UCL Mathematical & Physical Sciences


MAPS Faculty Postgraduate Prize Winners and Dean’s Commendations Announced

17 February 2021

Many congratulations to Claudia Cristalli and Xiaochen Yang, joint winners of the 2020 Faculty Postgraduate Research Prize, and to Harriet Apel, winner of the 2020 Faculty Postgraduate Taught Prize.

Image of a trophy - Credit: iStock

Postgraduate Research Prize 

Image of Claudia Cristalli
The 2020 Postgraduate Research Prize was jointly awarded to Claudia Cristalli and Xiaochen Yang for their outstanding achievements in their PhDs in History and Philosophy of Science, and Statistical Science respectively.


Claudia Cristalli - PhD in History and Philosophy of Science.

Claudia’s research supervisor, Dr Chiara Ambrosio, said: 

Dr Cristalli’s PhD thesis is the first systematic investigation of the American philosopher and scientist Charles S. Peirce's works in experimental psychology and psychophysics. Outside specialized circles, Peirce’s work is often perceived as difficult and esoteric; Dr Cristalli’s remarkable accomplishment is to bring his philosophy to life through the lens of his scientific experimentation. Alongside producing a PhD thesis of outstanding rigor and clarity, Dr. Cristalli already has a phenomenal publication record. She has combined research with teaching of the highest quality, public engagement, service to the profession, and indefatigable international networking. I am honored to have served as her supervisor, and I look forward to continuing to work with her as a colleague in the future.” 

Prof. Emma Tobin, Head of the Department, said:

Dr Cristalli is an outstanding young scholar who has made a reputation for herself as a rising star in the history and philosophy of science. Claudia’s PhD is a fantastic research accomplishment, which makes a significant contribution to the field of Peirce studies and is executed with a scholarly eye for detail. The dissertation makes an important original contribution in showing how post-Kantian empirical psychology provides a different context for Peirce’s pragmatism and, in particular, his inferentialist account of perception. I am honored to have served as her internal examiner and was therefore able to enjoy reading and learning from her PhD thesis. Claudia has been a really active member of our research community during her PhD years.  She already has an impressive publication record for this stage of her career. She has also obtained a prestigious Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at Indiana University together with a further postdoctoral award which will commence in October 2021. She is the recipient of an OEAD Ernst Mach Scholarship and will be based at the Institut für Philosophie in Vienna. I look forward to following Claudia’s research trajectory and wish her all the best for her promising future. 

In her response to being awarded the prize, Claudia stated: 

I am really happy to be jointly awarded the MAPS Postgraduate Research Prize 2020. My doctoral thesis is in History and Philosophy of Science, and working at the Department of Science and Technology Studies I always hoped that my research would have an impact on scientists. This award confirms that history and philosophy of science can be meaningful also for scholars outside of our field.  

I was a self-funded PhD student, and I hope that this award will send an encouraging message to students and early-career researchers in similar conditions. Today, I am in Bloomington, Indiana, for a Mellon-funded post-doc. Although funding is far too limited for the amount of talented people that deserve it, I hope that UCL will continue to support its graduate students, through prizes that recognize their excellence, and by expanding its offer of funding opportunities.  

Many people helped shaped who I am as a person and as a researcher. The whole STS department and in particular my supervisor, Dr Chiara Ambrosio, believed in me even when I didn’t. To her and to my family go my warmest thanks. 

Xiaochen Yang - PhD in Statistical Science.
Image of Xiaochen Yang


Xiaochen Yang was the other joint recipient of the 2020 Postgraduate Research Prize. Xiaochen received the prize for her outstanding achievements in her PhD in Statistical Science.

Xiaochen’s research supervisor Dr Jinghao Xue noted that: 

Xiaochen was an exceptionally strong and hard-working student in initiating, collaborating and delivering innovative and high-quality research on the methodology and applications of statistical machine learning, often inter-disciplinarily and internationally. In her 4-year PhD, Xiaochen co-authored about 10 publications or submissions in top-tier peer-reviewed journals or conferences including ECML-PKDD, NeurIPS and TPAMI. She was also very active in research services like reviewing manuscripts for journals and conferences. She is currently working at the University of Glasgow as a permanent lecturer, a position secured even before the submission of her PhD thesis. 

