I am a Professor of Biological Physics and currently, I also act as Associate Head of the Physics Department (Equality, Diversity & Inclusion). My work lies at the interface of physics, biology, and nanotechnology. I am an expert in atomic force microscopy of biological systems and I have a special focus on the role of mechanics in biology.
My interest in matter at the nanometre scale led me from a Ph.D. in Japan on the physics of nanostructures, to biology. My multidisciplinary journey is a quest to interrogate how matter entangles itself with its environment, storing information in time and space, to create (or better to compute) complex structures (from the nanometre scale, up) that are able to adapt, learn, reproduce and evolve to become “alive”. My main interest is in understanding the profound physical meaning of “biological shape”, so I study the physics of “biological growth” in diverse systems such as plants, and tumours.
I am a believer in “learning by making”, collaborating, creating technology, engaging with the public. By doing so I find interesting problems, but more fundamentally I strive to weave responsibility in my science, so my work can contribute to progress in a meaningful, ethical, and fairer way. Currently, I collaborate with architects to create bioinspired, sustainable “smart” materials based on wood and plants, which might be able to substitute steel in the future, with clinicians to improve the treatment of pancreatic tumours by targeting their physics, with engineers to create graphene sensor devices, and engineers and neuroscientists to treat conditions such a chronic pain or epileptic fits using ultrasound.
My most ambitious idea is at the interface of biology, physics, and computer science: “can we create small soft robots that can evolve their shapes until they become able to learn?”
- Current Positions/Board memberships:
Since 2020 Associate Head of the Department of Physics (ED&I). University of Oxford.
Since 2020 Full Professor of Biological Physics. Physics Department University of Oxford.
Since 2020 Senior Research Fellow at Green Templeton College, University of Oxford.
Since 2016 Senior Fellow at the Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford.
Since 2018 Member of the Andalusian Government Research and Innovation Advisory Board
Since 2018 Chair of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) “Physics of Life” External Advisory Board.
Since 2021 Vice Chair of the Atomic Force Microscopy and SPM committee of the Royal Microscopical Society
Since 2017 Member of the management committee of the EU COST action “Biomaterials and advanced physical techniques for regenerative cardiology and neurology”
Since 2021 Mentor in the international innovation programme “Creative Destruction Lab” (Oxford Said Business School) which assembles world leaders in Innovation
- Career breaks: 2 maternity leaves, in 2008 and in 2013.
- Previous Positions/ roles:
2012-2020 Associate Professor of Biological Physics at Physics Department, University of Oxford. Research Fellow at Green Templeton College Oxford.
2008-2015 Founder, Director and Co-director of the Oxford Martin Institute of Nanoscience for Medicine (08-13) and Programme on Nanotechnology (13-15), Oxford Martin School.
2017-2020 Elected Chair of the Atomic Force Microscopy and SPM committee of the Royal Microscopical Society, trustee and member of the council.
2016-2019 Advisory board member of the network QBIOX (quantitative biology) at Oxford.
2015-2019 Member of the UK Research Councils-EPSRC Advisory Team on Physical Sciences.
2014 -2016 Member of the World Economic Forum WEF Global Agenda Council on Nanotechnology.
2007-2012 RCUK Academic Fellow and University Lecturer, Oxford Physics Department.
2009 Tokyo University visiting professor at Center for Bio-Nano Integration.
2003- 2007 Postdoc, Bionanotechnology IRC, Physics Dept. University of Oxford.
2003 Visiting Researcher, Kuazulu-Natal University (Medicine Faculty), Durban, South Africa.
2002-2003 Research Assistant Professor, Interdisciplinary Nanoscience Centre, Institute of Physics and Astronomy, University of Aarhus, Denmark.
2000-2002 European Union Science and Technology Postdoctoral Fellow to Japan, SANKEN, Osaka University. (now renamed Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship to Japan)
1995-1996 Research Scientist, J. Heyrovský Institute of Physical Chemistry, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic. Supervisor Zlatko Knor.
1997-2000 Doctor Engineer in Applied Physics (PhD), Dept. of Applied Physics, Graduate School of Engineering, Osaka University, Japan. Supervisor Hiroshi Iwasaki, with a Japanese Government Monbusho Scholarship.
1996 - 1997 Research student, Iwasaki Quantum Molecular Devices Laboratory, Institute of Scientific and Industrial Research- SANKEN, Osaka University. Monbusho Scholar.
1994-1995 Postgraduate Chinese language studies, University of Languages and Culture, Beijing, with a scholarship from the Chinese Ministry of Education.
