UCL Centre for Nature Inspired Engineering


Congratulations to Malica Schmidt on successfully defending her PhD thesis!

20 July 2023


Hearty congratulations to Malica Schmidt for successfully defending her massive PhD thesis on "Nature-inspired, multifunctional surfaces for sustainable life support in extreme environments on Earth and in space" earlier this week, to soon become Dr Schmidt! Many thanks to ESA - Christophe Lasseur and Prof Peter Lee for thoroughly and thoughtfully examining Malica.

It is a superb piece of work, the product of an incredibly adventurous journey of scientific and engineering exploration - in every sense of the word. A true Explorer, Malica became a glider, skydiver, pilot, analogue astronaut, and scientific diver on the way, but, with a first degree in architecture she also incorporated her talent in design and interests in fundamental and applied sciences to become an Engineer. Her beautiful NIMFS (nature-inspired multifunctional surfaces), micro-printed on our Nanoscribe instrument, leverage properties of tree capillaries, lizard skins, insect wings and more to achieve humidity capturing and water channelling, as well as antimicrobial properties, of interest for applications in the built environment on earth... and in space.

Highlights include performing her experiments on parabolic flights (microgravity) over the Atlantic on a specially built rack during the heart of the Covid-19 pandemic, having the NIMFS incorporated in "Touching Surfaces" sent to the International Space Station, to be handled by
Matthias Maurer and Thomas Pesquet (European Space Agency - ESA). A remarkable trajectory to the Stars.

Malica won countless awards for her work, including outstanding presentations, public engagement and art prizes (UCL Research in Art, and videos at the Centre Pompidou and the Venice Biennale), and she became a UCL Space Ambassador. There are many collaborators to thank, but in particular Prof Marcos Cruz (UCL Bartlett School of Architecture) as co-advisor, Prof Paul Michael Pelken (P+ Studio) for all his support, Dr Barry Reid for research technical support on the Nanoscribe, and Prof Ralf Moeller from the German Aerospace Center (DLR).

Thanks to UKRI EPSRC for supporting Malica's thesis specifically (Industrial Challenge DTP), and the Centre for Nature Inspired Engineering (CNIE) at UCL Chemical Engineering, where the core of this work was carried out.