Spotlight on... Professor Nguyễn T. K. Thanh
10 March 2022
This week we meet Professor Nguyễn T. K. Thanh, Vice Dean for Innovation and Enterprise at the Faculty of MAPS. Here, she chats to us about being awarded the Royal Society Rosalind Franklin prize, current projects, and her love of botanical gardens.
What is your role and what does it involve?
I am a Professor of Nanomaterials since 2013 and lead a group of very talented postdocs, PhD, masters, and summer students conducting research on nanomaterials for healthcare. We are also expanding our research to environmental issues, such as treatment of wastewater.
In March 2021, I was appointed as Vice Dean for Innovation and Enterprise (I&E) for the MAPS Faculty. I am passionate about translating research to have a positive impact in society. As Vice Dean for I&E, I want to improve the I&E spirit, mindset, culture and practices in our faculty. We are revamping the website, and have established the MAPS I&E seminar series in collaboration with the American Chemical Society Division of Small Chemical Businesses (SCHB). We launched an I&E Prize Competition for students, and an I&E Early Career Researcher (ECR) Bridging Fund Scheme. We are now planning various workshops to connect academics and industrial partners.
How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?
I joined UCL in January 2009, in quite special circumstances. I was appointed as UCL-RI reader at the Davy Faraday Research Laboratory at the Royal Institution (RI) of Great Britain, where Humphry Davy first isolated sodium and several other elements and Michael Faraday was appointed as the Director of the Laboratory in 1825. Nobel Prize winners William Henry Bragg and William Lawrence Bragg were also Directors of the RI. This was a special initiative as part of a reinvigoration of a strategic collaboration between UCL and the RI that had begun in the 1990s.
Before that, I was awarded a Royal Society University Research Fellowship in 2005 to start my independent research on nanomaterials at the Department of Chemistry and School of Biological Sciences, University of Liverpool.
What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?
For me, to have been awarded the Royal Society Rosalind Franklin prize is very special. I was also selected by the Royal Society to be in the first meeting of young scientists worldwide in 2008 in Tianjin, China. Hence, I was in the first ever cohort of co-founders of the Global Young Academy. I founded the Vietnam Young Academy (VYA) in 2014 and am the Chair of the Advisory Board. I led and won the bid to host the Worldwide Meeting of Young Academies in July–August 2019 in Vietnam. Currently, I am engaging with the initiative to establish a UK Young Academy from the Royal Society.
Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list?
I have various ongoing projects (fundamental and applied) and two of them are moving toward commercialisation. One of them is the study of small iron oxide as a T1 MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) contrast agent to replace the mainstream gadolinium, which cannot be used with patients having kidney failure. Furthermore, gadolinium has been found in drinking water in big cities and the amount can only increase with time, as there is currently no method for removing it.
Another project is designed to facilitate the translation of super heating iron oxide nanoflowers (NF) to clinical magnetic hyperthermia cancer treatment. Our NFs are unique, with their three times higher heating rates compared to commercially available nanoparticles. They have exceptional colloidal stability, can be synthesised simply and quickly, and thus have potential for production at large-scale at significantly reduced costs. We collaborate with industry to assure compliance to the high standards of Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP).
What is your favourite album, film and novel?
I listen to Gims to make running on a treadmill bearable during the time we had to work from home. I like to watch documentaries, but it’s hard to pick a favourite. Right now I would say Russian history/Putin to understand the root of the wicked war that we are witnessing. Sans Famille taught me so much about humanity when I was a kid.
What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?
Trump tells his doctor, “Doc, help me. I’m addicted to Twitter!”
The doctor replies, “Sorry, I don’t follow you…”
Who would be your dream dinner guests?
Michael Faraday, because, reading his own lab book archived at the RI, and his scientific paper of the synthesis of Au sol (nanoparticles), I could not help but dream of having a conversation with him about his experiments.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I feel that I am still young and would still like to listen to wise elder people.
What would it surprise people to know about you?
I am not funny, but as a personal challenge I decided to perform in Bright Club, at the UCL Bloomsbury Theatre. Some people in the audience said they had a good laugh. So perhaps you can be trained to be funny.
What is your favourite place?
Botanical gardens, where I can see thousands of different plants, flowers, trees, bees, butterflies and birds, breathe the fresh air and feel the touch of the sun and the wind.