The President’s Awards celebrate the wide range of staff who contribute to research excellence at Imperial.
The President's Awards for Excellence in Research recognise staff members who have made outstanding contributions in early career research, research support, as part of a research team, and in research innovation and external collaboration.
Nick Jennings, Vice-Provost (Research and Enterprise), said: “There are many people involved in our amazing research community and our award categories reflect this breadth. Having read through this year’s nominations, I am exceptionally proud that we have such talented and innovative colleagues who are working to deliver research excellence, and pushing the boundaries to enhance Imperial’s reputation as a world-class institution.”
Below, we talk to some of the award winners.
Dr Rebeca Santamaria-Fernandez, Director of Industry Partnerships & Commercialisation for the Faculty of Engineering, has won a President’s Award for Research Support Excellence.
Rebeca plays a crucial part in establishing and managing strategic industry research partnerships and supporting technology commercialisation for the College, and in recruiting and developing a team of industry partnerships and commercialisation professionals.
“I am very passionate and committed to supporting Imperial’s academic staff and our industry partners, and it is great to receive recognition in the form of a President’s Award,” says Rebeca.
Rebeca and the team aim to maximise the impact of Imperial’s academic discoveries by identifying and shaping opportunities to develop research and commercialise technologies. “No university can achieve excellence or realise its full potential by itself, and so I feel privileged to be connecting businesses and researchers at Imperial.
"Every opportunity that we shape and every new relationship we help develop makes me proud. The projects, programmes, industry-funded centres, technology licenses and the start-ups that we support will go on to have impact in so many ways.”
Working with the Department of Computing, Rebeca recently supported a new collaboration between Imperial and California-based health tech company HeartFlow. HeartFlow helps physicians improve diagnosis of heart disease by providing better information about coronary artery blockages and blood flow, which will improve decisions about treatment.
“The partnership involves co-locating part of HeartFlow’s team at Imperial’s BioMedical Image Analysis group, to pave the path for bringing the latest AI technology into clinical practice,” Rebeca explains. “I believe that HeartFlow will have a substantial impact on healthcare worldwide. Their technology is being fast-tracked into the NHS and it is really exciting to be working with them to turn Imperial’s research into new clinical solutions.”
Iain, Lecturer in Sustainable Energy at the Centre for Environmental Policy, has won a President’s Award for Excellence in Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Iain won for his multi-year partnership with Drax to launch an interactive website and quarterly report about how Britain is cleaning up its electricity system.
“I was really taken aback to find out I had won a President’s Award – it was a really nice surprise,” Iain says. He has worked at Imperial for seven years, first joining as a Research Associate in the Business School.
Now lecturing in Sustainable Energy, Iain leads a team of academics from across the College producing Electric Insights, a website that explores Britain’s electricity mix and environmental impacts, and quarterly reports about how the system is moving away from fossil fuels and towards renewables. 30,000 people use the website each month, and the articles Iain writes have featured in the broadsheet press 18 times over the last year.
Iain also co-developed an open web platform called Renewables.ninja that provides free data on the power output from wind and solar power plants from anywhere in the world. This tool recently provided its four-millionth simulation, and is now being used by 520 universities, companies and governments across 85 countries.
“Clean power can be a really technical topic,” explains Iain. "With these projects I wanted to help make it more understandable and accessible to all. Electric Insights has been great for translating research from across Imperial to a much wider audience - for example, people can now easily find out what is powering their washing machine or electric car. I hope these web platforms help people engage with the energy they use and care about its impacts on the environment.”
A highlight for Iain was getting the opportunity to meet journalist, author and presenter of BBC’s Newsnight and University Challenge, Jeremy Paxman. “He is writing a book about the history of coal and invited me to share my thoughts from this project," says Iain.
“I’m really happy that Imperial has recognised the work of my team in this way. It’s great that a scheme like the President’s Awards exists, because while you get day-to-day recognition for your work, it’s extra special when someone at the top congratulates you!”
Wolfram, Associate Professor of Management Science and Operations at the Business School, has won a President’s Award for Outstanding Early Career Researcher.
Wolfram’s main focus involves understanding how organisations such as businesses, non-profit organisations or countries can take decisions based on uncertain or incomplete information.
“As a group, we investigate how the methods and tools of mathematical optimisation and machine learning can be leveraged to derive meaningful decisions quickly,” explains Wolfram.
“We closely collaborate with our colleagues in the Business School, theDepartment of Chemical Engineering, Department of Computing and the Energy Futures Lab on these problems and their applications in manufacturing, energy and finance. It fits well into Imperial’s aspirations — interdisciplinary work that combines theory with practical impact.”
Wolfram feels that as the world changes at a rapid pace, decision-making will also change. “Increasingly, decisions will be taken by mathematical models and algorithms instead of humans,” he says.
“This offers tremendous potential in terms of efficiency, transparency and fairness, but it raises significant concerns such as security breaches, growing disparity and loss of privacy. Many of the chances and risks are not (yet) well understood, and I hope that Imperial as an institution will contribute to a better understanding of these developments, through cutting-edge research as well as training a generation of responsible future leaders.”
Reflecting on his President’s Awards win, Wolfram says he feels humbled and honoured. He adds: “Looking at the list of past winners, my name is added to a very illustrious group of scientists. This would not have been possible without my collaborators, group members and students that have brought our research this far (and made it fun and exciting along the way)!”
Asked about his greatest achievements at Imperial, Wolfram emphasises the impact of education. "When former students send me emails years after graduation and tell me how they are applying material from my classes in the real world; when the doctoral and post-doctoral researchers of my group win awards or take on faculty positions at prestigious universities — those are the moments that make me truly proud.”
Rusudan, Research Operations Manager of the Department of Mathematics, has won a President’s Award for Research Support Excellence.
Rusudan manages the research support activity in the Department of Mathematics, and was noted for her “unstinting drive to deliver highly quality research support” in her nomination.
“It’s an honour to be nominated and it was really unexpected. It made my day when I received an email telling me I was a winner,” she said. Rusudan’s responsibilities vary and include managing the research proposal development process, post-award research grant administration, recruitment of research staff, and Department Research Committee support. She also manages Department of Mathematics’ Postgraduate team.
Rusudan said: “My focus is to support the Department research activities, ensuring research grant proposals are costed in accordance with a sponsor’s terms and conditions. When the grant is awarded, I also advise researchers on all financial matters. Meeting pressing deadlines can be a challenge, especially when there are multiple partners involved, but the researchers I have worked alongside have never missed a deadline for research proposals.”
As a line manager, Rusudan says she enjoys seeing people develop and loves sharing knowledge with her team. She adds: “Imperial’s strength lies in the great people whose hard work to achieve excellence in teaching and research translates into a brighter future and benefits society.”