Meet the Year 2 President’s PhD Scholars
Faculty of Engineering
Mohamed El-Zeadani - Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Name: Mohamed El-Zeadani
Department: Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Title of Research: Development of one-part “just add water” geopolymer rubberised concrete
Supervisor(s): Professor Ahmed Elghazouli
About me: I come from a small town in Libya called Tamessa, however, I have spent that past 12 years before coming to Imperial College in Malaysia. I did both my undergraduate and master’s degrees at Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM). My master’s research was focused on the development of mechanics-based solutions for reinforced concrete structures with the aim of accurately modelling their response under flexural loading conditions. The broader objective was to simulate the true behaviour of reinforced concrete structures using mechanics-based models and reduce the reliance on empirical coefficients in design; thereby, allowing the development of design equations for new materials in a much faster time.
Summary of Research: My research here at Imperial involves first the development of a more sustainable ‘cement-free’ concrete mix design to meet current environmental challenges while at the same time having good mechanical strength and ductility to be appropriate for structural applications. After that, my research intends to investigate the structural response of such materials under extreme loading conditions through the use of experimental tests and numerical models to understand the behaviour of those structures and assess their adequacy.
Research interests: My research interests revolve around current developments in concrete materials, response of structures to extreme loadings (e.g., earthquakes), numerical modelling of structures, and the development of mechanics-based solutions for reinforced concrete structures.
Why did you choose the scholarship scheme at Imperial College: Imperial College London is well known for civil engineering, so when deciding to do a PhD here, it was only natural to look for funding opportunities at the College, and that is how I came to know about the President’s PhD scholarship. Upon a closer look, the scholarship scheme was very attractive as it meant that I could focus on my PhD research without having to worry about any expenses. Also, the emphasis that is put on personal development through workshops and talks along side academic development made it more convincing for me to apply.
Evžen Korec - Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Name: Evžen Korec
Department: Departmentof Civil and Environmental Engineering
Title of Research: Electro-chemo-mechanical models for predicting stress corrosion cracking
Personal Web Page address: linkedin.com/in/evžen-korec-1bb4377b https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Evzen_Korec
Supervisor(s): Dr Emilio Martínez-Pañeda, Prof Milan Jirásek, Dr Hong S. Wong
About me: Born and raised in Prague, Czech Republic, fascinated both by applied mathematics and civil engineering, I joined the Czech Technical University in Prague (CTU), where I studied successively for a first class bachelor and master’s degree in structural and transportation engineering. There I was privileged to join its renowned Department of Mechanics, specifically the lab of Prof Milan Jirásek, a great enthusiastic mentor, who excited me for the study of mechanics. During the internship at the Prof Garth Wells’ group at the University of Cambridge, I had the
pleasure to interact on numerous occasions with Dr Martínez-Pañeda. I was captivated by his ground-breaking research in the modelling of hydrogen embrittlement, which has the potential to prevent infrastructure catastrophes and truly save lives. Inspired by these, I decided to apply for a PhD in his emerging group at Imperial and I was very privileged to be allowed to join his research endeavours.
Summary of Research: We have been addressing one of the most important and long-lasting problems in science and engineering: unravelling corrosion of engineering materials. My PhD project aims at developing a new generation of electro-chemo-mechanical models for predicting stress corrosion cracking, mainly in reinforced concrete and pre-stressed concrete structures. Failure of structures and industrial components due to corrosion entails a global cost of $2.5 trillion, equivalent to roughly 3.4% of the global Gross Domestic Product (NACE Report, 2016). The problem is pervasive across the transport, construction, energy and defence sectors. Because of large computer resources and new computational fracture methods, there is an opportunity now to develop multi-scale and multi-physics models that can predict environmentally assisted material degradation and fracture. The goal is to gain insight into the underlying physical mechanisms and develop a mechanistic-based modelling framework that can predict and prevent corrosion damage at scales relevant to engineering practice.
Research interests: Stress corrosion cracking, chloride-induced corrosion in concrete, phase-field models, concrete fracture modelling, transport problems in concrete, Nitsche method, contact mechanics.
Why did you choose the scholarship scheme at Imperial College: The President’s scholarship offers a unique possibility to obtain very generous funding, the support of the world-class institution and relative freedom of choosing your intended research project. From my perspective, these conditions were absolutely ideal as we have already elaborated the research topic with my supervisors and we were looking for possible funding. Moreover, due to the efforts of the organization team, there is a possibility to meet and connect with other scholars. Based on my limited life experience, it is always fascinating and beneficial to meet motivated and passionate individuals and this scholarship offers a great deal of this privilege.
