Research staff appointed to explore key engineering challenges

The School has appointed the following staff to key research roles, where they will work on innovations in areas including healthcare, sustainability, and soft robotics.

Professor Halim Kusumaatmaja: Jason Reese Chair

Professor Kusumaatmaja holds a £1.1M EPSRC Fellowship in Engineering. Taking inspiration from examples found in nature, such as from the slippery surface of pitcher plants, Professor Kusumaatmaja will develop innovative computational fluid dynamics approaches in order to improve the design of surfaces that can repel any kind of liquid.

Such liquid repellent surfaces are important for addressing many engineering challenges for sustainable development, from self-cleaning and anti-fouling surfaces – for example to minimise unwanted deposits on ships and solar panels – to reducing friction and improving the efficiency of heat exchangers.

Dr Karen Donaldson: Elizabeth Georgeson Fellow

Dr Donaldson’s research focuses on developing soft robotics for the space sector, in particular for space exploration and planetary science. A main objective of her research is the design and construction of bioinspired soft burrowing robots, inspired by insects and echinoderms, to create effective and resilient soil samplers that can collect, sense and communicate. 

Such robots could be used to collect soil samples on locations like the moon and Mars, where they will help researchers understand mineralogy, alongside factors like geology and geomorphology, to shed vital light on planetary history and evolution. The robots that Dr Donaldson is developing also carry exciting potential applications in other sectors, including offshore energy and agriculture – where they could be deployed in extreme or hard-to-reach environments.

Dr Rhiannon Grant: Chancellor's Fellow – Health and Life

Dr Grant’s research focuses on creating complex 3D microenvironments for mimicking biological systems. In practice, this means making small, benchtop versions of human organs and tissues on which we can experiment – studying disease development and treatments, as well as how organs work. 

Dr Grant’s research has a myriad of applications, from the biomechanics of early human development – how our cells divide and implant into the womb wall - to sex differences in human organs, such as the liver and kidneys, and to implantable devices for transplant, such as corneas and heart valves and aims to unravel biomedical mysteries without having to experiment on animals or run clinical trials on humans.

Dr Ben Owen: Chancellor's Fellow – Health and Life

Dr Owen’s research focuses on translating engineering into clinical practice. In particular, he uses numerical modelling of biofluids to improve our understanding and facilitate earlier diagnosis of diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. 

One such application involves integrating numerical modelling into machine-learning frameworks to develop diagnostic devices capable of early-stage cancer detection from blood samples.

These devices, called “inertial microfluidic devices”, facilitate the sorting of cells with respect to their mechanical and geometric properties at high throughput. These devices offer the opportunity to identify and separate cancer cells that circulate in the blood. Earlier cancer detection is well known to improve survival rates, while the use of blood samples for diagnosis reduces the time and cost associated with traditional biopsies.

Dr Julianna Panidi: Chancellor's Fellow – Climate and Environmental Sustainability

Dr Julianna Panidi is currently an EPSRC David Clarke Fellow in the Department of Chemistry at Imperial College London. Her research aims to develop sustainable electronics for energy harvesting and optoelectronic applications. Primarily, her focus is on giving careful consideration to raw materials and solvents to enable environmentally friendly manufacturing processes.