For Black History Month 2018 Imperial As One, the College's BAME staff network, invited people to volunteer and nominate profiles of current staff and students, alumni and inspirational BAME scientists. The profiles were showcased throughout the month and you can explore them below.

Imperial staff and students

Kemi Aofolaju, Communications and Events Officer

Profile photo of Kemi Aofolaju Kemi Aofolaju is the Department of Bioengineering’s Communications and Events Officer. 

Who inspires you?

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – an incredible writer whose stories are captivating, thought-provoking, and most importantly, stories that a black woman like me can see herself being a part of. She is also a strong feminist whose incredible essay 'We Should All Be Feminists' has almost become a watchword for how I live my life.

What led you to working at Imperial?

Initially I was driven by career development, but after my interview I realised just how much I would love the team and department I would be working with!

What quote inspires you?

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” - Eleanor Roosevelt

If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?

One day you will realise that your worth is measured by how much of a difference you've made in other people's lives. Stop worrying about what others think about how you look and live your life in a way that brings joy and pride to you and others around you. You are, you always have been, and always will be enough.

David Tyoember, chemistry undergraduate

Profile photo of David Tyoember David Tyoember is a second-year chemistry student.

When did you realise you wanted to study a STEM subject?
I had a strong interest in science and wanted to do something science-related since I was 10 years old.

What led you to studying at Imperial?
Initially I didn't really see how I could fit into the context of going to university, and also to an extent I was afraid of what would happen if I got rejected by every university I applied to. Because of this I did not apply to university during Year 13 and didn't really have any intention of applying in the following year.

What changed was that an uncle of mine came to live with us temporarily. Whilst he was around, serendipity just so had it that a copy of my A-Level results form was lying on the table, and he picked it up and read it.

I was in the kitchen, but heard a loud expression of surprise from him. Earlier on during his stay he had seen me dismantle a broken kettle to its constituent components, fix it and re-assemble it. He felt I had a lot to lose by not going to university and must have decided that he would persuade me to go.

He spent the next two weeks with that mission in mind. This was very late December, so applications were closing in about three weeks’ time. His persuasion, encouragement and explaining how university would benefit me and the science-related projects I was working on was effective: one week later, I started on my personal statement and submitted my application to study chemistry. I was very surprised when I got five unconditional offers and decided to choose Imperial.

If you could improve one thing at Imperial what would it be?
I would work on improving the orientation process for first-generation university students, who may it useful to have extra support on figuring out how to make the most of their time at university.

Fadil Bidmos, Research Associate

Photo of Fadil BidmosFadil Bidmos is a Research Associate in the Faculty of Medicine. 

Who inspires you?

My father - Professor Murtadha Bidmos. He came from a village called Ayete in rural South-West Nigeria, enrolled himself to a primary school as a teenager, and went on to become a Fulbright Scholar who has written books used in lectures at Harvard University and in international conferences. My father battled against the odds to raise children that have all become successful in their respective fields. I’m inspired by his ability to keep on going when all the roads seemed blocked or led to nowhere.

What led you to working at Imperial?

A desire to advance my research skills and budding academic career in a first-class environment and in the midst of world-renowned scientists.

What quote inspires you?

“What has reached you was never meant to miss you, and what has missed you was never meant to reach you” - Prophet Muhammad.

If you could improve one thing at Imperial, what would it be?

The support for postdoctoral staff.

Rahma Elmahdi, Senior Teaching Fellow

Photo of Rahma ElmahdiRahma Elmahdi is a Senior Teaching Fellow in Global Health at the School of Public Health.

Who inspires you?

My mum – she showed me that you can beat the odds and survive the challenges of life. Despite losing her husband and her home and having to leave her country, she worked tirelessly to raise six children by herself, in a very foreign country where she was poor and couldn’t speak the language. Like a phoenix she rose from the ashes of her past life, and that will always be my ultimate inspiration.

When did you realise you wanted to work in science?

As a teenager, I wanted to change the world and thought I could do that by becoming a film director. During the summer before I started my A-levels, I read Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything and my views changed completely. I still wanted to change the world, but I realised the best way to do that was through science. This new realisation - coupled with my love for being around and working closely with other people - made my decision simple: I would study medicine and become a doctor.

What are you listening to at the moment?