Maria Raposo de Lima - Department of Mechanical Engineering
Name: Maria Raposo de Lima
Department: Mechanical Engineering
Title of Research: Affective Robotic Framework for Ageing and Dementia Support
Personal Web Page address: www.linkedin.com/in/mariarlima
Supervisor(s): Dr Ravi Vaidyanathan, Professor Ferdinando Rodriguez Y Baena
About me: I am from Portugal, where I obtained my undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering with first-class honours from IST University of Lisbon. I came to Imperial for an amazing academic experience throughout the MSc Advanced Mechanical Engineering. Here, I found a passion for social robotics and intelligent systems for human-robot interactions, particularly applied to healthcare. My work yielded the first results using an accessible robotic system with affective cues for engagement with people with dementia in developing countries, in India. While working on my research project, I was invited to enter a med-tech entrepreneurship program to translate my robotics research towards a commercial prototype. After graduating with Distinction and attaining the Unwin Postgraduate Prize for best research project, I worked as Research Assistant for a year as part of the UK DRI, exploring robotics interactive technology to support people with dementia in smart living environments. This has further strengthened my curiosity and experience in the field, therefore I decided to pursue a PhD at Imperial. I feel truly honoured to have been awarded the President’s PhD scholarship.
Summary of Research: Dementia is a leading cause for disability and dependence across the world, expected to affect 135 million people by 2050. A staggering 1 in 5 UK hospital admissions is due to a dementia-related condition. As a chronic neurodegenerative disorder that often progresses rapidly, with no treatment available, there is immediate and urgent demand for accessible, deployable solutions to promote ageing in place, enhance independence and quality of life of people with dementia. Social robots are well-recognised for their potential to support mental health, yet user compliance remains a major challenge, highlighting the need for affective human-robot interactions. My PhD lies at the intersection of robotics, AI, and neuroscience. I am investigating new paradigms for affective robotic communication for human-robot engagement; my work includes the development of an autonomous, adaptive system to assist older adults and people with early stage dementia by providing in-home companionship and cognitive stimulation. This involves the collection of a unique multimodal dataset and machine learning analysis for adaptation over time. In addition, I follow a user-centred approach in collaboration with the UK DRI Care Research and Technology Centre.
Research interests: Social robotics, human-robot interaction, machine learning, neuroscience, dementia.
Why did you choose the scholarship scheme at Imperial College: This prestigious scholarship scheme has enabled me to create a research path with the support of my supervisor highly aligned with my interests and ambitions. Besides the financial support, this scholarship provides us with a great opportunity to be part of an exceptional and multidisciplinary research community. I am grateful to connect with fellow scholars at the forefront of their research fields, which I find extremely valuable, especially at a world-class university with a renowned track record in innovative research.
Nikita Tepliakov - Department of Materials
Name: Nikita Tepliakov
Title of Research: Harnessing the chirality of twisted bilayer materials
Supervisor(s): Professor Arash Mostofi, Dr Johannes Lischner
About me: Originally from Russia, I received my BSc and MSc degrees at ITMO University in St Petersburg. During my undergraduate, I was working in the area of nanophotonics, studying optical and electronic properties of novel semiconductor nanomaterials. For my master’s degree, I developed an original theory describing optical properties of carbon dots, which have great promise of applications in bioimaging and photovoltaics. In the past year, I have been doing an internship at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland. My computational research at EPFL focussed on graphene-based systems with the prospect of their electronic applications.
Summary of Research: My research at Imperial is focussed on twisted bilayers of two-dimensional materials, for example, twisted bilayer graphene. Such materials are engineered by stacking two sheets of an atomically flat material and twisting them with respect to each other. Twisted bilayer materials are intrinsically chiral due to the handedness of their twist, with left- and right-handed configurations related by mirror symmetry. In my project, I aim to develop a fundamental understanding of the chiral properties of twisted bilayer materials, with a view to their applications in molecular sensing and spintronics. My overarching ambition is that this work will lead to the real implementation of chiral molecular sensors for pharmaceutics and spintronic valves based on twisted materials for information processing.
Research interests: The areas of my interest include various topics of theoretical physics, such as quantum chemistry, solid state physics, optics, and statistics. I am also interested in machine learning and its applications to materials modelling.
Why did you choose the scholarship scheme at Imperial College: Being an overseas student, I was only eligible for President’s Scholarship to fund my PhD at Imperial College. It is thus fair to say that without it, I would not be here. What was really appealing about this scholarship is that it allowed me to propose my own research idea and work towards it with the great support from my supervisors. It feels very liberating to have both financial security and creative freedom in my research, which is why I am very glad that this program exists.
