Imperial academics awarded prestigious Future Leaders Fellowships


White man in glasses and shirt in lab

Dr Oscar Calderon Agudo

Five of Imperial’s next generation of world class scientists have been awarded UKRI Future Leaders Fellowships to boost their careers.

The Future Leaders Fellowship (FLF) scheme will support Dr Guang Yang, Dr Emzo de los Santos, Dr Azalea Raad, Dr Emilio Martínez-Pañeda and Dr Oscar Calderon Agudo to progress their work quickly by funding essential equipment and paying for researcher wages for up to seven years. 

Tailored support and expertise 

Support from the PFDC has been instrumental in helping me obtain this fellowship. Dr Emzo de los Santos

Each of the successful applicants received assistance in their application from the Postdoc and Fellows Development Centre. The Centre provides intensive support for applicants to help them meet the criteria of the FLF. 

Dr Liz Elvidge, Head of Postdoc and Fellows Development, said: “I believe that the level of tailored support and expertise provided by the Postdoc and Fellows Development Centre to fellowship applicants is unique amongst UK universities. We have been working alongside these five very talented individuals for over a year now and I fully expect them to do extraordinary things. It is a pleasure for our team to play a part in helping them to succeed through helping with the application form, working through reviewer feedback and running mock interviews.”

Dr Oscar Calderon Agudo, Department of Earth Science & Engineering 

White man in glasses and shirt in labThe FLF will allow me to grow my research team and focus on the development of a high-resolution ultrasound imaging technology for difficult-to-image targets, such as the human brain. Ultrasound is reflected, distorted, and attenuated at the skull, and conventional reconstruction algorithms fail to image the brain through the hard skull but also fail to give highly resolved images of softer tissues, such as the breast.  

I will develop a medical device that uses advanced imaging algorithms, supercomputing, and customised sensors to provide images at sub-millimeter resolution, and I will validate the device in vivo. I will also investigate optimal pathways for the translation of this technology to clinics, for instance for rapid diagnosis of stroke.   

This fellowship is an excellent framework to perform adventurous research that can have a rapid impact on society, and it offers me the scientific independence and flexibility necessary to gather and lead a world-leading research group in high-resolution imaging. 

Dr Emilio Martínez-Pañeda, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering 

White man in blue shirtThe FLF will allow me to tackle complex material degradation challenges at the interface between mechanics and chemistry, from corrosion to batteries. I will use the funding to hire two postdoctoral research associates and acquire unique experimental and computational capabilities.    

The extended and dedicated support of the Future Leaders Fellowship is key, as it will allow me to acquire interdisciplinary expertise. I am a Senior Lecturer in Mechanics of Materials and I will use the fellowship to become an expert in chemistry and electrochemistry. The solution to many of our pressing problems (corrosion failures, battery degradation, hydrogen storage) lies in the combinations of mechanics and chemistry, but these two areas that have been historically too distant. 

Dr Azalea Raad, Department of Computing 

Woman in suit and neck scarfThe fellowship will fund my research into an exciting new kind of technology called non-volatile memory, which will soon be in most digital devices, from smartphones and laptops to server farms and data centres. Non-volatile memory is persistent in that it retains its data even when it loses power, unlike traditional (volatile) memory. My research will help make sure we use this technology safely, efficiently and securely. 

The fellowship means a chance to grow and develop as a leader in the field.

The funding for this project opens up a wide range of possibilities for my research. It will allow me to build my research group at Imperial by hiring talented postdoctoral researchers to join my team. It will also enable me to purchase specialist custom technology that will let me test and analyse the latest non-volatile memory hardware. I am also very fortunate to have strong links with amazing industrial partners such as Amazon, Facebook and ARM, and this funding will reinforce our collaboration by allowing me to undertake secondments to spend some time embedded within these companies' R&D teams.  

The fellowship, above all, means a chance to grow and develop as a leader in the field. It will give me the time and resources that I need for ambitious collaborations and research projects that I would otherwise not be able to do. This is not only a unique opportunity for me as a researcher, but also means I get to answer questions and develop solutions for important problems that affect the future of technology. 

Dr Emzo de los Santos, joining the Department of Infectious Disease in 2022 

Asian man in casual clothes by the coastMy research focus for this fellowship is to capitalise on the advances in genomics, synthetic biology, and artificial intelligence to develop a pipeline for small molecule discovery from microbial gene sequences. This will complement existing pipelines for discovery of bioactive compounds. 

The FLF is unique since it supports interdisciplinary research that normally isn't under the remit of a single research council. It is also supportive of engagement with industry in order to maximize the applications of your research. The grant facilitates my transition to Imperial allowing me to start a group with connections to the thriving Synthetic Biology Community and the microbial expertise at the Department of Infectious Disease. The fellowship supports international collaborations, allowing me to work with a group in the Philippines, partnering with them to explore the microbial diversity there. Finally, the FLF is unique in its emphasis on leadership development, which will provide me with the resources needed as my group expands.

Dr Guang Yang, National Heart and Lung Institute 

Asian man with glasses in suitIn the UK, cardiovascular disease accounts for about 25% of all deathsand costs the NHS roughly nine billion pounds each year. Cardiovascular magneticresonance imaging (CMR) allows detailed non-invasive imaging of the structure and function of the heart without using X-rays, however a typical CMR study lasts about an hour and can take several more hours to analyse. 

In this fellowship, I will work on methods to speed up CMR imaging by a factor of 4–12 by using an advanced ‘deep learning’ based signal processing approach. Deep learning is a new technique that teaches computers to learn by example. This is achieved by using fast computers working in parallel with ‘big data’. I will also  improve the quality of the CMR images and develop a fully automatic software pipeline that can analyse the resulting images up to 100 times faster.  

The UKRI future leader fellowship will support me to hire two postdoctoral associates and lead a research group at NHLI. The funding will also allow me to perform phantom and patient scanning in order to let me develop and validate my proposed methods. Ultimately, I want to translate technical developments into clinical practice to the benefit of patients and clinicians. 


Sarah Saxton

Sarah Saxton
Communications Division


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