1993 “Licenciatura” (BSc+MSc) in Physics. Faculty of Sciences, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Spain.
- Languages: Spanish, English, Japanese, Chinese, French, Russian, Czech, German, Danish, basic Arabic.
- Dissemination and engagement with the public:
Public speaker on the role Physics and Nanotechnology in the future of Biology and Medicine in schools, universities, panels, NGOs, companies, Oxford Martin School, Pint of Science festival, Soapbox Science events and international forums some examples: 26/6/2020, European parliament’s Panel for the Future of Science and Technology (STOA) organised a seminar to discuss the topics covered in my book “Nano comes to life”; 13/1/2020, speaker at the Royal Institution of Great Britain “Nano comes to life” (the video on YouTube has over 40,000 views); 02/2020, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Meeting, Seattle, invited to present my book “Nano comes to life”; 12/4/2020, National Museum of Scotland, the Edinburgh Science Festival; 20/3/2020, Oxford Literary Festival, one of the leading literary festivals in the UK; 15/5/2020, Swindon Festival; 30/5/2020, Hay Festival; 3/7/2020, Also Festival; 08/2020, Edinburg International Book Festival; 3/12/2019, Oxford Martin School “Nano comes to life”; 7/12/2019, Oxford Physics Public Lecture 2021; London Futurists; 11/2019, How to ACADEMY (London) “Nano comes to life”; 12/2018, CAIXA BANK Global Diversity talks: National Gallery London. Invited Speaker at the World Economic Forum (WEF), Tianjin 2010 and WEF Ideas Lab, Dalian 2011. Invited speaker at the WIRED conference London 2012 and Altius Conference in Oxford, 2016.
- Media coverage, podcasts and contributions (selected):
16 Dec 2019: guest on BBC Radio 4 “Start of the Week“ with the topic "Numbers, nightmares and nanotech" Kirsty Wark discussed scientific secrets, lies and hype with Hannah Fry, Sonia Contera, Tim Harford and Izabella Kaminska.
27 Nov 2019 “Nano comes to life” is recommended by the New Scientist in the article “Don't miss: knotty sculptures, deadly diseases and molecular machines” .
26 Nov 2019 “Nano comes to life” is mentioned in The Times, 26 Nov 2019, in the piece ”Scientists create DNA trap to ensnare virus” and in
Interview with BBC Science Focus Magazine, 2020.
Podcasts: BBC Science Focus podcast, Interview with the science editor of The Times , Tom Whipple for “Intelligence squared” podcast, Harvard Business Review: “The State of Nanotechnology” Exponential view podcast, with Azeem Azhar (), People Behind the Science podcast 2019, Bridging the Gaps by Waseem Akhtar (Ireland), BBC Science Focus,etc.
Webcasts: (2019-2020) Oxford Martin School web channel: “Nano comes to life” (), Royal Institution of Great Britain, London Futurists, etc.
Interviews for El Mundo (Spanish newspaper 2016) and La Vanguardia (2016), Science Magazine (2014). Interview for a feature on careers in Nanobiotechnology; El Pais newspaper (2012). “The Future of Medicine”, interview; El Mundo newspaper (2011). “Nanotechnology and Tissue Engineering”; Glamour Magazine Spain (2013). “Spanish women in science, the generation that will decide the future”.; Der Spiegel (2010) “Forscher zoomen auf die Atom-Ebene”.
Written pieces: Two pieces based on my book “Nano comes to life “ for Princeton Ideas 2019, and for AEON magazine 2020 (https://aeon.co/essays/the-future-is-nano-and-it-will-revolutionise-medical-science), “Six future forms” 6 pages feature in WIRED UK and WIRED Italy in 2013., Written pieces for the Huffington Post and for the World Economic Forum Agenda.
Books: Author of “Nano Comes To Life: How Nanotechnology Is Transforming Medicine and the Future of Biology”, Princeton University Press (November 2019, hardback, ebook, audiobook, paperback 2021).The book will be translated and sold in China by CITIC and in Japan by Newton Press.
Coauthor of “Anticipating 2025: A guide to the radical changes that may lie ahead, whether or not we're ready” (2014).
Honorary member of the Society for Natural Sciences(2020), Oxford Physics Department Research Merit Award 2006, RCUK Academic Fellowship (2007-2012), EU Fellowship to Japan (2000-2002), Japan Ministry of Education, Monbushō PhD scholarship (1996-2000), Chinese government graduate scholarship (1994-1995), Japan Marubun Research Promotion Foundation Award 1998, project: “Fabrication of DNA nanowires for realisation of DNA computing”.