An image of Brian Chen Can you tell us about yourself? 

My name is Brian, and before I joined Imperial College, I studied Materials Science for my undergraduate at the University of Oxford, and then spent a year abroad completing my master’s research at MIT as an exchange student. Aside from my research work, I am also a musician with a strong passion in music production and song writing. I have taught myself multiple instruments including guitar, drum and piano over the past years. Being able to explore novel music ideas and share pieces I wrote with people is not only an extremely rewarding experience but also allowed me to feel the world in slightly different ways. 

Can you provide a summary of your research?

  My research here at Imperial is the study and development of novel nanomaterial-based sensors for point-of-care disease detection. Like a pregnancy test, lateral flow immunoassays normally use small particles, for example gold, which produce an intense red colour at nano-scale and be used as the indicator of the presence of disease biomarkers by forming a red test line on the device. My PhD work focuses on designing catalytic nanoparticles that could generate a much stronger signal intensity even when the target molecule is only of a small amount. Such technology is also very translational for diagnostics of a wide range of diseases, and our research team is currently working on early detection of biomarkers from diseases like HIV, cardiovascular diseases and Covid-19.

Why did you choose to study at Imperial and how has your experience been so far? 

There is no doubt that Imperial has some of the smartest people in the world doing interdisciplinary cutting-edge research. Working with them is always pleasant and intellectually stimulating! I also enjoy the weekly lunchtime concert organised by Blyth Centre. It can’t get better for me than to have a mid-day indulgence of some classical music. What I like about Imperial the most is its diversity of people, being able to meet colleagues and make friends with people from everywhere is fantastic. You can truly learn different cultures and hear stories from everyone, and it’s just a lot of fun! 

What is the current highlight of your PhD? 

 This is an unusual time in history with the outbreak of coronavirus that has taken hundreds of thousands of lives, and impacted everyone. Being in one of the leading biomaterials research groups lead by Professor Molly Stevens, I had the privilege to combat covid-19 as part of the team developing a rapid diagnostic test . Being part of something that can be very impactful and life-saving made me feel a sense of responsibility and reminded me again of why I am studying a PhD in life sciences: to bring people a better life.

What are your top tips for completing a PhD at Imperial?

 I haven’t even completed one myself so maybe it’s too soon to say! But if anything, planning experiments ahead and keep reading are two very important habits to learn. Planning every week structurally is very important, not only can it help you maintain a momentum but can also optimise your use of time. Reading, reading, reading. Staying up-to-speed with where the field is progressing and learning what other groups from the same area are doing may save you a lot of experiments and even inspire new ideas. While you are busy sinking your teeth in research, don’t forget you are in London! Keep a good work/life balance and go out when you can take a break, there are a million things you can explore in the city!