Shreshth Tuli - Department of Computing
Name: Shreshth Tuli
Title of Research: Modelling and Optimization of QoS in IoT and Fog Computing Environments using Digital-Twins and AI
Personal Web Page address: https://shreshthtuli.github.io/
About me: I am a President's Ph.D. scholar at the Department of Computing, Imperial College London under the supervision of Giuliano Casale and Nick Jennings. My main research areas are Deep Learning, Fog Computing, Internet of Things and Blockchain. Prior to this I was an undergraduate student at the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at Indian Institute of Technology - Delhi, India. I am also a co-founder of Qubit Inc. company which works on providing next generation solutions for industrial problems. I am a national level Kishore Vaigyanik Protsahan Yojana (KVPY) scholarship holder for excellence in science and innovation. I have worked as a visiting researcher at the Cloud Computing and Distributed Systems (CLOUDS) Laboratory, Department of Computing and Information Systems, the University of Melbourne, Australia.
Summary of Research: My first phase of PhD is largely focused on mitigating straggler tasks and quick scheduling techniques. To do this, I wish to explore “surrogate models” to predict QoS parameters in the near future using data from simulations on the digital-twin. This will help me develop robust architectures that are able to adapt in volatile environments with non-stationary foal specifications and quality of service requirements. My second phase of PhD would be largely focused on developing topology management techniques with efficient splitting of applications into microservices and leverage multi-agent learning for robust execution. This will entail development of frameworks that are able to provision and manage of uninterrupted services in resource constrained, mobile and unreliable distributed computing environments. The final stage of my PhD, seamless deployment of realistic applications in multi-agent setups with end-to-end workflow pipelines for flexible and scalable execution.
Research interests: My research interests include Internet of Things (IoT), Fog Computing, Digital-Twins and Deep Learning. Specifically, I am interested in developing novel deep learning models that allow efficient service delivery in distributed computational environments like Fog or Cloud systems. To do this, I am interested in developing simulation driven surrogate models leveraging digital-twin technologies. I want to develop holistic systems that can advance and integrate various technologies improve service quality of applications in the domains of industries, healthcare and smart cities.
Why did you choose the scholarship scheme at Imperial College: The President’s Ph.D. Scholarship is the most prestigious scholarship offered at Imperial College. It offers an opportunity to be a part of a community of intellectual, motivated and passionate students. With this scholarship, one has the freedom to work on self-formulated research problems compared to industry funded Ph.D. research which usually has a defined and restricted direction. The scheme also includes a generous allowance for research related expenses (consumables, travel etc.). Finally, my experience was such, that applying for it was a very straightforward process.
Faculty of Medicine
Vladimir Bokun - Department of Metabolism, Digestion & Reproduction
Name: Vladimir Bokun
Department: Metabolism, Digestion & Reproduction
Title of Research: Investigation of glycans involved in cytomegalovirus (CMV) and extracellular vesicle (EV) uptake by human placental cells
Personal Web Page address: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Vladimir_Bokun
About me: Originally from Serbia, I received my Bachelor of Science degree in molecular biology from Notre Dame College in the US, where I participated in undergraduate research involving zinc-finger protein-encoding genes in the fruit fly. Upon graduating, I worked as a research technologist at the Lerner Research Institute (Cleveland Clinic) for four years, where I worked on several different projects. In particular, one project was aimed at investigating irresponsiveness to β2 adrenergic receptor agonism by bronchodilators during respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)-induced bronchiolitis using primary human airway smooth muscle cells. In a second project, we established a murine model for investigating airway epithelial tight junction disassembly during RSV infection. Lastly, I lead a project designed to characterise RSV tropism in human primary placental cell types.
Summary of Research: My current research involves identifying novel mechanisms for cytomegalovirus (CMV) and extracellular vesicle (EV) uptake by the human placental cells, with an emphasis on glycan and glycan binding protein-dependent mechanisms, which have been somewhat underexplored in this context. This research area is a continuation and extension of my long-standing viral and pregnancy research interests, and an opportunity to conduct ground-breaking research that would lead to better understanding of CMV pathogenesis and EV biology in the context of human pregnancy and provide insight for designing new pharmacologic interventions that are needed for controlling CMV congenital disease. My PhD research project is supervised by Dr. Beth Holder in IRDB, and Dr. Yan Liu in the Glycosciences laboratory.
Research interests: My broader research interests are in investigating viral tropism and pathways of systemic viral dissemination, such as with cytomegalovirus in humans. I am also interested in the intersection of enveloped viruses and extracellular vesicles and how pathways of viral replication and EV biogenesis converge to give rise to EVs carrying viral protein, and how the immune system reacts to these particles. Lastly, I would like to continue research around the glycobiology of viral infection including how viruses exploit cell surface glycans to bind to host cells, as well as how they shield their proteins from the humoral immune system using glycosylation.
