Imperial College London

Spotlight on the 2015 Sir William Wakeham Award winner: Dr James Kimber

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James Kimber, winner of the William Wakeham Award

Meet Dr James Kimber, winner of the Sir William Wakeham Award for 2015

Join is in congratulating Dr James Kimber on receiving the 2015 Sir William Wakeham Award, a truly outstanding achievement!

William Wakeham is a visiting professor at the Department of Chemical Engineering, having first joined as a lecturer in 1971. He served as Head of the Department from 1988 to 1996 before becoming Deputy Rector of the College. In recognition of his contributions to Chemical Engineering, the Sir William Wakeham Award was instituted to recognise early career researchers who have made a significant contribution to their field and advanced their career development.

This year’s awardee Dr James Kimber has been a long time member of the Department of Chemical Engineering at Imperial College, having completed his undergraduate studies here in 2009 followed by a PhD in 2013. He is currently a Research Associate in Professor Sergei Kazarian's group in the Vibrational Spectroscopy and Chemical Imaging Lab. James was recognised at this year’s Postdoc symposium specifically for his work in collaboration with industrial partners BASF (Fast Drying and Film Formation of Latex Dispersions Studied with FTIR Spectroscopic Imaging -link) and AbbVie (Analyzing the impact of different excipients on drug release behavior in hot-melt extrusion formulations using FTIR spectroscopic imaging - link), both of which used novel analytical techniques with ATR-FTIR imaging (Attenuated Total Reflectance Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy) to provide snapshots of chemical reactions and enhance our understanding of the behaviour of such systems.

James Kimber receives the William Wakeham Award from Professor Dame Julia Higgins

Dr James Kimber receiving the Sir William Wakeham Award from Professor Dame Julia Higgins

Dr Kimber joined us to discuss his work as a researcher and provide insights into the career of a scientist:

  • Can you summarise your research in a couple of sentences?

I use Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopic Imaging to obtain the spatial distribution of chemicals within samples and dynamic systems.  My research previously focused on pharmaceutical tablet formulation, dissolution and microfluidic devices, and now I’m studying functionalised surfaces and the behaviour of droplets and flow on these surfaces.

  • What inspired you to become a scientist/engineer?

From a young age, I was fascinated by how things work, and learning about scientific advances and innovations. I was further inspired during my undergraduate years at Imperial in, what are now known as, the discovery labs. Also, during the summer between my 3rd and 4th year, I took on an Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program in Professor Kazarian’s lab, which sparked an interest in scientific research and led me to pursue a PhD and become a researcher.

  • What is your favourite aspect of your job? What’s the biggest challenge?

My favourite aspect of the job is finding answers to the many problems which crop up during a project. This provides opportunities to learn new skills (which are often transferable) to carry a project forward and one of the most gratifying parts of research is putting these skills to use to discover something new. The biggest challenge is the other side of the same coin - getting experiments to produce reliable data or even work at all can be incredibly frustrating. However that is the nature of scientific research and you need to come up with solutions.

  • What has been the highlight of your career?

The highlight of my career has been winning the Sir William Wakeham award and being given the chance to present my work at the Postdoc research symposium. Presenting and discussing the highlights of my research and future ideas to academics and students within the same department was a great opportunity and was very enjoyable.

  • How would you advise an undergraduate student looking to pursue further study as a researcher?

I would encourage students to get into research as quickly as possible, through UROP placements, LINK projects or internships. Certain courses in Chemical Engineering also have mini-projects (e.g. Product Characterisation) which are very useful in learning new analytical approaches and so give experience in a variety of research areas and different labs. Not only will this help them find out if research is for them, but the skills and knowledge gained during these times will help in their final year research project, give them an idea what research topics they like and put them in a good position for applying for PhD. 

  • Is there some aspect of your research that you wish gained broader public interest?

This is a tough question to answer, as public interest in studies using infrared spectroscopy and imaging is difficult to quantify, and my own areas of research fill in pieces of a much larger puzzle.  However, interacting with the public at the Imperial Festivals and reading various popular science articles shows there is already interest in areas I’m involved in such as pharmaceuticals/healthcare and novel materials.  Vibrational spectroscopy itself is also becoming more recognised, with miniature near-infrared (NIR) spectrometers being coupled with smart-phones for the measurement of food spoilage or types of plastic and recently, Raman Spectroscopy which was applied to brain tissue during surgery.

  • What is your next goal, and where do you see your field of research going in the next 5-10 years?

My next goal is to secure funding for the next stage of my project, and what direction that will be depends on results I obtain in the next few months.  Looking further ahead for the field in general, there are exciting developments in using quantum cascade lasers for infrared spectroscopy, which are orders of magnitude more powerful than infrared sources in current spectrometers, and are more convenient than using synchrotron sources.  This enables us to study new samples and processes with better sensitivity and higher time resolution than is possible with ordinary infrared spectrometers.

Vibrational Spectroscopy and Chemical Imaging Group

The Vibrational Spectroscopy and Chemical Imaging Research Group

Dr James Kimber and Professor Sergei Kazarian have also authored a summary of recent advances in Macro ATR-FTIR processes for an article in Spectroscopy magazine, outlining the versatility of spectroscopic imaging as a solution in a variety of industrial contexts.

Reporters

Mikhail Menezes

Mikhail Menezes
Department of Chemical Engineering

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Contact details

Email: press.office@imperial.ac.uk
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Michael Panagopulos

Michael Panagopulos
Department of Chemical Engineering

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Contact details

Email: press.office@imperial.ac.uk
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