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Welcome! The purpose of this blog is to communicate the scientific journey that newly awarded Marie Curie Fellows at Aston University (Birmingham, UK) will embark on over the coming years. Please feel free to ask questions or leave comments.

For more more information on Marie Curie Research Fellowships visit:


If you yourself would like to like to apply for a  Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship at Aston University (www.aston.ac.uk) then please contact a member of staff in your chosen research topic- Good Luck





Vania Almeida: Are you writing a Marie Curie Individual Fellowship proposal? These tips can be useful!


At this time, you should be prepared to review and edit your manuscript. My personal advice is: attention to the details!

In the last stage of my proposal, i.e. after to have a first draft ready for editing, I spent some time looking at evaluation forms. In my opinion this is a great help in the final editing process. You can find the self-evaluation form here http://ec.europa.eu/research/participants/data/ref/h2020/call_ptef/ef/h2020-call-ef-msca-if_en.pdf).

Today, I will share with you my personal experience and evaluation report. I hope you find some of this information useful and that you can use it to improve your proposal.

Criterion 1: Excellence – 4.70 (Weight: 50.00%)

Strengths of the proposal: multidisciplinary research project; clarity of objectives; research methodology adequate and well described; bidirectional transfer of knowledge between the experienced researcher and the host institutions demonstrated; inclusion of a career development plan.

Weaknesses of the proposal: weak technical description of a specific idea.

Some comments from the evaluators:

“A well-structured and relevant training programme, with appropriate transferable and technical skills development, is presented.”

“There is a commitment to work with the experienced researcher to develop a career development plan, which is to be commended.”

“The expertise of the host institutions and the supervisors is clearly demonstrated, of high quality, multidisciplinar and match perfectly the research objectives.”

”The experienced researcher has clearly identified the objective of obtaining a permanent academic position and shows the potential to reinforce the position of professional maturity after the fellowship.”

Criterion 2: Impact – 4.80 (Weight: 30.00%)

Strengths of the proposal: impact on the researcher’s career well demonstrated; dissemination, communication and public engagement strategy well detailed; preliminary plans for commercial and clinical exploitation included.

Weaknesses of the proposal: intellectual property issues not very well detailed.

Some comments from the evaluators:

“The applicant will acquire a diverse set of skills, not only related to the research methodology, but also to administrative and project management.”

“The Dissemination strategy is clearly described and all the relevant channels are properly taken into account.”

 Criterion 3: Implementation – 4.80 (Weight: 20.00%)

Strengths of the proposal: work plan well-articulated and coherent; deliverables and milestones well documented; commitment of the host institution clearly demonstrated.

Weaknesses of the proposal: timing of secondment and dissemination activities unclear (it is really important to have a detailed Gantt chart, it should include public engagement, workshop activities and conferences planned).

Some comments from the evaluators:

“The management structure and procedures, including quality management, are appropriate and professional.”

“Both host institution and secondment partner have the necessary infrastructure to support the activities of the experienced researcher.”

“The participating organizations form a balanced consortium and have the necessary complementary competences and experience.”


I got a total score of 95%.

Vania Almeida: The importance of outreach activities and its impact on general public

The importance of outreach activities and its impact on general public is often underestimated by researchers in the preparation of their research proposals. An outreach plan should be included and justified on the basis of the proposal, aiming to make scientific career more attractive and improve the acceptance of innovative solutions among citizens.

This plan should be detailed but flexible enough to adjust along the project duration. It is important to propose some activities, identifying the target audience of each one, in what way and when the public will interact with project results and information about how to measure the results of these communication initiatives.

Today, I am sharing my experience as a Native Scientist mentor (www.nativescientist.com). This is a non-profit enterprise that aims at empowering immigrant communities through science outreach. Native Scientist promotes science and language learning among school pupils who have bilingual background. As a mentor, you have the opportunity to develop your communication skills while promoting a better social integration of these communities. Currently, the portfolio of languages covered in the UK includes: French, German, Greek, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and Turkish.

In my opinion, engaging with pupils in the classroom is one of the most rewarding experience you can have. These sessions  can have a huge impact on students, providing living, working examples of how young people can interact with science and increasing the interest to STEM subjects. Additionally, it allows me to promote the profession of medical technology research to the next generation of potential scientists.

More information about my session: https://www.facebook.com/nativescientist1/posts/758715854229074

Vania Almeida: How to combine your research interests and a well-balanced training program

Marie Curie Individual Fellowship program is an interesting opportunity for those who aim to reach and reinforce a position of professional maturity in research, particularly through the exposure to complementary skills training.