I’m listening to various podcasts. One of these is called ‘The Guilty Feminist’ which discusses how to be a feminist activist whilst living your normal everyday life. In terms of music, I’m really enjoying Alsarah & the Nubatones, a Sudanese-American artist re-making traditional Sudanese songs with an electro twist.

Alpha Forna, PhD student

Photo of Alpha Forna Alpha Forna is a research postgraduate student in the School of Public Health.

Who inspires you?

I’ve been inspired by Professor Christl Donnelly, from the School of Public Health. She’s guided me to do some great research, and has allowed me to learn and figure things out for myself. I feel empowered to go and do more research that will impact positively on the lives of people living in communities vulnerable to disease.

Do you have a quote that you find inspiring?

“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison”, Nelson Mandela. I found this quote, speaking of the power of forgiveness, most profound.

What led you to studying at Imperial?

The desire to better understand infectious diseases, particularly the Ebola virus, which has caused so much devastation in my home country, Sierra Leone.

If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?

To be a bit more curious about everything and learn and grow from every experience, good or bad.

Des Samuel, Head of Digital Communications Services

Photo of Des SamuelDes Samuel is the Head of Digital Communications Services in the Faculty of Medicine.

What quote do you find inspiring?

In Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks he says: “Oh my body, make of me a man who always questions!”

What led you to working at Imperial?

Film director Spike Lee was one of my first inspirations – his movie Do the Right Thing left me shocked to find that a Black person - someone like me - could make films. I wanted to be a film maker so took acting classes, writing lessons and joined film workshops, gaining qualifications along the way. I completed a BSc in Media and Society at London South Bank University and subsequently, have done a range of things, from setting up my own music website and events production company to working in digital communications for Local Government, charities and the private sector. I joined Imperial on a 2-month contract and have been here ever since.

Do you have a favourite film?

There is a scene in a movie called Gattaca which I relate to. In the movie, Vincent Freeman (Ethan Hawke), has always fantasized about traveling into outer space, but is grounded by his genetic status. In one scene, Vincent and his genetically superior brother are swimming out into the ocean. Anton is exhausted and has to be rescued by is “inferior” brother. Unable to accept the result Anton asks how he did it. Vincent responds: “You wanna know how I did it? This is how I did it […] I never saved anything for the swim back.”

Amelia Nakimuli, bioengineering undergraduate

Photo of Amelia NakimuliAmelia Nakimuli is a bioengineering undergraduate. 

Who inspires you?

Pastor Tobi Adegboyega, who leads the SPAC Nation church and foundation in South London. He once said “The future is not a time, it is a person”, this has really inspired me.

When did you realise that you wanted to be a scientist or engineer?

I was inspired to become a scientist by my high school science teacher.

If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?

Don’t be afraid of the unknown.

Imperial alumni

Professor Clifford Johnson

Photo of Clifford Johnson

Professor Clifford Johnson is a scientist, writer and science communicator.

Born in London and raised for 10 years in the Caribbean, he studied Physics at Imperial, graduating in 1989, and completed his PhD in Physics at Southampton University in 1992.

Professor Johnson works mainly on superstring theory, quantum gravity, gauge theory, and M-theory, studying objects such as black holes and D-branes. In 2005, he was awarded the Institute of Physics’ Maxwell Medal and Prize, and in 2016 a Simons Fellowship, for his work on string theory and quantum gravity. He has also been listed in the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education as the most highly cited Black Professor of mathematics at an American university or college.

In 2018 he won the Klopsteg memorial award by the American Association of Physics Teachers for his outstanding communication of the excitement of contemporary physics to the general public. Professor Clifford has appeared on many TV documentaries, and was a regular on The Universe – the longest-running TV show about physics and astronomy. He has been science advisor for many feature films and TV dramas.

He wrote and drew the recently published non-fiction graphic novel “The Dialogues: Conversations about the nature of the universe” (MIT Press). He is currently a professor in the Physics and Astronomy department at the University of Southern California.

Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock

Photo of Maggie Aderin-PocockDr Maggie Aderin-Pocock MBE is a British space scientist and science educator. 

Born in London to Nigerian parents in 1968, Maggie’s dreams of becoming an astronaut and a love of Star Trek encouraged her interest in space and science. In 1990, she completed her Physics degree at Imperial and went on to pursue a PhD in Mechanical Engineering, graduating in 1994.

After leaving Imperial, Maggie worked for the Ministry of Defence and has created bespoke instruments, from a missile warning system to hand-held land mine detectors and an optical subsystem for the James Webb Space Telescope.