Prof. Richard Chandler, Head of the Department, said: 

It’s fantastic to see what Xiaochen has achieved during her PhD. She has published prolifically and at the highest level, on her research in statistical machine learning and image analysis. At the same time, she has taken advantage of all the opportunities on offer to build up an impressive range of other teaching and professional service activities on her CV. As a result, on completion of her PhD her hard work and talent were rewarded with her immediate appointment to a lectureship in Glasgow. Our loss is Glasgow’s gain: she will be a research leader of the future, and it’s fitting that UCL should send her on her way with a Faculty prize in addition to our very best wishes. 

In her response to being awarded the prize, Xiaochen Yang stated: 

I am very delighted and grateful to be awarded the Faculty of Mathematical and Physical Sciences Postgraduate Research Prize. I am deeply indebted to my supervisor, Dr Jing-Hao Xue, for giving me detailed guidance on research, encouragement to work on challenging projects, and collaboration opportunities to apply statistical techniques to different fields. I am also thankful to my colleague Dr Mingzhi Dong and my supervisor at Intel Labs China, Dr Yiwen Guo, for many fruitful discussions about machine learning and advice on my research. Lastly, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the Department of Statistical Science for funding my PhD and research visits, and more importantly, for creating a very supportive research environment. It has been really enjoyable to study my PhD here, working and learning with many experienced staffs and lovely colleagues. 

Postgraduate Taught Prize 
Image of Harriet Apel

Harriet Apel - MSc in Quantum Technologies


The 2020 Postgraduate Taught Prize was awarded to Harriet Apel for her impressive work in her MSc Quantum Technologies during the last academic session. 

Harriet’s research supervisor was Dr Toby Cubitt, UCL Dept. of Computer Science, and Tamara Kohler provided further guidance and support. Dr Cubitt said: 

In her research thesis, Harriet tackled a conceptually challenging topic (holographic duality), using a combination of multiple mathematically advanced techniques (measure concentration, stabilizer groups, tensor networks). Her thesis pulls together all of these non-trivial mathematical tools to prove new results on properties of random tensors, and uses these to give a new construction of holographic quantum error-correcting codes. Then, by applying a construction of Kohler and Cubitt, this is lifted to a new toy model of holographic duality that for the first time simultaneously gives a mapping between local Hamiltonians on the bulk and boundary, and reproduces the Ryu-Takayanagi entropy formula. 

This work is at a scientific level one would be delighted to see produced by a strong postdoc, let alone a PhD student. Producing it at masters level is exceptional. 

Not only the research, but also Harriet’s scientific writing is exceptional. Her master’s report does a comprehensive job of surveying the state of the art in the field, placing this work in the context of previous results. The introduction strikes a perfect balance between motivating the results convincingly, whilst also clearly identifying and explaining the limitations and potential future enhancements. Harriet’s MSc work is certainly of a calibre to be published in a leading research journal. 

Dr Steve Fossey, Physics & Astronomy Graduate (Taught) Tutor, and Prof. Raman Prinja, Head of the Physics & Astronomy Department, issued the following joint statement: 

Harriet’s MSc work was exceptional: she obtained consistently excellent exam grades in all her taught modules, including grades of 100% in each of Advanced Quantum Theory, Quantum Computation and Communication, and Modelling Quantum Many-Body-Systems; and her MSc research project and dissertation were outstanding. Harriet’s performance during her MSc in both taught credits and research project has been of the very highest quality. On top of that, her work ethic has been excellent. She is thoroughly deserving of the award of the MAPS Postgraduate Taught Prize. 

In her response to being awarded the prize, Harriet Apel stated: 

I am extremely grateful to have been considered for this award. The Quantum technology master’s programme has allowed me to identify and pursue a course within quantum information which I am excited and passionate about. This wouldn’t have been possible without Prof. Oppenheim and all the lecturers’ efforts to deliver the material in such a turbulent year. My research project on toy models of holography was the highlight of my year and I am thankful to the UCL quantum computer science group for providing such a supportive and inspirational research environment. I would like to especially thank Tamara Kohler for her generous time and support and Dr Toby Cubitt for continuing giving me the confidence and opportunity to investigate interesting questions and learn." 

Dean’s Commendations


A Dean’s Commendation was also awarded to Postgraduate Research student Matteo Capoferri (Mathematics)