UCL Mathematical & Physical Sciences


Infectious disease professor awarded prestigious engineering prize

12 January 2024

A senior UCL researcher leading a new generation of tools and technologies for infectious disease surveillance, testing and care has been awarded the Institution of Engineering and Technology’s (IET) top A F Harvey Engineering Research Prize worth £350,000.

Professor Rachel McKendry

Rachel McKendry (UCL London Centre for Nanotechnology and UCL Division of Medicine) is Professor of Biomedicine and Nanotechology and Director of the i-sense EPSRC IRC in Early Warning Sensing Systems for Infectious Diseases. Her research lies at the cutting edge of quantum technologies, deep learning and telecommunications for infectious diseases and public health.

During the pandemic Professor McKendry led the i-sense team to help tackle a range of infections from HIV to the global response to COVID-19, developing new diagnostics and analysing data for public health surveillance. She is also working to transform the ability to accurately interpret HIV results using deep learning and also exploring the use of ‘nanodiamonds’, which have heightened sensitivity to detect virus in blood.  

Professor McKendry hopes to use the £350,000 prize to utilise her team’s recent breakthroughs with nanodiamond diagnostics to revolutionise the early diagnosis of antimicrobial resistance. If successful, this ground-breaking early-stage research could lay the foundations of next stage translational funding, and open up applications to other communicable and non-communicable diseases.

On receiving the award, Professor McKendry said: “It is a tremendous honour to receive the IET A F Harvey Engineering Research Prize 2024. I would like to dedicate this prize to my wonderful team and i-sense collaborators. With this funding, we aim to develop proof-of-concept ultra-sensitive quantum-enhanced tests for antimicrobial resistance, and will explore novel advanced materials and device configurations for use in decentralised clinical settings. Antibiotics underpin modern medicine, but the rise of drug-resistance – the silent pandemic – is a huge clinical and public health concern.

“There is an urgent need for new diagnostic tests that can detect early infections and to improve antibiotic stewardship. I am also really excited to lead a public engagement initiative to raise the visibility of the hidden heroes of diagnostics – the engineers and scientists behind diagnostic tests that have been so vital to the COVID-19 pandemic response.”

Dr Gopi Katragadda said: “The IET’s A F Harvey Engineering Research Prize supports the world’s best scientists and engineers to advance their research. Professor McKendry is leading the way in public health and diagnostics with her pioneering work at the intersection of biology, digital, and materials. I’d like to congratulate her on this award – we are excited to support the next phase of her research.”

Professor McKendry will present her work at a keynote lecture, hosted by the IET, on 14 March 2024. The event will be broadcast live and followed by a Q&A session.

With this year’s theme focusing on medical engineering and technology, the prestigious A F Harvey Engineering Research Prize is awarded to a world-leading engineer from the fields of medical, microwave and radar or laser/optoelectronic engineering to enable them to continue further research.

For more information on the award, including the virtual lecture, visit: www.theiet.org/harvey.