In 2009, she was appointed MBE for services to science and education and has been listed as one of the UK top 100 most influential black people.

Maggie also set up her own company, called Science Innovation Ltd. She conducts public engagement activities to show school children and adults the wonders of space, and has given talks to over 300,000 to people around the world

Ambrose Cooke

Photo of Ambrose CookeAmbrose Cooke is an entrepreneur and engineer.

Raised in London with a Ghanaian background, Ambrose Cooke graduated with a Master’s in Mechanical Engineering in 2016.

Since then, he has become the co-founder of Fanbytes, a social influencer advertising platform which helps brands such as Universal, Disney and Apple Music engage with millennials in the most creative ways on social media. It has become a multimillion pound platform with the largest network of Snapchat influencers in the world.

Ambrose invented the ‘Fanbytes Score’ to identify potential influencers – he created it as part of his dissertation while studying at Imperial. It accurately matches brands to the most appropriate social media influencer.

In 2015, Forbes described Ambrose Cooke as one of “the millennials redefining how brands market to other millennials”.

BAME scientists

Dr Nira Chamberlain

Photo of Nira ChamberlainBirmingham-born mathematical modeller Dr Nira Chamberlain has written algorithms to solve complex industrial problems.

Although he was not encouraged to pursue mathematics at school, over his 20-year career, Dr Nira has worked all over the world. He has produced mathematical modelling breakthroughs for naval engineering projects and devised a new method of long multiplication in schools.

Among his accolades, Dr Nira worked on a project involving the creation of a mathematical cost capability trade-off model for the HMS Queen Elizabeth. His model saw Dr Chamberlain cited in the Encyclopaedia of Mathematics & Society – making him one of only a handful of British mathematicians to receive such an accolade. 

He was also listed by the Science Council as one of the UK’s top practising scientists and in 2016, Dr Nira was added to the Who’s Who last year; making him only the 30th mathematician to be recognised in this way.

Mary Seacole

black and white photo of Mary SeacoleMary Seacole, 1805 – 1881, was a medical practitioner born in Kingston, Jamaica.

After Kingston was hit by a cholera epidemic, Mary used herbal medicines to treat individuals, using remedies such as lead acetate and mercury chloride to help her patients recover. A young woman who loved travelling, Mary learned how to use local plants and herbs after visiting Cuba, the Bahamas and Haiti, and used her knowledge during the Crimean War.

Mary moved to London to become a healer and help the British Army, but faced rejection as a female practitioner. She then travelled to the battlefront in Crimea and opened the ‘British Hotel’, where Mary sold food and drink to British officers and provided medical care in their hour of illness. Despite having little funding, Mary became the most sought-after nurse in Crimea, earning the name “Mother Seacole” after she began healing the deadly wounds of British officers.

John Edmonstone

Born as a slave in Guyana, John Edmonstone, circa.1790 – 1843, was freed by his Scottish owner when he arrived in Edinburgh during 1817.

Having learned taxidermy from his owner’s son-in-law, John earned a living by teaching students at the University of Edinburgh and stuffing birds at the Natural History Museum.

One of his students was scientist Charles Darwin, who is said to have been inspired by Edmonstone’s accounts of South America’s rainforests and information about the flora and fauna of the South American continent. The taxidermy skills Darwin learned from John were indispensable during his voyage aboard the H.M.S. Beagle in 1831. Darwin collected and preserved 15 Galapagos finches as John had taught him. John’s mentoring may have inspired Darwin to visit the Galapagos Islands where he eventually put together his well-known theory of evolution.

Dr Charles Richard Drew

Charles Richard DrewBorn in Washington DC, Dr Charles Richard Drew, 1904 – 1950, is a renowned surgeon and pioneer in the preservation of blood plasma.

A gifted athlete that was one of 13 African Americans studying at Amherst College in Massachusetts, Charles went on to receive his medical and surgical degrees from McGill University in Montreal.

His interest in the science and medicine of blood transfusions saw him create an experimental blood bank and undertake research in blood chemistry, fluid replacement and the variables affecting blood preservation.

During World War Two, a US relief programme called “Blood for Britain” was set up by Charles and physician John Scudder. It aimed to collect and ship large quantities of blood and plasma to save the lives of wounded British soldiers. Under Drew’s leadership, many lives were saved - more than 14,000 blood donations were collected and 5,000 litres of plasma shipped to England.