Why did you choose the scholarship scheme at Imperial College: The President’s PhD scholarship was one of the few options available for me to find my PhD, since I was ineligible for most of the other schemes. Receiving this scholarship meant that I could pursue a specifically-designed project that both me and my proposed supervisor, Dr. Beth Holder, were really interested in, without worrying about the financial aspect. Additionally, the annual fund that the scheme includes is very useful for the progress of the PhD project since it can be applied towards advanced analyses.
Hannah Douglass - Department of Brain Sciences
Name: Hannah Douglass
Department: Department of Brain Sciences
Title of Research: Psilocybin as a Treatment for Anorexia Nervosa: A Pilot Study
Personal Web Page address: https://www.linkedin.com/in/hannah-douglass-980442152/
Supervisor(s): Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, Dr Meg Spriggs
About me: I graduated in 2019 with an undergraduate degree in Pharmacology from the University of Leeds, where my interest in neuropsychopharmacology was sparked. I was lucky enough to undertake my 1-year undergraduate industrial placement at the Imperial College London Centre for Psychedelic Research, during which I coordinated an online survey relating to psychedelics and mental health. This research year confirmed my desire to pursue an academic career researching psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy as an alternative treatment for psychiatric disorders, and I therefore continued my work with the Centre as an intern up until I commenced my PhD.
Prior to starting my PhD, I completed an MSc in Translational Neuroscience at Imperial College London. I was supervised by Dr Meg Spriggs for my 6-month research project, for which I analysed EEG data to investigate psilocybin-induced enhancement of neuroplasticity termed ‘long-term potentiation’, a mechanism that is thought to underlie the positive therapeutic outcomes of psychedelic therapy. This is a topic I am now further investigating in my PhD research.
Summary of Research: Anorexia nervosa is the most fatal of all psychiatric disorders, with a low proportion of those diagnosed reaching full recovery, owing to the egosyntonic nature of the disorder and the aversion of sufferers to recovery. Due to the prevalence of anorexia nervosa in young adults, lives are often consumed by this disorder or end too early. The paucity of efficacious psychological and pharmacological treatments warrants investigation of novel therapeutics for this disorder.
Psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy has been demonstrated to be safe and effective in the treatment of depression, anxiety, addictions, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Serotonergic disruption is postulated to underlie the psychopathology of anorexia nervosa, therefore interest in psychedelic 5-HT2A receptor agonists as potential therapeutics for this disorder is increasing. Limited non-clinical research has previously indicated psychedelics may produce positive outcomes in those suffering with eating disorders. My PhD research will investigate the efficacy and feasibility of psilocybin in the treatment of anorexia nervosa, with a particular focus on motivation to recover, long-term potentiation, cognitive flexibility and interoceptive awareness.
Research interests: Psychedelics, anorexia nervosa, neuropsychopharmacology, neuroimaging, long-term potentiation, cognitive flexibility, psychiatric disorders
Why did you choose the scholarship scheme at Imperial College: The President’s PhD Scholarship is extremely prestigious and one of few funding opportunities that would have allowed me to remain at the Centre for Psychedelic Research for my PhD, I was therefore very grateful to have been offered this funding. It has given me the freedom to design my project around my research interests, as well as providing financial security that enables me to dedicate my time entirely to my PhD research.
Nayana Iyer - Department of Surgery & Cancer
Name: Nayana Iyer
Department: Surgery and Cancer
Title of Research: Epigenetic regulation of the immune microenvironment in high grade serous ovarian cancer
About me:I grew up in Gaborone, Botswana where I completed my secondary education before coming to Imperial College London to pursue my undergraduate degree in Medical Biosciences. Here, I found a love for the world of biomedical lab research and developed a keen interest in cancer immunology. After graduating with first class honours, and attaining the Overall Academic Excellence prize for the best performance in my cohort, I had the privilege of receiving the President’s PhD scholarship which has allowed me to stay on at Imperial College and conduct research within my area of interest.
Summary of Research: Ovarian cancer is the fourth-leading cause of female cancer death and its most common is known as High Grade Serous Carcinoma. These cancers are often initially susceptible to platinum-based chemotherapy, but relapse is common, and all relapsed cancers eventually acquire fatal resistance to chemotherapy. Previous studies have shown that this resistance does not seem to be caused by mutations in the DNA sequence of the tumour cells, which suggests that the resistance could be a result of epigenetic changes – or changes to the way different parts of the DNA are packaged. My research aims to identify these epigenetic changes, and especially those changes which may affect how the immune system responds to the tumour. My project could help to inform how cancer immunotherapy can be used in combination with epigenetic treatments to help improve patient outcomes.
