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INTRODUCING IMAD AHMED AS HEAD OF FUNDRAISING

Mon, 01 Nov 2021, 04:17 PM

MOVING FROM ACADEMIA TO THE WATER INDUSTRY AND WORKING AT THE INTERFACE

What is your training/career background?

Hi, my name is Imad Ahmed and I’ve just joined UKWIR as Head of Fundraising after a wonderful 16-year career in academia. My background is in scientific research and innovation and I hold a BSc in Chemistry & Physics and an MSc and PhD in Environmental Science. I've worked in different academic and research settings including Leeds and Lancaster Universities. 

Most recently, I was an innovation research fellow at the University of Oxford where I currently enjoy visiting scientist status at the Department of Earth Sciences and an MPLS Innovation Fellowship.

What’s your role within your team?

As Head of Fundraising my role is to advise on and catalyse external grant capture from UK Research Innovation (UKRI), industry and the third sector, together with European funding opportunities. I am also responsible for coordinating grant applications and competitive bids that are of interest to the water industry.

Creating new partnerships is integral to my new role – especially identifying opportunities to move research in a new direction or take advantage of new funding. With my scientific and academic experience, I find myself at the interface between industry and academia. This is particularly useful as it helps build mutual understanding, trust and confidence between organisations and – most importantly – people. 

What kind of projects have you been involved in during your academic career?

My PhD at Nottingham University was related to Permeable Reactive Barriers Systems designed to intercept and remediate a groundwater contaminant plume. I was lucky enough to work with a fantastic research group and discovered a love of detailed research and University life, so I embarked on an academic career. During this time, I developed more interest in smart nanomaterials and wanted to carry out applied research to help combat chemical pollution in water. 

After completing my PhD I joined the Environmental Geochemistry team at Leeds University to study how nanoscale oxide materials form and how we can design new materials to remove toxic substances like chromium from industrial wastewater.

In 2009, I had the opportunity to contribute to understanding the relationship between water chemistry, toxicity and bioavailability of toxic metals and joined the Aquatic Chemistry Research group at Lancaster University. This was an exciting project in collaboration with the Centre of Ecology and Hydrology. I’m proud to have played a leading part in improving the detection of metal ions (at concentrations as low as 1 picomolar) present in complex natural waters rich in organic matter. I also helped test and optimise the CEH Humic-Ion Binding Model VII. This work has contributed significantly to our understanding of the importance of ‘chemical speciation’ and the relationship between bioavailability and water chemistry in environments rich in dissolved organic carbon.

 

In 2015, I moved to Oxford University and started to work on a novel approach for fast, robust and low-cost nano-enabled element speciation analysis in water which was patented a year later. The lack of portable chemical speciation sensors for real-world water samples was a key motivation for this work.

Between 2017 and 2020, I was awarded innovation funding to develop the first dedicated nano-enabled analytical device for chemical speciation analyses in water samples and in 2020 I founded an Oxford University spinout company (Nanolyse Technologies) to establish and commercialise this innovation. 

What are the most extraordinary projects you’ve been involved with?

Between 2014 and 2020, in collaboration with colleagues at Lancaster University, I was fortunate to lead research using atomic resolution electron microscopy which led to the discovery of magnetic nanomaterials in the brains and hearts of Alzheimer’s patients. This work received media coverage across the world from 2016 to 2017 and provided key evidence that airborne traffic-derived pollution containing nanosized metal oxides can have many adverse effects on our bodies, with the potential to gravely affect our health in the long term.

In 2015, I contributed to a study looking at the nucleation and growth kinetics of authigenic iron minerals in Gale Crater mudstones. Gale Crater was formed when a meteor hit Mars in its early history, about 3.5 billion years ago. This work was published in Nature Geosciences and led to a better understanding of the evolution of the atmosphere in early Earth and Mars.

How does the water industry compare to academia?

In academia, ideas are plentiful, there is a lot of energy and really efficient working practices – but all are directed towards novelty and new discoveries. 

In the water industry, there is a lot of creativity focused on improving customer experience, ensuring regulatory compliance and solving real-world problems. There is also a tremendous amount of collaboration – where everyone can contribute as part of a much bigger whole. There’s a real appreciation of the tangible work the sector does, serving communities and protecting the environment.

People are at the heart of innovation. So, when they move between sectors it strengthens effective knowledge exchange because when people move, their ideas move too. 

What do you aspire to achieve in the water industry?

My goal is to support UKWIR and our members access the right funding and connect with academia and other sectors. This is really different from carrying out research myself as here I can make an impact by facilitating applied research. 

Water is at the core of sustainable development and the motivation here is to help tackle emerging water problems and support the sector to sustainably achieve its goals while protecting and improving the natural environment.

UKWIR is running a variety of really exciting projects including on zero carbon, zero waste, freshwater abstraction, emerging contaminants and wastewater treatment. Contributing to such a vital programme and making difference in water research is what I set out to achieve when I joined UKWIR.

Tell us something you like doing outside of work

My favourite thing to do outside of work is to spend time with my family. I enjoy exercising and keeping fit, mainly long walks and cycling which helps get my endorphins going. I am also an active python programmer and enjoy weekends building codes for some robotic microelectronic engineering projects

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