Imperial College London

Aeronautics celebrates academic staff promotions


Professor Rob Hewson - one of three academics promoted to Professor within the Department of Aeronautics

Aeronautics sees three academics awarded professorships in the latest promotion round.

The Department is pleased to announce that three Aeronautics academics have recently received promotions in becoming professors.

Huge congratulations to Professors Rob Hewson, Luca Magri and Matthew Santer.

Below we meet our newly promoted colleagues as they share insight into their academic backgrounds and research, being a part of the College community and their advise for aspiring academics. 

Professor Rob Hewson

I joined Imperial in 2014, after finishing my PhD and beginning my academic career at the University of Leeds. My academic journey has been a winding one from my PhD in multiphase thin film fluid dynamics to tribology, then via multiscale tribology modelling to multiscale structural analysis and optimisation.

The people I’ve had the opportunity to work with have played a significant role in shaping my career, just as much as the scientific and engineering challenges. Colleagues and students across the Department make Aeronautics a really enjoyable and friendly place to work and I have also been fortunate to have many brilliant collaborators and colleagues across Imperial.

Most recently my work has been in two different fields: multiscale and/or multidisciplinary design optimisation of aerospace and bioengineering structures. I find the richness of research challenge fascinating. I’m currently Imperial lead for the EPSRC funded project OncoEng, which looks at designing spinal implants for patients with secondary metastases. In addition to metamaterials, I also work on composite and functionally graded material optimisation, for example in the design of adsorption beds for gas storage.

The second area I work in is on the numerical modelling of how contact between surfaces results in friction and wear (tribological contacts). In fact, the multiscale modelling of tribological contacts was what led me to work on multiscale structures. I am the Imperial lead for the BioTrib EU MSCA doctoral network and it’s great to be part of a European collaborative research project where we are able to learn from each other and share our expertise across the network. This not only benefits our cohort of early career researchers but will have an impact on society as they tackle many of the societal and environmental challenges we face.

The first few years of my academic career were quite difficult, the transition from doing research to trying to obtain funding and learning how to lecture was a challenge. If you are starting your academic career and find it difficult just remember that it does not last forever. Find yourself a mentor or two, talk to colleagues and go for that funding with the expectation that you will probably not be successful but it is worth a try, and who knows - you might get lucky!

Professor Luca Magri

After completing my undergraduate studies at the University of Padova, I moved to the UK to obtain my PhD in Engineering at the University of Cambridge in 2015, and then moved across the pond to work at Stanford University as a postdoctoral fellow. I came back to the UK to take up a Royal Academy of Engineering Research Fellowship, and then became lecturer at Cambridge’s Engineering Department in 2018. I moved to Imperial in 2021 as a Reader, where I am now Professor in Scientific Machine Learning.

I am a computational scientist who synergistically combines physical laws with artificial intelligence to optimise engineering systems, with interest for the drive to net zero. My team and I develop multidisciplinary methods for a variety of applications in incompressible, compressible, and multi-physics fluid mechanics, and dynamical systems in general. These systems are turbulent, uncertain, and, sometimes, difficult to model and optimise with traditional methods. I am enthused both by fundamental research and practical applications.

Examples of practical applications, to name a few, are the time prediction of chaotic systems, the maximisation of energy production in wind farm layouts, the modelling and control of sound in gas turbines, and modelling of sprays. My research is both mathematical, with pen and paper, and computational, with coding. I work closely with experimentalists and real-world data.

Imperial and the Department of Aeronautics are forward-looking places with ambitious, passionate, and smart individuals at their core. I work with generous, friendly, and brilliant colleagues, who I closely collaborate with on multiple projects, and from whom I learn everyday new science. It’s a pleasure to come to work and be a part of it all.

For aspiring academics I’d say, first and foremost focus on quality over quantity - you want people to trust your papers and your conclusions. Second, tackle big problems and ask big questions - sometimes it may feel risky, and you might fail, but when you do not fail, the intellectual and personal reward is big.

I’d also recommend that you talk about the limitations of your methods (because every theory/method/idea has some limitations!). Talking these through is just as important as creating the new theory or method.

Finally, embrace failure as part of the entropic evolution of things, do not reject it. Things often do not work out as you wish them to, but they will work out if you utilise your failures as an opportunity to learn.

Professor Matthew Santer

When I finished my MEng in Engineering Science at the University of Oxford, I joined a company called Astrium, which is now part of the Airbus group, working on the structural design of large space antennas. After a few years I returned to academia to carry out a PhD in Structures at the University of Cambridge where I stayed on as a researcher. I then moved to the Department of Aeronautics at Imperial where I have now been for 15 years!

My research is focused on the design, optimisation and understanding of nonlinear structures which can behave in unintuitive and useful ways. This has application in a diverse range of fields, from deployable structures for space, morphing flow control devices for drag reduction, structural metamaterials and even deployable spinal inserts for cancer patients.

One of the best aspects of the Department is the discussion and collaboration with colleagues and students. Many of my most exciting and timely research projects have been in collaboration with colleagues following discussions over coffee when it became clear that advanced structures could solve challenging problems in their own distinct areas of specialism. I am looking forward to building on these in the future and also expanding the Department’s activities and reputation in the Space Engineering sector.

I have been very involved with the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) and I have found this an invaluable way to keep abreast of and inform my research in the latest developments in the field of lightweight spacecraft structures. I recently finished a term as the first non-US Chair of the AIAA Spacecraft Structures Technical Committee.

I would strongly recommend membership of and engagement with a professional institution as a great way to make connections across the world. I would also recommend to anyone starting on an academic path that they focus on what interests and excites them. Buzzwords and fashionable topics come and go but good curiosity-driven work will find a place and surprising applications.


Ayesha Khan

Ayesha Khan
Department of Aeronautics


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