The quality and appropriateness of the training is one of the items evaluated within the excellence, one of the three criteria score. It is essential to delineate a reliable plan with your supervisor and the local HR team. If you are doing it for the first time you can find useful the Vitae Research Development Framework (RDF) that can help you to identify your strengths and the training needs.


I am working at Aston in two main working packages:

Research skills: My supervisor is helping me with most of the required training. However, I have decided to attend specific training in statistics, namely the Academy for PhD training in Statistics (APTS), a course designed to support research PhD students, but useful from those from other transferring in to statistics from other disciplines. APTS organises four residential weeks of training each year, this year in the University of Cambridge, University of Nottingham, University of Lancaster and University of Glasgow.

The Royal Orthopaedics Hospital is providing me the essential clinical training to facilitate good working practices while on secondment, namely training on the assessment, measurement and monitoring of vital signs and mandatory training sessions (including infection control, information governance and data protection, dignified treatment of patients, health and safety).

Complementary skills training: Aston offers a great number of versatile courses and excellent mentoring support for early career researchers, e.g. communication, project and finance management, IPR and copyright.

Additionally, Research & Enterprise Office runs several sessions along the year covering specific funding calls and several workshops specific to take researchers through all the steps they need to take to make a successful funding application. I find this really useful for the researchers moving from another countries, it is an interesting way to become familiar with new opportunities and developments in the funding landscape.

Vania Almeida: Career development plan

If you are preparing (or intend to prepare) a MSCA-Individual Fellowship your proposal should include a career development plan. It means that in addition to research objectives, the proposal should include the researcher’s training and career needs, including training on transferable skills (e.g. communication, time management, organizational, leadership), supervisory and teaching, planning for publications and participation in conferences.

Why is it important? A clear plan will help you to maximise the training and development opportunities, as an on-going process.

Career development is most effective when it is started early, preferably during your PhD. This process will be most effective as you have a clear perspective about your career objectives in a short term and/or long term. You can start thinking about your skills, personality, and your past and current work experience. But, do not forget to think about what really motivates you!

Finally, but no less important, look at the employability. The following data are referring to what physical sciences and engineering doctorates holders do 3.5 years after the graduation. Numbers from Vitae [1] suggest that 70 % work outside of higher education (HE) while 30% work in the HE sector. These numbers are not surprising for me due to the importance of doctoral graduates in business sectors built on science and technology. More information about biological, biomedical, social sciences, and arts and humanities is available here [2]. What is more surprising, for me at least, it is how PhD holders are employed in HE sector: 16% in teaching roles, 35% in research and 49% in other occupations.

A teaching position is probably the main goal of most of us who intend to pursue a career in HE, but these numbers suggest that probably we are underestimating the number of opportunities in “other occupations”. Do not forget to prepare yourself to these opportunities along your career path.

At Aston, you can book the Careers and Personal Development Planning training. Our HR team will help you to delineate what suits best for you.


[1] https://www.vitae.ac.uk

[2] https://www.vitae.ac.uk/impact-and-evaluation/what-do-researchers-do/career-destinations-by-discipline-infographics-1   (an account is required to access this information)


Amos Martinez: From LiFi to metamaterials to microscopy, a look at AIPT’s seminars

This year I have been asked to help with the organization of the seminars at AIPT and I am enjoying the experience so far. If you are ever asked to get in charge of organizing the seminars, go for it!

Sure, it takes away much needed time working in the lab, working on proposals and collaborations or just reading or writing papers, but, on the other hand, it gives a great opportunity to interact with scientists and researchers from all walks of life “light”.

After a slow start of the year the seminar series is truly gaining momentum. Just have a look at the breadth and depth of topics and invited speakers over the past few weeks and some of the upcoming talks at the end of this post.

I believe the broad range of topics  clear reflects AIPT’s broad range of interests, something that impressed me when I first came back to Aston.

But it all starts and ends with the speakers, all of whom I must thank for taking time of their busy schedules to visit us and delivering such interesting and inspiring talks.