Research interests: Cancer biology, cancer immunology, and epigenetics
Why did you choose the scholarship scheme at Imperial College: The President’s scholarship scheme allowed me the freedom to choose my supervisors and co-design a project that I thought perfectly aligned with my research interests whilst also providing ample opportunity to learn and grow as a scientist. It has allowed me to stay within the vibrant scientific community at Imperial, full of leading scientists who are always happy to provide valuable advice and insight. Finally, the financial security this scheme offers allows me to devote more time to my research, and makes me feel as though I can make a valuable contribution to my field.
Barbara Metzler - School of Public Health
Name: Antje Barbara Metzler
Department: Epidemiology and Biostatistics
Title of Research: Measuring and analysing urban development with satellite imagery and deep learning in Sub-Saharan Africa
Supervisor(s): Professor Majid Ezzati, Dr. Viktoriia Sharmanska, Dr. Wenjia Bai
About me: Before starting my PhD, I received a MSc in Health Data Analytics and Machine Learning at Imperial College. The course introduced me to the Global Environmental Health Group, which I joined to write my master's thesis on using object detection and Google Street View imagery to predict measures of urban inequality.
My academic journey started at UCL, where I received a Bachelor of Arts and Sciences with majors in Physics and Computational Methods. I then joined an indoor mapping software company, where my work focused on clustering walking trajectories.
Summary of Research: As part of the Pathways to Equitable Healthy Cities collaboration, my PhD research lies at the intersection of computer vision, unsupervised machine learning and remote sensing. I apply a deep clustering method to high-resolution satellite imagery of cities in Sub-Saharan Africa to find patterns of urban form. The detected clusters are then analysed in an urban development context, investigating concepts like connectivity, density and growth. In addition to how these can be related to measurements of poverty or further interpretation of quality of living.
Research interests: My academic interests encompass deep learning, creating machine learning tools for societal challenges, fairness in AI, and remote sensing.
Why did you choose the scholarship scheme at Imperial College: The scholarship is an incredible opportunity as it offers academic freedom, allowing for unrestricted research that is not limited by external sponsors. Apart from the financial support it has offered me confidence in my research and a community of like-mined individuals to connect with.
Natalie Ness - Department of Brain Sciences
Name: Natalie Ness
Department: Department of Brain Sciences
Title of Research: Investigating the role of astrocytes in encoding circadian function and their misregulation in Alzheimer’s Disease
Supervisor(s): Dr.Marco Brancaccio, Prof. Simone Di Giovanni
About me: Icompleted my undergraduate degree in the Natural Sciences at Trinity College Dublin, in which I specialized in Genetics. Here, I developed a strong interest in neural function and neurodegeneration. I then joined Imperial College for an MRes in Bioengineering in the Schultz lab. In my research project, I made a computational model of the hippocampal CA1 network and showed that synapse loss was sufficient to produce the place cell abnormalities observed in experimental models of Alzheimer’s Disease, which have been shown to underlie navigational deficits. This has further strengthened my interest in the mechanisms underlying neurodegeneration.
Summary of Research: I am interested in the time-keeping mechanisms underlying rhythmic changes in physiology and behaviour and their dysregulation in neurodegenerative diseases. My research project focuses on understanding the role of astrocytes of the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) as drivers of circadian rhythms.
Circadian dysfunction and sleep disruption are strongly associated with Alzheimer’s Disease, via increased levels of toxic proteins in the brain. Understanding the mechanisms underlying this association may thus be critical to identify new therapeutic targets to enhance clearance of neurotoxic proteins in Alzheimer’s Disease. Astrocytes mediate clearance of toxic brain waste, suggesting that they may be a key link between chronodisruption and neurodegeneration. My project aims to elucidate this link by investigating the misregulation of astrocytes in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Research interests: circadian rhythms, astrocytes, neurodegeneration
Why did you choose the scholarship scheme at Imperial College: The President’s PhD scholarship gave me the freedom to pursue a research project that perfectly aligns with my research interests. In addition to financial support, the scheme also provides a great opportunity to connect with other enthusiastic researchers from a variety of disciplines.
Salina Nicoleau - National Heart & Lung Institute
Name: Salina Nicoleau
Department: National Heart and Lung Institute
Title of Research: Modelling Chronic Thromboembolic Pulmonary Hypertension using a pulmonary artery-on-a-chip
Personal Web Page address: https://www.linkedin.com/in/salinanicoleau/
About me: Originally from France, I completed my BSc in Biochemistry at Imperial, before doing a first MSc in Public Health Nutrition at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Whilst I really enjoyed this MSc, I realised that I missed the detailed, molecular aspects of human health and biology. I therefore decided to come back to Imperial and undertake a second MSc in Molecular Medicine, which was the best decision ever! It was during this MSc that my interest for cardiovascular diseases and thrombosis really took shape.
