Zahid Hussain passes his viva!

Zahid Hussain

Congratulations to PGR Zahid Hussain, who has passed his viva. His thesis was titled ‘Metal-organic Framework (MOFs) Derived Nanocomposites: Synthesis and Applications in Photocatalysis’. During his time with the CDT, Zahid published 11 papers, plus an English-to-Urdu translation of Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli. Zahid now works as a postdoctoral researcher at Technical University of Munich (TUM).

Zahid reflects on his experience of undertaking a PhD as part of the CDT:

I believe that life is a journey from nowhere to nowhere. The pleasure of living is in the process itself, and destinations only milestones leading us to the next journey. On this path, we meet all kinds of people. While some settle down on the way, others continue to live nomadic academic lives. As a foreign student, I identify myself with migratory birds, who leave behind many relationships, friendships, cultural and sensory experiences of material and non-material things, seeking better learning and living conditions. In the quest for knowledge and professional opportunities, the continuous struggle to assimilate into a new environment provides us with great learning opportunities, which broaden our mental horizons and deepen the understanding of life indeed.

The last 4 years of my life at the University of Exeter have been full of happenings, professionally and personally. I met some wonderful people, on-campus and off-campus. Many interactions turned into enduring friendships. First of all, I got a great sense of freedom in working with my PhD supervisors Dr Yongde Xia and Prof Yanqiu Zhu, which helped me to grow as an independent researcher. Also, my supportive colleagues and friendly environment of Functional Materials Laboratory (Lab 08) made the overall PhD experience very joyful and productive.

The doctoral training program (CDT) gave me the confidence to think independently and make my own research decisions. During this time, I developed some fruitful collaborations, especially with Dr Asif Tahir (Penryn campus), Prof. Roland Fischer (TU Munich), Prof. Freek Kapteijn (TU Delft, NL) and Prof. Ovidiu Ersen (University of Strasbourg, France). The work I did in these collaborations, greatly contributed to shaping my PhD project.

Along with the PhD, the last 4 years have been the most important time of my life. I married my partner Anna-Maria and became a parent of our lovely daughter Selma as if a sailboat navigating without a compass saw the shore and anchored. Countless moments of joy, peace and contentment, as well as many sleepless nights of childcare, frustrating days, lockdown months of Covid-19 and moving back and forth from Exeter to Munich, all made this time substantial.

We wish Zahid the best of luck with his future.

Zahid has co-authored the following publications:





Selected outreach activities

Zahid has translated a book Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli from English to Urdu. It has recently published by the Mashal Books, LahorePakistan.

Zahid has presented at the following conferences:

  • M. Z. Hussain, Y. Xia; Presentation: Bi-MOF derived nanocomposites_applications in photocatalysis, GWPore: Conference on Porous Materials for Energy, Environment and Healthcare Applications, U.K. February 2021. (2nd best presentation award) 
  • M. Z. Hussain, R. A. Fischer, Y. Zhu, Y. Xia; Poster: Making heterostructures with water: Role of temperature and water steam in MOF derived TiO2/CuOx/Cu/C nanocomposites, Euromof-20193rd International Conference on MOFs and Porous Polymers, Paris, France. October 2019.
  • M. Z. Hussain, Y. Zhu, Y. Xia; Presentation: MOF derived photocatalysts for high efficient solar-light-driven H2 evolution. MCEC 2019, Conference on Materials for Clean Energy, NPL, London, U.K.  April 2019.
  • M. Z. Hussain, R. A. Fischer, Y. Zhu, Y. Xia; Presentation: MOF derived bimetal oxide/carbon composites: Synthesis and photocatalytic applications, 6th International Conference on Multifunctional, Hybrid and Nanomaterials, Sitges, Spain, March 2019.
  • M. Z. Hussain, R. A. Fischer, Y. Zhu, Y. Xia; Poster: MOF derived TiO2/C nanocomposites for photocatalysis, ICS Winter School on Catalysis, Innovative Catalysis and Sustainability Scientific and Socio-Economic Aspects, Turin, Italy. January 2019.
  • M. Z. Hussain, Y. Zhu, Y. Xia; Poster: MOF derivatives for visible-light-driven photocatalytic applications, 41st Annual Meeting of the British Zeolite Association (BZA), Cumbria, Ambleside, U.K. July 2018.
  • M. Z. Hussain, Y. Zhu, Y. Xia; Poster: Black porous ZnO@C nanocomposites derived from MOF-5 for highly efficient photocatalytic application, RAMS-Recent Appointees in Materials Science, University of Exeter, U.K. September 2017.
  • M. Z. Hussain, Y. Zhu, Y. Xia; Poster: MOF-5 derived ZnO/C nanocomposites for adsorption and photodegradation of organic pollutants, NIM Conference on Nanostructured Functional Materials for Sustainable Energy Provision, Munich, Germany. July 2017.