PANO_20160531_113250 Picture: Prof. Harald Haas from the University of Edinburgh sharing his vision on how LiFi can change the world. Also attending the seminar Yuri Kivshar, another of our  upcoming speakers and distinguished visitors. Photo credit: Srikanth Sugavanam


Dr Arun Harish and Dr Tom Harvey Healthcare Photonics at CPI

Time: 11.30am, 7 June 2016


Prof.Yuri Kivshar, Nonlinear Physics Centre, Australian National University, Canberra

Metamaterials and metasurfaces

Time: 10.30am, 10 June 2016


Prof.Zhipei Sun, Department of Micro- and Nanosciences, Aalto University

Nanoscale nonlinear optics with low-dimensional nanomaterials

Time: 11am, 13th June 2016



Professor Harald Haas, the University of Edinburgh

LiFi: Conceptions, Misconceptions and Opportunities 


Prof. Nikolay Zheludev, Optoelectronics Research Centre, Southampton, Photonics Institute, NTU,Singapore

Metamaterials: Optical Properties on Demand


Dr. Oleg Mitrofanov, University College London

Terahertz near-field microscopy: methods and applications


Dr.Irina Kabakova, ICJR Fellow at Imperial College London

Brillouin microscopy and endoscopy for stiffness measurements of biological tissues


Dr. Nikola Alic, UCSD

State of the art frequency combs and their applications in optical communications


Dr. Lina Persechini, Associate Editor in Nature Communication

Introduction to Nature Communications: Aims and Scope


Dr Donald Govan, Oclaro Technology Ltd, UK

CFP2: Coherent Pluggable Optics 


Prof. Moti Fridman, Bar Ilan University, Israel

Spontaneous PT symmetry breaking with topological insulators

Dr. Haider Butt, Micro Engineering and Nanotechnology, University of Birmingham,UK

Holographic laser ablation for nanophotonic devices 


Prof. Tiegen Liu, Opto-electronic Information Technology,Ministry of Education,China

Hybrid Optical Fibre Sensing Theory and Methods 


AIPT Half-day Meeting: Orbital Angular Momentum in Optical Fibre Communications

Prof Siddharth Ramachandran, Boston University, USA

Singular light in fibres: beams that can do what Gaussians cannot

Dr Martin Lavery, Glasgow University, UK

Orbital Angular Momentum – past, present, and future

Dr Mirco Scaffardi, CNIT Pisa, Italy

Revolutionising optical transmission and networking using the OAM of light

Prof. Kestutis Staliunas, ICREA,Barcelona, Spain
Photonic crystals for spatial filtering

Dr. Pascal Del’Haye, National Physical Laboratory, UK
Self-Referencing of a Microresonator Optical Frequency Comb



Lucia Quitadamo: H2020-MSCA-IF-2014 Individual Fellowship (IF)

Hello, I am Lucia Quitadamo from Italy, Rome. I started my fellowship in October 2015 at Aston University. I am a biomedical engineering and my research has been developed in the field of Brain-Computer Interfaces (BCI), in particular in the detection of brain states associated to different mental activities produced by disables subjects to communicate with their surroundings. I gained significant experience in the development and application of signal processing tools applied to electromagnetic brain signal, during my PHD studies and my collaboration with different laboratories all over Europe, and this gave the way to a collaboration with Aston University, in particular with Aston Brain Center and Birmingham Children’s Hospital. In 2014 this collaboration emerged into a project proposal to the EU, in the H2020-MSCA-IF-2014 Individual Fellowship (IF) call. The project was named EPINET (Epileptic Networks) and aims at developing and validating innovative methods to localise and characterize non-invasively functional properties of the epileptogenic zone. Once validated, the analyses methods will add value to the existing analysis platforms and the development of a database of intra and extra-cranial data will facilitate the circulation of knowledge in the European epilepsy research community.

This project is really important for the development of my career as it will give me the possibility to extend my expertise in signal processing and clinical assessment of patients, developing new and complementary skills applied to specific clinical applications. Moreover it will allow me to live in a multidisciplinar environment and work in a fervent University, the Aston University, which is very close and devoted to the needs of its staff and very passionate in promoting all the research advancements produced by its memebers.

Finally some words on Birmingham: I come from Rome, Italy, the most beautiful city in the world, and at the beginning I was a little uncertain about UK cities and Birmingham in particular. You know, rain and clouds and cold and then cold and rain and clouds. But as soon as I came here, I changed my mind: the rain is real, but Birmingham is a lovely city, full of shops and restaurants and entertainment. Also, it’s in the middle of UK so you can easily reach all the beauties in the country with less than two hours.

I am very happy with this fellowship and with all the opportunities it will give me to  my future career.

