Imperial College London

Two Materials postdocs awarded Julia Higgins Postdoc Fund for new research


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Two postdoctoral researchers in the Department of Materials have been awarded funding from the Julia Higgins Postdoc Collaborative Research Fund 2021.

This fund was introduced in 2017 to give postdocs in the Faculty of Engineering the opportunity to apply for and be awarded their own research funding, to develop and deliver a collaborative research project, and take a step towards becoming independent from the research of their PI.

A total of £20,000 was made available by the faculty to fund collaborative research projects. The fund aims to promote collaboration between postdocs in the Faculty of Engineering, whereby funding applications submitted must involve a minimum of two postdocs from different departments in Engineering.

In the latest round of funding, two postdoctoral researchers in the Department of Materials were awarded research funding.

Dr Hang Xu: Adaptive Multi-stable Metamaterials for Contour Recognition

An image of Dr Hang XuDr Hang Xu is a Postdoctoral Researcher in the Department of Materials. He is supervised by Professor Minh-Son Pham and his research focus is new meta-materials that can move or change shape.

Dr Xu's received funding for a research project that begun development in August. The project aims to develop materials that can recognise object contour via its own deformation.

As part of the project, Dr Xu developed building blocks that can snap into another shape under touching, like push pop bubbles. He constructed building blocks into meta-materials. 

In collaboration with Dr Zhixiang Chen, a specialist of artificial intelligence (AI) from the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Dr Xu will design a Multilayer Convolutional Neural Network to analyse the relationship between the deformation and object contour. In this way, he will engineer adaptive meta-materials for contour recognition when being equipped with the developed meta-materials, soft robots can then feel diverse objects, infer their material properties, and recognise their contours.

Dr Xu said: “It is a real honour to be recognised by the Julia Higgins Postdoc Fund Award as independent research. I would love to become an independent researcher someday and lead an exciting research lab. There is no way I would be where I am today without Imperial, my line manager, Dr Pham, and the collaboration with Dr Chen.”

Dr Gloria Young: Understanding the pollution filtration properties of leaves using contrasting imaging and element mapping techniques

Dr Gloria YoungDr Gloria Young is a Research Associate in the Department of Materials. She is supervised by Professor Julian Jones. 

Dr Young has received funding for a new research project to investigate whether green spaces can work as a filter for pollution in major cities.

More specifically, her research will focus on leaves and whether pollution can attach to a leaf. Leaves can act as traps for air pollution and be used as ‘biomonitors’ of pollutant levels over time. The toxicity potential for pollution particles is determined by their size and chemistry. 

Along with Dr Rebekah Moore from the Department of Earth Science and Engineering, Dr Young will investigate which types of particulate matter are filtered by a hedge on a busy roadside. Both researchers will couple imaging and elemental mapping techniques to better understand the distribution of pollution particles and their attachment in green spaces. From this research, Dr Young hopes to determine whether green spaces could filter pollution and subsequently help to protect the health of inhabitants.

Dr Young said: "I’m really happy to be developing a collaborative research project and grateful for support from the fund and PIs."

Find out more

To view all awardees and find out more about the Julia Higgins Fund, please visit the Faculty of Engineering website.


Kayleigh Brewer

Kayleigh Brewer
Department of Materials


Materials, Engineering-Materials
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