Summary of Research: Chronic thromboembolic pulmonary hypertension (CTEPH) is a rare disease, characterised by the presence of unresolved, organised thrombi which occlude the pulmonary arteries, resulting in pulmonary hypertension. While pre-clinical models exist, they do not fully recapitulate the pathophysiology of the disease, thus impeding the development of novel, more effective therapeutics. In our lab, we have developed a pulmonary artery-on-a-chip, which is a microfluidic device within which one or more cell types can be cultured, and exposed to physiologically relevant parameters, including flow. My work involves developing a new device to investigate some of the key mechanisms involved in the development of CTEPH.
- Cardiovascular diseases
- Organs-on-chip technology
- Translational research
Why did you choose the scholarship scheme at Imperial College: This scholarship has enabled me to design my own project, choose the lab that I wanted to be part of, and pursue my true research interests, which I am extremely grateful for. Without this prestigious scholarship I would not have been able to continue to study at Imperial, and enjoy its amazing and vibrant community.
Lucy Williams - School of Public Health
Name: Lucy Williams
Department: Infectious Disease Epidemiology
Title of Research: Design of vaccine clinical trials in novel disease outbreaks
Personal Web Page address: https://www.imperial.ac.uk/people/lucy.williams19
Supervisor(s): Professor Nicholas Grassly, Professor Neil Ferguson, and Professor Christl Donnelly
About me: Before joining Imperial, I completed my undergraduate degree in Biological Sciences at the University of Oxford. I developed an interest in immunology and epidemiology, as well as the role that public health interventions can play in reducing disease burden. After I graduated, I undertook an internship at Cancer Research UK, conducting research in support of the organisation’s obesity campaign. Contributing to such a huge public health campaign was rewarding, and the experience confirmed my desire to pursue a career in public health research. Last year I completed my MSc Epidemiology at Imperial College London and was lucky to do my dissertation as part of an internship with Gilead Sciences. I am now enjoying applying the skills that I learnt during my MSc to my PhD research.
Summary of Research: Epidemic diseases pose a unique challenge for clinical research. Outbreaks are unpredictable, can occur over expansive geographic regions, and may begin to decline soon after their initiation. In these scenarios, great pressure is put on the development of safe and effective vaccines. However, the traditional randomised controlled trials usually used to test vaccine candidates may not be practical, ethical, or feasible. In these cases, novel clinical trial designs can be more appropriate and effective, but they also bring statistical challenges.
My research focusses on approaches for improving the efficiency and quality of clinical trials in outbreak scenarios, to tackle both the practical and statistical challenges that come with them. In the short term, my focus will be on the COVID-19 vaccine trials; identifying possible biases and using simulations to improve the interpretation of key trial outcomes. In the longer term, my focus will shift to extrapolating to future novel disease outbreaks, and to contribute additional ways in which trial design for novel disease epidemics can be improved, in advance of their emergence. This work could be used to optimise the design of trials in challenging conditions, to speed up the assessment of candidate efficacy and safety, and to ensure that trial outcomes are assessed effectively.
- Clinical trials
- Infectious diseases
- Mathematical modelling
Why did you choose the scholarship scheme at Imperial College: The President’s scholarship has allowed me to pursue research in the field that I find most fascinating, and to tailor my work to my greatest interests. It has also given me the opportunity to join a community of talented and motivated students from a range of academic specialisms.
Faculty of Natural Sciences
Calvin Chen - Department of Physics
Name: Calvin Chen
Title of Research: Black Hole Gravitational Waves in the Higher Dimensional Effective Field Theory of Gravity (Preliminary)
Supervisor(s): Prof. Andrew J. Tolley
About me: I am originally from Hanover in Germany, although I have now nearly spent a quarter of my life in the UK. Imperial College is no stranger to me, as I have already spent my undergraduate years in Blackett Laboratory, graduating with a BSc in Physics with Theoretical Physics. After a year away at the University of Cambridge to complete my Master’s degree in Applied Mathematics, I am excited to be back in London and at Imperial College to start my PhD in theoretical physics as a President’s PhD Scholar!
Summary of Research: I am starting off my PhD with a project on causality in quantum gravity.
As gravity itself seems to be remarkably reluctant from being quantised, the idea is to look at the effective field theory of gravity, which is a generic low energy description agnostic to the details of the actual quantum theory of gravity. Demanding causality in the sense that the speed of gravity in these theories is equal to or at least below the speed of light puts stringent constraints on the theory. However, recently, it has been argued that apparent causality violations in effective field theories could be physical as long they are small enough not to be resolvable. To clarify, this is not a statement about the resolution of some experiment, but the resolution up to which the theory is designed to be valid.
In particular, I have been trying to find the speed of gravitational waves in black hole spacetimes in the higher dimensional effective theory of gravity. These build on calculations first done in the 1970s, which were instrumental to our understanding of the stability of black holes, and eventually their astrophysical significance.