Elena Patyukova: Carrier restart with Marie Curie Fellowship

Hello! My name is Elena Patyukova and I’m going to start my Marie Curie carrier restart project at the Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry (CEAC) Department in September.
My project is dedicated to combined theoretical and experimental study of influence of hydrogen bonds formation on microphase separation in block copolymers. The focus of this study is on development of the model describing formation of hydrogen bonds in block copolymers whose parameters are well experimentally defined and measurable values, which will be taken directly from experiment. At the second step this model will be verified by comparing experimental and theoretical behavior AB/A block copolymer mixture, where A monomer units are able to form hydrogen bonds with each other.

For me personally this is a very interesting project, aiming to find answers to questions on microphase separation which are remain unanswered now. I’ve devoted a lot of time to studies of microphase separation phenomenon and I love it. It is beautiful. But also I would like to mention that hydrogen bonding block copolymers are of interest because of their potential applications are really abundant and include drug delivery, self-healing materials and nanolithography and patterning for microelectronics.

Marie Curie Carrier Restart Fellowship is a really unique opportunity to return to active research after carrier break alone with obtaining new competences through additional training. In my case it looks the following way. Basically I was trained as a theoretician in the field of polymers physics. After getting PhD degree I continued my studies for a year and than left research. During my carrier break I worked in microelectronics industry as an engineer for three years, then I gave birth to my daughter and arrived in the UK following my husband who got a job at Aston University. And now thanks to Marie Curie Fellowship I am looking forward to return to research in the field of polymer science significantly expanding my experience, namely getting training in RAFT-synthesize and experimental techniques of block copolymer materials characterization under supervision of Dr. Paul Topham, and in new theoretical method under supervision of Dr. Martin Greenall from Lincoln University. So you can easily estimate how much this fellowship is going to give me, and it is difficult to find appropriate words to describe my inspiration about it. I am really thrilled to plunge into the work and see what it will lead me to in the future.

Of cause the chance I got would not be possible without kind attitude and wish to let me try to prepare grant application, and help with this application demonstrated by Prof. Misha Sumetsky, Prof. Sergey Turitsyn, Paul Knobbs, Dr. Paul Topham, Dr. Martin Greenall. I am very grateful to all of them. For me this is an exemplar of openness and goodwill towards people, which I hope to copy in my life.

As it is customary on this blog I promise to share my experience of working at Aston as my Marie Curie project progress with time. I hope that it will be interesting for those who is in the similar position as I was some time before, wishing to restart their research carriers.

Marion Carrier: From the application to my first steps

My name is Marion Carrier and I have recently joined Aston University to work at the European Bioenergy Research Institute (EBRI) after being awarded a Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions (MSCA) research individual fellowship.

Trained as an interdisciplinary researcher since my PhD obtained in France (IRCELyon), I have broadened my knowledge in the fields of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering by working at leading research organisations. My interest for the thermal conversion of biomass was first sparked off when I undertook a postdoctoral position at the ‘Institut de Chimie de la Matière Condensée’ (France) where I investigated the supercritical degradation patterns of highly contaminated biomasses. One year later, I got the opportunity to investigate alternative thermochemical techniques such as Pyrolysis and Gasification at Stellenbosch University (South Africa). There I actively participated in the development of processing guidelines and analytical strategies for the recovery of high-value organic compounds and biomaterials, but also pursued my long-term interests concerning the influence of the lignocellulose composition on pyrolysis reaction pathways. Following these five years, I worked as a researcher in the field of Bioenergy at the ‘Unidad de Desarrollo Tecnológico’/University of Concepción focusing on the fast pyrolysis of biomass. This last technology is of particular interest as it can directly convert solid biomass into a liquid product known as bio-oil whose potentiality as transportation fuels and chemicals feedstock has long been explored in particular at Aston University with the creation and coordination of a unique international network by Professor Anthony Bridgwater.

After meeting him on a few occasions, I approached him to discuss further about my Research interests that focus on exploring the chemistry of Pyrolysis to better control the quality of pyrolysis products and to develop this thematic by his side. As a result, we have been granted in 2015 the MSC action named PYROCHEM : “Biopolymers 13C tracking during fast pyrolysis of biomass-A mechanistic investigation”, which aims at reaching a new level of understanding of fast pyrolysis mechanisms by acquiring the necessary knowledge at a molecular-level using fractionation and isotopic characterisation techniques along with molecular dynamics calculations. A similar integrated experimental and computational approach that I previously adopted during my PhD study to propose a more comprehensive view of Advanced Oxidation mechanisms, is currently being used to unravel the complexity of events that take place during fast pyrolysis.

In addition to being a formidable opportunity for me to strengthen my scientific background and pursue my research in an outstanding environment, this Marie Skłodowska-Curie project also allows me to focus on furthering my professional and academic career with the access to a continuous training here in Aston.

