSD) to understand frequency distributions of defects in rocks/ceramics/composites and how they affect bulk rock/ bulk materials properties, such as diffusion, deformation, or elasticity.
What do you enjoy most about your work? I was recently awarded the European Mineralogical Union Research Excellence Medal for 2018 for my multidisciplinary research situated at the interface between research on ceramics and Earth sciences. I am convinced that new discoveries and full understanding happens where research areas meet and interact. Here creative new perspectives are taken to tackle long-standing challenges. I look forward to extend my collaborations and find more such new ways of addressing open questions
Dr Muddassar Rashid
Research Associate, Photonics and Nanotechnology group, Department of Physics, King's College London
Research: I am interested in trying to generate macroscopic quantum systems made of millions and billions of atoms, ultimately to better understand the "quantum-classical divide". In addition, I wanted to use such systems to detect ultra-weak forces, whether being external (i.e. gravity) or internal (i.e. nuclear spins). To realise this, I predominantly use optical tweezers in vacuum (levitated optomechanics) and trapped microspheres in ion traps (levitated electromechanics). This area of research also opens doors to studying mesoscopic thermodynamics and as well as physical modelling of complex natural phenomena.
Career Highlight: I feel very fortunate to have had many opportunities which I cherish. I think demonstrating and exploring state control such as squeezing the mechanical motion of a levitate particle or reconstructing the Wigner Function of a classical oscillator was particularly exciting and I learnt a lot in the process. The other major highlight for me would be the discovery of precession in levitated optomechanical systems. It was quite gruelling work and thoroughly enjoyed working with fellow colleagues in deciphering from initial data the complicated dynamics of an anisotropic rigid rotor.
What do you enjoy most about your work? I enjoy the whole process of being able to devise an experiment, build the experiment and analyse the data at the end to draw novel conclusions. This takes months and sometimes years. But I really like the dedication required for this level of work, its deeply satisfying, especially being able to share that experience with a team.
PhD student, i-sense EPSRC IRC McKendry group, London Centre for Nanotechnology
Research: I am working in the i-sense group, supervised by Professor Rachel McKendry. My research project aims at developing a point-of-care diagnostic for Ebola. Point-of-care diagnostics are rapid, portable and user-friendly, designed to be used in remote areas by end-users. My project capitalises on the novel technologies owned by the i-sense group.
Developing a highly sensitive test for the early detection of Ebola can enhance the global response to Ebola epidemics which frequently occur in West and Central Africa.
PhD or career highlight: In 2016, I had the chance to do an internship at LSHTM which opened my mind to the importance of research done in tropical medicine and infectious diseases. For my master project at Imperial College, I worked on malaria as I wanted to be involved in the crucial research to control tropical and infectious diseases. Then, I was awarded an EPSRC studentship for my PhD, allowing me to carry on my research career in this same spirit.
What do you enjoy most about your work? Working in a multidisciplinary team such as i-sense is a great opportunity to learn in different fields, share ideas and be part of innovative and exciting projects. The application of nanotechnologies to early diagnostics is very promising. I enjoy applying cutting-edge research to create new testing tools, improve healthcare and tackle emerging infectious diseases like Ebola.
Professor Rachel McKendry
Professor of Biomedical Nanotechnology with a joint position at the London Centre for Nanotechnology and Division of Medicine at UCL, Director of i-sense EPSRC IRC
Research: My research aims to harness the power of nanotechnology, telecommunications and big data to fight infectious disease. Recent research highlights span from unravelling the nanomechanical workings of antibiotics against MRSA (Nature Nanotechnology 2008, 2013 and 2014), to creating mobile phone-connected tests for HIV (NIHR i4i programme), and a major new EPSRC programme called i-sense, which aims to build early warning systems to prevent epidemics, by linking web data with mobile phone-connected tests.
I’m very proud of i-sense because it brings together such an outstanding team of interdisciplinary researchers from across UCL, Imperial College, London School for Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Newcastle and Surrey Universities with Public Health England, the NHS and industry partners, including OJ-Bio, Microsoft and Google.
In less than 18 months we have built a real-time mapping system to identify disease hotspots across the UK, linking social media, web searches, crowd-sourcing, clinical and public health data. We are also developing innovative mobile phone-connected diagnostic technologies that can link results into our early warning systems with geo-located information.
The next exciting steps will be linking our technologies into NHS systems, our new collaboration with the Wellcome Trust Africa Centre and an ethics study to responsibly develop our technologies. You can find out more information about i-sense at www.i-sense.org.uk.
Career highlight: Winning the £11M EPSRC IRC grant and the Royal Society Rosalind Franklin Award after returning from maternity leave and part-time research.
Professor Molly Stevens
Professor of Biomedical Materials and Regenerative Medicine and the Research Director for Biomedical Material Sciences in the Department of Materials, Department of Bioengineering and the Institute of Biomedical Engineering at Imperial College London
Research: I lead an extremely multidisciplinary research programme that designs and develops innovative materials, which have applications in a range of fields such as regenerative medicine, tissue engineering and biosensing.
My team create bio-inspired materials and nanomaterials that go well beyond the state-of-the-art as well as innovative materials-based characterisation methods that inform on the cell-material interface. My major goal is that these innovations elicit a step-change in medicine and have real clinical impact. For example, I am developing various elegant materials-based approaches to engineer tissues and create diagnostic platforms capable of detecting diseases such as cancer, HIV and acute pancreatitis, amongst others.
My group’s research has received over 20 major awards including the 2012 EU40 Award for best materials scientist under 40 in Europe as well as a listing by The Times as one of the top 10 scientists under 40.
Career highlight: Developing nanomaterial-based ultrasensitive biosensing technologies for a range of applications in healthcare.