Research interests: (Almost) anything gravitational and/or quantum.
Why did you choose the scholarship scheme at Imperial College: The President’s PhD Scholarship is able to provide me with the financial stability to fully concentrate on my research, without which I would not have been able to enjoy all the benefits of joining a research group with such a friendly environment and strong research background. Above all, it enables me to fully live out my dream of owning my favourite textbooks!
Jonathan Hedley - Department of Chemistry
Name: Jonathan Hedley
Title of Research: Mechanisms of DNA Homology Recognition in Confinement
Supervisor(s): Prof. Alexei Kornyshev
About me: I completed my undergraduate degree here at Imperial in the Chemistry department, where I was able to develop my own research interests thanks to the breadth and depth of my course. I was also given the opportunity to perform research through summer internships both within the department and abroad. In particular, I was very fortunate to be able to join a research group at MIT through the department’s IROP programme, which was a large factor in cementing my desire to pursue a PhD.
My master’s project involved modelling homology recognition in chromatin, a higher order structure of DNA in eukaryotic organisms. I was able to consolidate all the skills and knowledge I had learnt throughout my degree, whilst also being able to research an area of particular interest to me. It only took a couple of months for me to know that I wanted to work in and contribute to the field of DNA biophysics, and I am now able to do so thanks to the President’s PhD Scholarship.
Summary of Research:
One of the most puzzling stages in DNA repair and replication processes is how two homologous sequences are able to mutually recognise each other before strand exchange. Recent theories of interaction suggest that two homologous DNA tracts may associate with each other as a result of the physical interactions between them, in the absence of proteins. The next step closer to biological reality would be to investigate whether this spontaneous recognition occurs, without any recognition proteins, in confinement. This will involve the development of the theory alongside experimental work to model DNA interactions within a simple ‘artificial’ cell to determine the role of crowding agents, as well as the overall effect of controlled confinement.
Other interesting properties of DNA include the formation of liquid crystal phases in vivo. These phases are important as they provide further understanding for biological mechanisms, such as the condensation/decondensation of chromosomes. However, recent experiments show results which are currently unexplained by existing DNA interaction theories.
My research here at Imperial will aim to extend the theory of DNA liquid crystals to correctly predict these results, and to also develop the theory of DNA in confinement in a global effort to understand more about the fundamental properties of this fascinating biological molecule.
Theoretical and Computational Modelling of DNA Interactions (assembly, homology recognition), Membrane Biophysics, Liquid Crystal Physics, Statistical Mechanics of Phase Transitions
Why did you choose the scholarship scheme at Imperial College:
I am incredibly grateful to join the research community here at Imperial having been awarded the President’s PhD Scholarship. It gives me the opportunity to collaborate with some of the brightest academics and students in the world, as well as providing me the freedom to develop and focus on my own research project without having to worry about financial costs of living in London!
Anežka Klustová - Department of Physics
Name: Anežka Klustová
Department: Department of Physics
Title of Research: R&D of New High-Pressure Gas Time-Projection Chambers for the Next Generation Neutrino Oscillation Experiments
About me: Before joining Imperial, I obtained First Class MSci in Physics and Inorganic and Materials Chemistry at University College London, with my penultimate year spent at National University of Singapore.
Most of my research activities have been closely connected to neutrino physics. I worked on R&D of a calibration system for a scintillator tracker detector for the T2K Near Detector Upgrade at CERN, and I briefly joined the development of the SuperNEMO validation strategy software at UCL.
Summary of Research: One of the fundamental questions in physics is the matter-antimatter asymmetry, which is being explored by CP violation searches in neutrino oscillation experiments. Data from the T2K experiment recently indicated a non-zero CP violation. However, the measurements are currently limited by large systematic uncertainties arising from our understanding of neutrino-nucleus scattering cross-sections. The research focus of my PhD is on development of new neutrino detector technology, specifically the high-pressure gas time-projections chambers (HPgTPCs) which will help understand these neutrino-nucleus interactions and their effect on neutrino oscillation analyses. HPgTPC will lower the energy threshold for particle detection by an order of magnitude and offer an increase in resolution and sensitivity, enabling the mitigation of this driving systematic error for the next-generation neutrino oscillation experiments such as DUNE.
Research interests: Neutrino physics, neutrino flavour oscillation, the origin of neutrino mass and mixing, CP violation searches (matter-antimatter asymmetry), neutrino-nucleus scattering, R&D of state-of-art technologies, data analysis.
Why did you choose the scholarship scheme at Imperial College: The President's Scholarship has offered me the opportunity and the privilege of tailoring a research project highly specific to my interests and skills at the world-class institution, with the support of an excellent supervisor. It has also allowed me to focus on my research without having to worry about my financial situation. In addition, I have had the opportunity to meet inspirational, driven, and like-minded individuals across all the research fields.