Elizabeth Martin wins Best Poster Award at 65th Annual Conference on Magnetism and Magnetic Materials (MMM 2020)

Elizabeth with the Best Poster Award Certificate

Congratulations to final year PGR Elizabeth Martin, who won the Best Poster Award at the 65th Annual Conference on Magnetism and Magnetic Materials (MMM 2020) (2nd-6th November 2020). This is an international conference that includes all aspects of fundamental and applied magnetism, which for the first time was held virtually. The conference had over 16000 attendees- including third year CDT PGRs Connor Sait, David Newman, Katie Lewis, Konstantinos Chatzimpaloglou and Oliver Latcham– with ~ 700 different talks and ~370 different posters as well as several different symposia, workshops, and tutorials.

One of our final year students, Elizabeth Martin, presented her research in one of the poster sessions and won a best poster award. Her poster was titled “Investigation of a Coupled Elasto-Magnetic Discs for Low Reynolds Number Pumps”. The presentation was in the format of a 90-second pitch with the poster, which could be viewed at any time throughout the conference on the conference platform, as well as an additional live Q&A session on Zoom.

The virtual format of the conference was a new experience for most of our researchers, they all enjoyed the conference and learnt a lot from the different presentations. However, they do feel that they missed the in-person experience and the chance to meet different researchers from all around the world. On the other hand, think that they have learnt some valuable skills with regards to presenting their work in an online format compared to in-person. The good news for in-person conferences is that according to our researchers their future is safe, they are just having a needed break for now.

Elizabeth says:

The virtual conference was obviously very different to that of the in-person conference, I enjoyed the experience and obviously I’m thrilled to be awarded a best poster award. I did miss the in-person experience and the chance to meet/catch-up with different researchers from all around the world, talking/messaging online is not the same, but this is the way things are at the moment. One of the benefits was that the presentations were in an “on-demand” format, meaning we were able to watch any presentation at any time we wanted because they were pre-recorded (another benefit was that this year none of us experienced jetlag).

The presentations from the conference are available to view on the conference online platform (for registered conference attendees only), until 30th November 2020. Other presenters from University of Exeter included Prof Feodor Ogrin, Elizabeth’s supervisor, and Dr Maciej Dabrowski, David Newman’s supervisor.


Elizabeth in avatar form at the conference’s social networking session

Ioannis Leontis gives oral presentation at Graphene 2020

Last month, fourth year PGR Ioannis Leontis gave an oral presentation virtually at Graphene 2020.  The event ran online from 19th-23rd October, including presentations, poster sessions and an industrial forum.

Ioannis says of the experience:

Last month, I contributed an oral presentation at the virtual conference Graphene 2020. The conference was really interesting as its programme presents very big names in the field including Nobel Laureates, such as Andre Geim, one of the fathers of graphene, and F. Duncan M. Haldane, one of the founders of the theory about topological phase transitions and the topological phases of matter. My presentation was on “Room temperature ballistic graphene p-n junctions defined by Zn metal doping”. In my talk I presented a new method for the fabrication of ultra-sharp ballistic graphene p-n junction using metal doping of graphene and a new simple characterization method of the metal induced graphene p-n junctions. My research work in this field may give a new push in the fabrication of room temperature graphene electron optic devices. In overall, my participation in such a high-level conference help me a lot in the deeper scientific understanding of my field and gave me the opportunity to make new connection as well.

