“Super-hydrophobic?” Meet Dr Manish K Tiwari
UCL Mechanical Engineering lecturer, researcher and member of UCL’s Institute of Biomedical Engineering, Dr Manish K Tiwari was born in Durgapur, India. He holds a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he received the Dean’s Scholar award during his doctoral research.
When you were at the age of our undergraduates what kind of student were you? What was your student life like?
Gee, I hope I was a normal student! My undergraduate degree was in Mechanical Engineering from Jadavpur University in Calcutta. I used to live in a hostel at the time, away from home for the first time, which taught me how to manage my budget! I also found some great friends and some exceptional professors. I consider myself utterly fortunate to have met them.
You’ve studied and worked in your native India, and in the US. What made you choose to join UCL and work in London?
I was in Zurich for four years before moving here. I like cities, have lived most of my life in them, and my wife was keen to be close to her sister, who lives in the UK. I also was aware of UCL’s repute and excellence in research. So it all just seemed to fall in place with the offer from UCL.
You are actively researching the development of hydrophobic technologies. What prompted this?
It started during my PhD research at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I have a dear friend, Dr Ilker Bayer, who first introduced me to the idea. At the time, we were two graduate students having fun in the lab! That is how I got hooked to super-hydrophobic surfaces, which are surfaces that strongly repel water.
What do you think some of the practical applications for this might be?
There are loads of applications. Some companies are already beginning to introduce highly water resistant clothes and coatings to treat surfaces. Potentially, well designed surfaces can also delay the freezing of water, thereby showing anti-icing property. Anti-icing is very useful for planes, wind turbine blades and external infrastructure components in cold climates etc. There are some major challenges as well, such as the durability of these surfaces. That’s what makes it an interesting research topic.
Why does working in academia appeal to you over, say, working in industry, which might be more financially rewarding?
I was always interested in academia, being fully aware of its relative financial disadvantage. Academia has some unique features. I feel that academics have better opportunities to do research with a long-term perspective and work on problems that are doggedly hard. Then there is the opportunity to interact with students and hopefully make positive contributions in inspiring their scientific curiosity. Both of these aspects are very rewarding.
You hold Michael Faraday in very high esteem. Tell us why.
Michael Faraday was a unique scientist; with almost no formal training he went on to literally introduce the very founding principles of electrical machines and electro-chemistry.
One of his lesser known inventions is the creation of a stable gold colloid, which is a suspension of gold nanoparticles. Think of a thick coffee, but made with gold nanoparticles! His is still one of the most efficient ways to make colloids. Being Faraday, he went a step further to show how optical properties of gold nanoparticles were different from bulk gold. Plasmonics, an active area of current research, was perhaps born in the process. Having worked with nano-particle colloids for printing 3D nano-structures, I cannot but admire Faraday’s genius.
Who are your other heroes?
I could never thank my dad enough for his tireless dedication and support; he is my real hero. Richard Feynman is another scientist that I really admire. His book Surely you’re joking Mr Feynman! can perhaps intrigue anyone into doing science. I also like Bill Gates a lot, particularly for his hard-headed philanthropic work.
What personal achievement gives you the most pride?
I like the fact that I ended up being an academic, as I always wanted to.