Hopefully, I will come back to you soon with some comments on my findings.


Amos Martinez: Not about Gravitational waves-Science and Society

Two weeks ago, physicists at the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) announced that they had finally detected gravitational waves. These ripples in spacetime were first predicted by Einstein and his general relativity theory. https://www.ligo.caltech.edu/news/ligo20160211

Einstein never believed that we would have the technological capacity to observe these waves, they were too weak to catch. Of course, neither Einstein nor anybody could have predicted the amazing scientific advances that were to take place over the following 100 years.

The announcement from LIGO was preceded by rumours that rapidly spread through social media and it was heavily covered by all news outlets. This maybe common in football transfers or when a politician or banker is caught with his/her hand in the cookie jar, but these are extremely rare events when we talk about Physics and scientific discoveries.

Of course, this is Einstein and Einstein and Einstein’s discoveries and theories are the exception that confirms the rule, he was and remains a pop icon as the image below demonstrates.


Andy Warhol’s Einstein

Richard Feynman with his exuberant personality is another exception of a physicist impacting mainstream media. But what about the others, the great majority? Those scientists who have contributed, in some cases enormously, to shape the world and society we live in today, yet, they remain mostly unknown.

Let’s play a little game of contemporaries:

James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879) and Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865). I would bet anybody reading this knows who Lincoln was, but, unless you studied physics or other physical science discipline you wouldn’t know Maxwell. Yet, while it would be hard to pinpoint any influence of Lincoln in today’s way of life and society, Maxwell’s is everywhere, from the internet to the mobile phones to the detection of the gravitational waves or quantum mechanics. Over the next 100 years his influence will continue to grow. In the words of Richard Feynman “From a long view of the history of mankind-seen from, say, ten thousand years from now-there can be little doubt that the most significant event of the 19th century will be judged as Maxwell’s discovery of the laws of electrodynamics”.

Let’s play one more round:

Charles H. Townes (1915-2015) and John F. Kennedy (1917-1963). Sure, we could have chosen other important figures in politics or in social movements like Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela or whoever you may think, but let’s stick to US presidents. Likewise, we could have chosen other scientist such as Max Plank or Neils Bohr or even more recently, Charles Kao. While one may claim that Kennedy’s influence in society is still significant, Townes’ with his contributions to the discovery of the laser, is everywhere. Lasers are now present in almost every aspect of life from medicine to manufacturing to scientific research to entertainment and laser based technologies are defining the way we interact with each other and with the outside world. Yet, most people have never heard of Charles Townes or the other Laser physics pioneers.

So, what is my point? You may say, scientists should not chase social recognition. Sure, Van Gogh probably did not paint to sell his paintings, but I am sure selling a couple would have made his afternoon absinthe taste sweeter.

My point is, if society can get interested in gravitational waves and neutrinos, they can surely become interested in, often easier to grasp, science. And, increased recognition, followed by increased understanding of what researchers do, will attract more and better people to science and that will benefit all.

Dominick Burton: New Publication

The following is an abstract for my recently published work that was undertaken at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.  I am joint first author with Dr Adi Sagiv.  The paper is focused on the interaction between Natural Killer cells and senescent cells.

NKG2D ligands mediate immunosurveillance of senescent cells


Cellular senescence is a stress response mechanism that limits tumorigenesis and tissue damage. Induction of cellular senescence commonly coincides with an immunogenic phenotype that promotes self-elimination by components of the immune system, thereby facilitating tumor suppression and limiting excess fibrosis during wound repair. The mechanisms by which senescent cells regulate their immune surveillance are not completely understood. Here we show that ligands of an activating Natural Killer (NK) cell receptor (NKG2D), MICA and ULBP2 are consistently up-regulated following induction of replicative senescence, oncogene-induced senescence and DNA damage – induced senescence. MICA and ULBP2 proteins are necessary for efficient NK-mediated cytotoxicity towards senescent fibroblasts. The mechanisms regulating the initial expression of NKG2D ligands in senescent cells are dependent on a DNA damage response, whilst continuous expression of these ligands is regulated by the ERK signaling pathway. In liver fibrosis, the accumulation of senescent activated stellate cells is increased in mice lacking NKG2D receptor leading to increased fibrosis.  Overall, our results provide new insights into the mechanisms regulating the expression of immune ligands in senescent cells and reveal the importance of NKG2D receptor-ligand interaction in protecting against liver fibrosis.

Click HERE for full text.