David Newman and Kostas Chatzimpaloglou present at the Institute of Physics Current Research in Magnetism 2020: High Frequency Spintronics

Last month, 2nd year PGRs David Newman  and Kostas Chatzimpaloglou both gave contributed talks for the Institute of Physics Current Research in Magnetism 2020: High Frequency Spintronics, which was held virtually.

David Newman

David’s presentation was on “Spin current propagation through an epitaxial antiferromagnetic NiO layer”. In this talk, he demonstrated the use of the inverse spin Hall effect (ISHE) and X-ray Ferromagnetic Resonance (XFMR) measurements to observe a DC and AC spin current respectively propagating through an antiferromagnetic layer in a multilayer sample. This is intended to inform future studies on spin current propagation which is a vital step in the development of spintronic devices.

David says of his talk:

I found it a great experience to present my work as part of a programme filled with the big names in the research field and make more contacts within the community.


Kostas’ talk was titled “Time resolved magneto-optical study of spin-orbit torques (SOTs) in ellipsoidal CoFeB/Pt

Kostas Chatzimpalouglou

elements” and focused on results gathered from the development of a magneto-optical Spin Transfer Torque Ferromagnetic Resonance (STT-FMR) technique to explore the magnetization dynamics that arise in these devices in response to DC current excitation.

By comparing with a macrospin model simulation with experimental data, this proves that when DC current is large enough, the DC SOT is observed to act on the magnetization. However, the strong DC Oersted field produces similar features in the resonance to the effect of SOT. Thus, it is required careful fitting to determine the value of SOT.

Julia De Pineda passes her viva!

Julia De Pineda Gutiérrez with her thesis

Congratulations to Julia De Pineda, who passed her viva this month. Her thesis was entitled ‘Multi-layer metasurfaces for manipulating the propagation of microwaves along surfaces and edges’. Julia published four papers during her time with the CDT.

Below, Julia describes the challenges and rewards of undertaking a PhD and the experience of having a virtual viva:

My years as a PhD student have been an emotional rollercoaster. There have been some very tough times, when I’ve been very close to quitting but there have also been really fun times. And it is the difficult times that make you grow anyway so in the end, I am very happy I decided to stay and finish this project. I also feel very lucky to have been able to work with my supervisors who have always been there to point me in the right direction, even when I thought my research was not getting anywhere. I would also like to highlight the role of the CDT regarding the soft skills training that we received along the way. I feel that sometimes as student we don’t see the importance it has but now that I am starting to look for a job I realise how many transferable skills I have acquired during these four years.

From my time as a PhD student I take some really good friends with me and many great experiences, specially from all the conferences I’ve got to attend and the amazing places I was able to discover in the meantime. However, I am very pleased that this time is over and I am very much looking forward to an exciting new adventure, whatever that is. In any case, I am sure I will take with me everything I have learnt these years, both personally and professionally. I can definitely say that I am a better version of myself than I was four years ago and to me that’s the greatest achievement.

Finally, I would like to say that submitting my thesis in the middle of a global pandemic and therefore having a virtual viva was something I was not ready for and could never have imagined when I started my PhD. But it was alright in the end and an enriching experience after all. So I would like to tell anyone in a similar situation to relax and try to get the most out of the experience. I am sure in the future we will look at it in a different way and realise that it made us learn and grow.

Julia is considering retraining as an air-traffic controller. We wish her the best of luck in her future endeavours.

Below is a list of Julia’s publications and conferences she has presented at:

Julia has co-authored the following publications:





Julia has presented at the following conferences:

