Imperial College London

Promotions for Aeronautics academics


Dr Zahra Sharif Khodaei - Photo by Dave Guttridge

Dr Zahra Sharif Khodaei - Photo by Dave Guttridge

Six academics from the Department of Aeronautics have been promoted to mark the start of term.

Below we speak to our newly promoted colleagues to ask them about their time at Imperial College and to give their advice to those seeking a career in academia.

Dr Zahra Sharif Khodaei, Reader in Structural Integrity

“After studying at Czech Technical University in Prague, I started a post-doc at Imperial in 2009. I obtained a lectureship position here in 2015, and have held the position of Senior Lecturer since September 2017.”

“My research concerns structural integrity and health monitoring, with a focus on composite structures. As Aerospace structures are increasingly manufactured from composite structures (due to their superior strength and lighter weight) their design, maintenance and safety remain important topics to be addressed.”

“It’s imperative to understand the type of damages that can occur in composites and to find novel ways to pre-emptively detect these damages. Ultimately, the aim is to avoid catastrophic failures, and to propose maintenance and repair strategies.”

"The best thing about working here is the balance between teaching and research. The flexibility of the hours here is very important, particularly if you have a family or if you are planning for one.”

“For those who want to progress their careers in academia, it’s important to find what is right for you in terms of work-life balance. There is no right formula in terms of timing - as much as we all love science and research, we all have different personal circumstances that we have to consider. Find the right path for you.”

“So far, I am the only female Reader in the Department, and while I’m proud of that, I hope that it will pave the path for many more after me.”

Dr Paul Bruce, Reader in High-Speed Aerodynamics

“I joined Imperial in January 2011, after a PhD and Postdoc at the University of Cambridge. Originally, I was appointed as a Lecturer in Thermofluids within the Mechanical Engineering Department.” 

“Only a few months later, a dream opportunity presented itself within the Department of Aeronautics, working in Experimental High-Speed Aerodynamics. It ticked all the boxes for me: the possibility of working here with the facilities (and playing with Wind Tunnels) while teaching exactly what I love was (and still is) fantastic!”

“My research centres on the aerodynamics of things that travel fast in an atmosphere: planes, missiles, rockets, and spacecraft, but also satellites re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere and Martian landers.”

“Being an academic is most rewarding when you are in a position to help people with things like grants, proposals and scholarship applications. You can have a lot of influence and can make a tangible, positive impact on the people around you.”

“One of the things I’d encourage aspiring academics to do is volunteer for things, whether for events or initiatives. You build a reputation among your colleagues. People really value you if you put yourself forward.”

“We are surrounded by great people who are so motivated and bright and keen to make the most of their time here, and then there’s all the support and resources that Imperial offers – so we have it pretty good here!”

Professor Joaquim Peiro, Professor in Engineering Computation

"After completing a PhD at Swansea University in their Department of Civil Engineering (where there had been a focus on numerical methods and finite methods) I joined Imperial College in 1989 as a Senior Research Assistant."

"The Department of Aeronautics always had a strong reputation for expertise and know-how in Experimental Aerodynamics, and they wanted to complement this by incorporating greater expertise in Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) into the Aerodynamics Section.”

"At the time, computational techniques were becoming ever more vital to the design of planes, but because the techniques were of a particular type, difficulties were encountered; my colleagues and I were tasked with surmounting some of these difficulties."

“Overall in my time here I’m most proud of contributing to making CFD an integral part of the Department’s research and its teaching curriculum.”

"To younger researchers, I have to say that since time is precious it’s imperative to make time for your own research – do not let yourself be sidetracked, focus on what is important to you, then invest and enjoy your time developing it."

Dr Matthew Santer, Reader in Aerospace Structures

“I started at the Department in January 2008 as a Lecturer. Before then, I spent some time working in the Space sector before completing a PhD and post-doc at Cambridge.”

“My research primarily concerns Adaptive and Deployable Structures: things that change their shape to accommodate a change in environment. The research has two major strands: one is deployable spacecraft (so for example, a folded spacecraft preparing for launch, which is then deployed). Given my background, this was always my first love.”

“The other strand is Flow Control. I work with PhD Students on lattices (tailoring how a structure behaves) as well as working with Space researchers on flexures and Martian landers.”

“One of the most valuable things I’ve done here is help develop the Spacecraft modules of the MEng course. Another is securing the funding from the Excellence Fund for Frontier Research for the Martian Lander project with Dr Paul Bruce. It was challenging, but as a result of this we’ve really managed to build on our work on Deployable Structures.”

 “The great thing about being at this Department is that it’s possible (within reason) to be curiosity-driven; you can follow your own interests and collaborate across the Department.”

Dr Koon-Yang Lee, Reader in Polymeric Materials

“I started at Imperial as an undergraduate in Chemical Engineering, followed by a PhD from 2008 - 2012. I completed a postdoc here in September 2012 and then moved on to further roles at the University of Vienna and UCL. An opportunity in Aeronautics saw me return to Imperial as a Lecturer in January 2015.”

“My research is within the Future Materials Group, a highly multi-disciplinary group with an emphasis on the design and manufacturing of novel polymer materials.”

“The focus and application areas of my research group are broad. They include the design and fabrication of renewable polymer composites and cellulose nanocomposites, and improving the performance of high-performance polymer (Nano)composites to make them stronger, cheaper, more ductile. Among other things, there’s also the reuse, recycling and up-cycling of waste materials, and assessing how sustainable composite materials are over their life-cycle.” 

“Because our research is multidisciplinary, we tend to hire people who have high adaptability and can bridge gaps between chemistry, physics, mathematics, materials science and engineering.” 

On his promotion to Reader, Dr Lee says “It will ultimately require more responsibility, but it’s something we as academics need to do: to make sure the Department is healthy and thrives, we have to guide and push the Department over the next five to ten years.”

“Life as an academic in the UK is not always easy: there are a lot of responsibilities and you must have the right mentality – so be resilient, keep going at it and you can achieve a lot!”

Dr Sylvian Laizet, Reader in Computational Fluid Mechanics

“I started at Imperial back in October 2006 as Research Associate in the Department of Aeronautics under the supervision of Prof. J.C. Vassilicos. I became a lecturer in September 2014 and was promoted to Senior Lecturer three years later.”

“The prime motivation behind my research is understanding turbulent flows, and how to use them in various engineering applications. In particular, I have a strong interest in the development and implementation of active flow control techniques, to improve the beneficial effects (or to reduce the negative effects) of turbulent flows. With help from collaborators in the UK, France and Brazil, I also develop high-order finite-difference highly-scalable flow solvers for low cost, and work on accurate simulations to study a wide range of fluid flow problems.”

Dr Laizet is head of the Turbulence Simulation Group and has a role as Senior Tutor, with an overall responsibility for the academic and pastoral care of undergraduate students in the Department.

“The most rewarding aspect of my job is when students are graduating, particularly when a student with adverse personal issues graduates; the smile on their face can be priceless.”





Tom Creese

Tom Creese
Department of Aeronautics

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