Rebecca Lewis - Department of Mathematics
Name: Rebecca Lewis
Title of Research: High-dimensional statistics
Supervisor(s): Dr Heather Battey
About me: I joined Imperial College as an undergraduate where I obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics. My interest in statistics grew throughout this period, where I completed research projects in statistical cyber security and high-dimensional statistics. I decided to pursue a Master’s degree in Statistics at the University of Cambridge, and I have now returned to Imperial College to complete a PhD in high-dimensional statistics.
Summary of Research: Modern data sets have grown in size often involving at least as many parameters as observations. Examples are found in genetic studies where a large amount of genetic information is collected to analyse the presence of a disease for a relatively small number of patients. These data sets, termed high-dimensional, pose substantial statistical and computational difficulties. My research focuses on deriving new techniques for analysing high-dimensional data sets and providing theoretical guarantees of their performance.
Research interests: High-dimensional regression, variable selection, parameter estimation, statistical inference, asymptotic analysis.
Why did you choose the scholarship scheme at Imperial College: The President’s PhD scholarship offers a valuable opportunity to join a community of enthusiastic researchers across a range of disciplines. I am grateful to be a part of this network and for the financial support that allows me to pursue my research in depth.
Torben Skrzypek - Department of Physics
Name: Torben Skrzypek
Title of Research: (Subject to change) Tachyonic Solutions of String Theory
Supervisor(s): Prof. Arkady Tseytlin
About me: I was born and raised in Marburg, a small town north of Frankfurt in Germany. I moved to Heidelberg to study physics, where I did my Master’s degree with Prof. Arthur Hebecker, working on the string theoretical realization of cosmological models.
During my school time and my studies, I got the opportunity to gather some experience abroad, studying in China and Japan on student exchange programs. In my free time I like to play the trumpet and play board games with friends.
Summary of Research: My master’s thesis focused on string theory models that accommodate realistic cosmology, especially quintessence models. It was following the recent discussion around the swampland programme, which has upset the area of string phenomenology. For my PhD I wanted to move to a more fundamental level by asking questions about the mechanisms of string theory itself. I am currently looking at a particular version of string theory that is often glossed over since it includes tachyons, which signal an instability. However, we might be able to learn something about topological changes, non-supersymmetric string theory and dual field theories that can be related to it via the AdS/CFT dictionary. As always in theoretical physics, the current research direction is only a starting point, the end may be somewhere completely different.
- String Theory and its fundamental setup
- Tachyons and Instabilities
- Dualities and M-theory
- Black hole information and entropy
- Possible connections to Loop Quantum Gravity
Why did you choose the scholarship scheme at Imperial College: Without the President’s Scholarship I would not have been able to study in this research group, which is as welcoming and inspiring as I was hoping for it to be.
Judy Xie - Centre for Environmental Policy
Name: Judy Jingwei Xie
Department: Centre for Environmental Policy, Centre for Process Systems Engineering
Title of Research: Socially equitable pathways towards net zero
Personal Web Page address: https://www.imperial.ac.uk/people/j.xie20
Supervisor(s): Prof. Niall Mac Dowell, Dr. Piera Patrizio
About me: Originally from Hangzhou, China, I spent part of my high school years in Philadelphia in the United States. I then went on to study Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. As an undergraduate student, I first found my interest in sustainability research when I joined a lab investigating the molecular interactions and design of heterogeneous catalysts. During my junior year, I interned at the Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland, developing pre-treatment techniques for lignocellulose hydrolysis to improve the conversions. After undergrad, I worked as a Research Chemist at Global Thermostat, a direct air CO2 capture start-up. There, I investigated the sorbent oxidation behaviour and worked on material scale-up with manufacturing and research partners.
Summary of Research: Since Integrated Assessment Models (IAMs) began to be widely used in the 1990s to evaluate the cost and benefits of climate change mitigation, the development of decarbonisation policies has predominantly focused on least-cost approaches. However, the transition of our energy system involves a complex and interacting network of stakeholders. The decarbonisation policies should account for a region-specific portfolio of physical, social, intangible, and natural factors. Adequate quantification of the social and economic value created through these transitions is essential to further climate progress, especially in the economic recovery from a global pandemic. Identifying key socioeconomic indicators in the decarbonisation transition, I will develop quantitative modelling techniques to reflect these socioeconomic impacts and conduct case studies on regional energy transitions.
Research interests: Energy systems modelling, climate change mitigation, social equity, job and economic impacts, energy policy
Why did you choose the scholarship scheme at Imperial College: The President’s PhD Scholarship stood out to me because of the financial and academic freedom it provided. I am also excited to connect with the brilliant students in the scholarship scheme who are tackling such interesting problems in so many different fields.