  • J.D de Pineda, A.P Hibbins, J.R Sambles; Presentation: “Metasurfaces for high index effective media”, 2019 IEEE Radio and Antenna Days of the Indian Ocean (RADIO), Reunion, Reunion, 23 – 26 Sept 2019
  • J.D de Pineda, A.P Hibbins, J.R Sambles; Presentation: “Exploration of Microwave Edge modes in metasurfaces with Glide symmetry”, 13th International Congress on Advanced Electromagnetic Materials for novel wave phenomena (Metamaterials), Rome, Italy, 16 – 21 Sept 2019
  • J.D de Pineda, G.P. Ward, A.P Hibbins, J.R Sambles; Presentation: “Exploration of Edge Modes formed in periodic hexagonal metasurfaces with glide symmetry”, 12th International Congress on Advanced Electromagnetic Materials for novel wave phenomena (Metamaterials), Espoo, Finland, 27 Aug – 1 Sept 2018
  • J.D de Pineda, A.P Hibbins, R.C Mitchell-Thomas, J.R Sambles; Presentation: “Multilayer Hexagonal Metasurfaces for Antenna Applications”, APS/URSI 2017, San Diego, California, 10-14 July 2017
  • J.D de Pineda, A.P Hibbins, R.C Mitchell-Thomas, J.R Sambles; Poster: “Multilayer Hexagonal Metasurfaces for Antenna Applications”, EUPROMETA school, Bordeaux, France, 4-7 April 2017

David Newman chairs session at UK Magnetics Society Student Conference

David Newman

Second year PGR David Newman reently chaired a session at UK Magnetics Society Student Conference where he chaired a session and presented a talk entitled ‘Electrical detection of a DC spin current through an epitaxial antiferromagnetic NiO layer’.

The event was virtually hosted by the UK Magnetics Society to provide a platform for PhD student conference talks that had been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic and also included several talks from academics and industrialists about their experiences in magnetism.

David reports on his experience:

I was responsible for chairing the session on “Nanoscale Magnetics” which featured a broad range of topics from spintronics to materials modelling. Running the session gave me valuable experience in event organisation/management whilst also getting the opportunity to network with other PhD speakers from across the country.

The term “spin currents” refer to the flow of intrinsic spin angular momentum without an accompanying charge transfer (as in a traditional electrical current). In my talk (originally planned for Intermag2020), I showed how the inverse spin Hall effect can be used to transfer a spin current into an electrical current for convenient measurement and applied this to a complex multilayer stack with an antiferromagnetic NiO layer. This work is of particular relevance to magnetic data storage which has turned to spintronic concepts and antiferromagnets for denser magnetic data storage which is more energy-efficient and operates at higher speed.

The conference offers a platform to those students working in magnetics related subjects to talk about their research and work.

Ineta Grikalaite and Joaquin Faneca give virtual presentations at SPb Photonic, Optoelectronic, & Electronic Materials 2020

Fourth year student Joaquin Faneca and second year student Ineta Grikalaite attended SPb Photonic, Optoelectronic, & Electronic Materials 2020 online conference and presented their work during the virtual poster sessions in the format of a 1 min elevator pitch. Joaquin presented his work on “On-chip sub-wavelength Bragg grating design based on novel low loss phase-change materials”, while Ineta presented her work on “Terahertz metadevices with multilayer graphene”. Communicating their work in an online format was a new and exciting experience for both students, with an opportunity to reach a significantly wider audience compared to a conventional conference.

Both virtual posters were tweeted on @spbpoem and can be found by looking up the hashtag #spbpoem_poster.

Ineta Grikalaite
Joaquin Faneca

William Ferguson submits his thesis!

William Ferguson with his thesis

Congratulations to William Ferguson, the first of our 2016 cohort to submit their thesis. His thesis was titled ‘Auxetic power amplification mechanisms for low frequency vibration energy harvesting’. William was supervised by Prof. Meiling Zhu, Prof. Ken Evans and Prof. Christopher Smith.

William has published two papers- ‘Student Perspectives On The Concurrent Engineering Challenge 2017’ in Proceedings of the 2nd Symposium on Space Educational Activities; ‘Auxetic Structure for Increased Power Output of Strain Vibration Energy Harvester’ in Sensors & Actuators A. Physical.

During his time in the CDT William has been involved in outreach initiatives such as being a support volunteer for Soapbox Science and demonstrating magnetism to the public as part of Lighting Up Ramm.

