SCI Scholar, Huyen Le, presents her end of year report

20 June 2024

For over thirty years, SCI has supported and recognised the excellence of early career scientists, by aiding their studies in the form of an SCI Scholarship.

Since 1985 over 80 scholarships have been awarded which have not only given the recipients financial assistance, but have enabled them to broaden their network, and strengthen their skills and knowledge. SCI Scholars receive access to publishing and mentoring opportunities and are given a platform to present their work amongst esteemed scientists and industrialists, raising their profile within the scientific community.

Huyen was awarded an SCI Scholarship in 2023. At the end of their first year, SCI Scholars present an end of year report to SCI. Read on to find out more about what she has done in her first year as an SCI Scholar.

Huyen Le, SCI Scholar'The day I received my SCI scholarship award at the SCI 142nd AGM and 2023 College of Scholars Showcase, I had the privilege of meeting many inspiring SCI ambassadors and both past and present SCI scholars. My network has expanded significantly, allowing me to receive tailored and helpful guidance from those involved in the SCI network.

'The financial support from the scholarship has enabled me to present my work at several key conferences in my field: the UK Colloids 2023 International Colloid and Surface Science Symposium (jointly organised by the RSC Colloid and Interface Science Group and the SCI Colloid and Surface Science Group), the 7th International Soft Matter Conference (my first time presenting to an international audience in Japan), and the IOM3 Future Materials, Minerals & Mining Conference 2023.

'I am passionate about translational research, and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting industrial researchers at the UK Colloid Conference. For example, I gained greater knowledge of how polymer and colloid science supports research and development work for commercial formulations, such as home care products and fragrances in Unilever’s products. The inspiring career stories and advice from Unilever researchers were particularly impactful.

'At the Soft Matter Conference in Japan, I was able to meet one of our collaborators in person for the first time. This collaboration is part of a multidisciplinary project I have contributed to during my second year of my PhD, where I supported the acquisition of microbiology data for the development of photocatalytic colloidal coatings for antibacterial applications. This work, currently under peer review, is being presented at the Early Career Colloid Network 2024 Conference by the project lead, Dr. Constantina Sofroniou.

'Overall, attending both national and international conferences has allowed me to showcase my PhD research to a broad audience, emphasising my active engagement with the academic community. The feedback I received has been invaluable in improving my publishable work on functional coatings. Insightful discussions from disseminating my work have helped me anticipate questions that may arise during the peer-review process.

'With the support from the scholarship, I have accessed specialist software to creatively produce digital content for public engagement. I won Loughborough University’s PhD ThinkBig Competition for creating content showcasing the impact of our research group’s innovative antibacterial coatings work, emphasising how engineering research contributes to personalised healthcare solutions.

'I have also utilised the ALBA Synchrotron Light Source (a 3rd generation Synchrotron Light facility near Barcelona) to support a study within our group. We are aiming to understand the vertical distribution of colloidal particles during drying processes in thin films using Grazing-Incidence Small-Angle X-ray Scattering technique. The outcome of this study will enhance our understanding of the stratification theory reported in the literature, ultimately improving the development of our multi-purpose paint coatings.

'In addition to my current research, I contributed to the publication of work I was involved in during my Master's. This research, published in the Institute of Physics’ IOPScience Nanotechnology, presented a novel design that boosts the hydrogen generation rate in water-splitting processes compared to conventional photoelectrodes (Nanotechnology 35 (2024) 295301, DOI: 10.1088/1361-6528/ad3e88).

'As an SCI Ambassador and Discover Materials Ambassador, supported financially by my engineering department, I have engaged in STEM outreach activities internationally. During a recent academic trip to China, I delivered a guest lecture about my PhD work at Xi'an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, visited international schools, and promoted materials engineering to students and educational advisors.

'My career has seen exponential professional growth just a year into the prestigious SCI scholarship. I was recognised by Loughborough University's Women in Engineering Society as the Postgraduate Female Engineer of the Year 2024, for my academic achievements, professional commitment, and contributions to the engineering community.

'Also, I have been accepted into the RSC Broadening Horizons in the Chemical Sciences Programme 2024-2025 cohort, which will provide access to workshops and training opportunities in preparation for a career in the chemical sector. In my final year of PhD, I look forward to site visits as part of the RSC’s programme, gaining more mentoring, and learning about the inner workings of leading companies from potential work experiences.

'I am extremely grateful for the support I have received from SCI. My group’s work and my own research have gained visibility within the academic community due to the increase in purposeful networking opportunities at these conferences. Living my passion to increase visibility and representation for BAME researchers within STEM while contributing to new research is a significant bonus. In the second half of the scholarship, my objective is to publish my first first-author manuscript on colloidal coatings containing photosensitisers, which is currently in preparation. This work will provide new insights into non-selective particle-particle interactions, potentially offering more feasible active release in drug delivery processes associated with thin film coatings. Finally, I aim to present this work internationally at the American Chemical Society Spring 2025 Conference.'

Huyen Le, Loughborough University

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