Meet the 2023 winners: Shaping the net-zero journey, changing our understanding of how our planet works, and defining the technologies of tomorrow.
Now in its fourth year, the programme celebrates the outstanding achievements of Imperial graduates, acknowledging role models and thought-leaders within the alumni community and shining a light on the contributions of Imperial alumni to science, engineering, medicine, business and society across three award categories.
A distinguished career
Professor Sir Stephen Sparks (Geology 1971, PhD 1974) is the winner of the Distinguished Alumni Award, which honours alumni who have demonstrated sustained excellence in their personal and professional achievements, are leaders in their field or have made a substantial impact on society.
Stephen's childhood hobby of picking up fossils and collecting rocks was just the beginning of a lifelong interest that would take him across the world and spark an illustrious career. A highly respected volcanologist, his work has significantly advanced the fundamental science in this area. After graduating from Imperial, Stephen held an 1851 Fellowship at Lancaster University before moving to the US to work at the Graduate School of Oceanography. Returning to the UK, he became a lecturer in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Cambridge before joining the Department of Geology at the University of Bristol, building a world-class department.
"The things you don’t understand are more intrinsically interesting. When you find a solution, you then want to move on. Curiosity is something we need to encourage in schools. Science isn’t a series of known facts – it’s about trying to understand what is not yet understood." Professor Sir Stephen Sparks Distinguished Alumni Award winner 2023
Stephen has also helped develop hazard and risk assessment methods used around the world. As a founding director of the Montserrat Volcano Observatory and chair of the science advisory group, he was able to inform decision-making on safety management, evacuations and long-term planning during the 1997 eruption, avoiding the need for an island-wide evacuation.
Among other prestigious awards, Stephen won the Vetlesen Prize in 2015, widely regarded as equivalent to a Nobel prize for earth sciences. He received a CBE in 2010 for services to environmental science and a knighthood in 2018 for services to volcano science and geology.
Despite retiring in 2020, Stephen continues to carry out research, share his knowledge and collaborate with others, recently working with University of West Indies colleagues on a new eruption on the island of St Vincent.
Supporting the transition to a clean energy future
As the founder of Aurora Solar, Christopher Hopper (MEng Electrical & Electronic Engineering 2011), winner of the Alumni Entrepreneur Award, is working to solve one of the biggest problems facing the planet: clean energy for a sustainable future.
Aurora Solar, who develop AI-powered software for solar panel installations and are trusted by 90% of the top US residential solar contractors, are now valued at over $4 billion.
Christopher didn’t set out to become an entrepreneur but is thriving in the role. As CEO he relishes getting to talk about finance, people, products, business strategy: “It gives the biggest possible view into the organisation that I love.”
When asked about his motivations and his plans for the future, Christopher has a clear vision:
“In the end, it’s simply something I believe in and it’s not something I can put aside. I fundamentally believe the world is better off powered by abundant, cheap, clean energy and I think that’s a future worth fighting for. There were plenty of challenges along the way – and there will be more – but it’s that conviction that keeps me going.”
A new generation of leaders
Five alumni have been recognised with the Emerging Alumni Leader Award, which celebrates graduates from the last 15 years who are inspiring role models, mentors or champions for equality and are making an impact on society.
“I now know that being a leader and trailblazer can be quite a scary, lonely place. I was trying to forge a path which was not well trodden, especially of other females of my age. My hope is that my experiences will make this easier for those who come after me.” Dr Amina Al-Yassin Emerging Alumni Leader Award winner 2023
Dr Amina Al-Yassin (MBBS Medicine 2011), is a trusted GP and champion of underrepresented groups. She is also one of the youngest executives of Al-Ayn, the largest children’s charity in Iraq, and was instrumental in setting up the Hikayati project, an evidence-based approach to teach bereaved children confidence, resilience, emotional intelligence and vital life skills.
Fellow medic Dr Brian Wang (PhD Medicine 2019, MBBS 2021), was inspired by his observations as a medical student to found In2MedSchool, a charity dedicated to helping underprivileged school children apply to student medicine and related subjects at university by creating resources, running events and offering a free mentoring scheme. So far 2,000 young people have benefited from the scheme.
Dr Clementine Chambon (PhD Chemical Engineering 2017) is an emerging expert in climate change solutions, and the co-founder of Oorja Development solutions. Oorja provides farmers in rural India with access to three critical services: water for irrigating crops, milling equipment to grind grain and spices, and cooling services to keep food fresh for longer. They use solar technology to achieve this – cheaper and significantly more environmentally responsible than the portable diesel pumps more commonly used.
"The sense of diversity and community makes me proud to be an Imperial alumnus. I met people from all over the world. I got to learn about their cultures and how they see the world." Erblin Ribari Emerging Alumni Leader Award winner 2023
Dr Christiana Udoh (MSc Chemical Engineering 2014, PhD 2018) is also dedicated to helping to resolve the consequences of climate change, working with a team at bp who are pushing the boundaries in the development of the Fischer-Tropsch synthesis (FTS) process, an anchor technology for producing low-carbon fuels.
Erblin Ribari (MSc Investment & Wealth Management 2019) is a UN OCHA Peace Ambassador, dedicated to raising awareness of issues in his native Kosovo, and using his experience in the financial world to benefit his country. Alongside studying for his MPA at Harvard (working towards his ultimate goal of creating the first stock exchange for Kosovo), Erblin works for dua.com where he is helping the startup connect fragmented communities.
Imperial graduates are invited to join the Alumni Award winners at the iconic Wallace Collection for a celebration event on Thursday 9 March 2023. Find out more and register.
Article text (excluding photos or graphics) © Imperial College London.
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