Royal Academy of Engineering prizes for Imperial academics

Two researchers and an Imperial alumnus have been awarded top honours by the Royal Academy of Engineering in its 2024 prize awards.

The Royal Academy of Engineering aims to harness the power of engineering and technology to address the challenges of our age. Each year, it makes a range of awards that recognise the outstanding contribution made to society by engineers at every stage of their career.

The Princess Royal Silver Medal is for engineers with fewer than 22 years employment, while the Young Engineer of the year awards are for those who graduated less than ten years ago.

Princess Royal Silver Medal

Professor Jason Hallett in our Department of Chemical Engineering was awarded a Princess Royal Silver Medal for his "incessant pioneering spirit" in developing environmentally friendly and economical solvent-based chemical processes for large-scale industries including renewable chemicals, textiles and cosmetics.

Professor Hallett’s research has led to the spinout of seven UK-based technology companies. His work has attracted over £15 million funding and his businesses currently operate from pilot to commercial scale, reducing chemical usage, waste and carbon emissions.

He founded the company Lixea to process toxic wood waste in an environmentally friendly way. Traditional methods rely on preservatives that include heavy metals, and burning this waste wood leads to environmental contamination, meaning that over two million tonnes per year of wood waste is sent to landfill every year in the UK alone. Lixea’s patented process uses liquid salts or ionic liquids as low-cost, environmentally friendly solvents to break the wood down safely and separate its components, enabling this expensive waste material to be converted into a valuable bioenergy resource.

Commenting on his award, Professor Hallett said: "I am thrilled! My research group has worked exceptionally hard to try and prove that chemical processes can achieve both environmental and economic goals and we have been actively translating these research ideas into the commercial sector and forming an array of spin-outs. It’s an honour to see these efforts recognized!"

Sir George Macfarlane Medal

Dr Alalea Kia, Advanced Research fellow in our Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering was named overall winner of the Young Engineer competition and received the prestigious Sir George Macfarlane Medal for developing a permeable concrete pavement that can help soak up flood water. She was one of five Young Engineers of the Year, each winning a prize of £3,000.

Her permeable pavement, called Kiacrete , helps to mitigate the devastating impact of urban flooding by absorbing storm-water. Its porous structure and use of recycled materials means manufacturing it produces less carbon emissions than standard cement alternatives, resulting in a saving of at least 23 tonnes of carbon per kilometre for a single carriageway road. It has the potential to be used across the built environment, from footpaths to airports.

Dr Kia said: "I am deeply honoured and humbled. These awards provide credibility and recognition for my career and research and help to raise the profile of early career female engineers. They also highlight the importance of the climate emergency and the urgent need to develop climate change resilient infrastructure for a more sustainable future."

Dr Kia won a Research Fellowship from the Royal Academy of Engineering for her work in 2021 and is also a UKRI Future Leaders Fellow with a significant track record in the professional and personal development of colleagues and students through outreach and mentoring.

Young Engineer of the Year

Dr Ruben Doyle, who completed his Imperial PhD in Mechanical Engineering in 2019 and is now CEO at Additive Instruments Ltd also received a Young Engineer of the Year award.

He created a device to make surgery such as hip replacement safer. Surgical implants are hammered into place by the surgeon, creating friction that holds the implant in place. If the surgeon hammers the implant too rigorously with a manual mallet, the bone may be over-stressed and fracture. Ruben’s smart device makes hip replacements safer by sensing the force being applied to the instrument and adjusting it to reduce the chances of fracture.

All three are worthy winners of these prestigious Royal Academy of Engineering awards and I congratulate them for their achievements and their contribution to society." Professor Hugh Brady President of Imperial College London

After patenting his invention, Ruben founded Additive Instruments Ltd and became its CEO to bring the device to market - winning a Royal Academy of Engineering Enterprise Fellowship to kick-start the venture. Additive has won funding from many bodies including an NIHR Product Development Award, Innovate UK Smart Grant and Sustainable Innovation Award. During Covid, Additive won funding from the Royal Academy of Engineering and Innovate UK to develop 3D printed face masks.

Dr Doyle reacted to the award, saying: "I couldn’t be happier to be recognised for my work with Additive Instruments - I can’t overstate how great I think the support of Royal Academy of Engineering, and particularly the Enterprise Hub, is. Every single engineer that I know who has been through the Enterprise Fellowship raves about it - it’s a launchpad that I’d argue has led me to this very award."

The winners receive their awards at the Academy Awards Dinner in London on Tuesday 9 July.

Luke Logan FREng, Chair of the Academy’s Awards Committee, said: "I congratulate the worthy winners of this year’s Young Engineers of the Year. Their groundbreaking innovations demonstrate the vital role engineers play in addressing some of society’s most pressing challenges."

Professor Hugh Brady, President of Imperial College London, said: "Through their ingenuity, dedication and drive, these researchers are being recognised for their bold scientific solutions that are ready for commercial use. All three are worthy winners of these prestigious Royal Academy of Engineering awards and I congratulate them for their achievements and their contribution to society."