In his own words, William describes his experience as a PhD student:

My thesis is done!
Years of swearing at machines, months of banging my head against a keyboard, weeks of procrastinating editing, days of fiddling with MATLAB until the graphs are presentable; all of it came down to collecting the bound theses less than an hour before the printshop closes for who knows how long. So that was fun.
I’ve learnt a lot in the last three and a half years. Such as how to effectively manage people. Perseverance. Systematic problem solving. And thyself. Peaking behind the academic curtain was all very fine and pleasant, but now I’d like to see how the rest of the world compares.
Incidentally, do look me up if you or someone you know is in need of a holistic engineer (a job title I’m trying to give traction, defined as: one who builds/designs with an appreciation of the interconnectedness of all things, often because they’ve been wrapped in gaffer tape by said engineer).

All the best,
William Ferguson

William presented at the following conferences:

  • Ferguson, W; Evans, K; Smith, C; Zhu, M, Poster: “Auxetic Design in Vibration Energy Harvesting”, Materials for Clean Energy Conference, London, United Kingdom, 8th April 2019.
  • Ferguson, W; Kaung, Y; Evans, K; Smith, C; Zhu, M, Poster: ‘Auxetic Enhancement of Vibration Energy Harvesting’, PSMA Inaugural International Energy Harvesting Workshop, Cork, Ireland, 28th May 2018
  • (William was a contributor to presentation and conference paper), Doerksen, K; Klooster, TGE; ‘Student Perspectives On The Concurrent Engineering Challenge 2017’, 2nd Symposium on Space Educational Activities, Budapest, Hungary, 10th April 2018
  • Ferguson, W; Kaung, Y; Evans, K; Smith, C; Zhu, M, Poster: ‘Auxetic Enhancement of Vibration Energy Harvesting’, Materials Research Exchange, London, England, 11th March 2018
  •  Ferguson W; ‘Power’, Concurrent Enginnering Challenge 2017,  Redu, Belgium, 11th September 2017
  •  Ferguson W; Li Q; Kuang Y; Zhu M; Poster: ‘Auxetic Strain Amplification For Enhanced Energy Harvesting Power’, Energy Harvesting Network 2017,  Manchester, England, 5th April 2017


Emanuele Gemo and Joaquin Faneca present at Photonic West conference

Fourth year students Emanuele Gemo and Joaquin Faneca recently attended Photonic West, the biggest conference in the world of photonics, which was held in San Francisco, Moscone centre. In this conference, Emanuele was presenting his work based on “Sub-wavelength plasmonic enhance phase change memory”. Joaquin Faneca was giving an oral presentation relating to his work on “Reconfigurable integrated circuits based on functional materials” and a poster called “On-chip sub-wavelength Bragg grating design based on GSST”.

Emanuele Gemo presenting
Joaquin Faneca presenting

CDT students co-organise Exeter-Bath Knowledge Transfer conference

During October 2019, some of our CDT students hosted a one-day student conference at the University of Exeter. This was co-organised with some PhD students from the Centre for Photonics and Photonic Materials (CPPM) from University of Bath- the “Exeter-Bath Knowledge Transfer”. The aim of this event was to bring together researchers from both institutions and share the research that is being carried out in optics and photonics. In total, 23 students attended this event (9 from Bath, 14 from Exeter) and had the opportunity to present their work and learn about each other’s research projects. This event was useful for interchanging ideas and to begin establishing a network between the CPPM and CDT.

The program of the conference consisted of several oral presentations, some white board explanations and a poster session. At the end of the conference, our students gave a tour around some of the laboratories and the nanofabrication clean room facilities. Finally, a social was held at the Imperial to end a successful day.

The Exeter-Bath Knowledge Transfer event was organised thanks to seed funding that Iago Rodriguez Diez, Harry Penketh, Ben Hogan and students from the CPPM obtained from the collaborative discussion-led incubator workshop “Light@Bath”. This workshop took place in May at University of Bath for the International Day of Light and was supported by the EPSRC-funded project Reimagining Recruitment. The purpose of the event was to bring together researchers who work in photonics in order to exchange ideas, propose problems that are yet to be solved and generate collaborations. The outcome of this workshop was the organization of the one-day conference “Exeter-Bath Knowledge Transfer”.

Iago, one of our CDT students who co-ordinated the event, reported:

“This event was a very nice opportunity for getting to know what another research centre working in photonics does with light. As the main Exeter co-organizer of the event, this was a very good practice for me to challenge my organization and time management skills in terms of personal development. Thanks to everyone involved in the event!”