João Cabral, Professor of Soft Matter Engineering, Department of Chemical Engineering

Prof Joao Cabral

I am an incredibly lucky married gay man, with two children, and Imperial has provided me with a great supportive environment.” 

I am a professor of soft matter in the Department of Chemical Engineering, and Associate Director of the Institute for Molecular Science and Engineering (IMSE). I also co-chair our Equality, Diversity & Culture Committee in the department. I hold a research chair co-sponsored by Procter & Gamble, and the Royal Academy of Engineering. Our team collaborates closely with industry to understand and redesign the thermodynamics and performance of ‘complex fluids’, to enable a sustainable transition of the sector. 

I grew up in Portugal, between Lisbon and the countryside of Alentejo, where my family comes from and runs a cattle and cork farm. At school, I somewhat resented having to accept and memorise concepts and formulae in chemistry and physics. Perhaps my stubbornness led me to study physics at university, and I attended the Instituto Superior Técnico (IST) in Lisbon, where I had some amazing mentors. I became fascinated by atomic and molecular physics and, for the first time, appreciated the humility and tentativeness of scientific discovery. I was lucky to spend time at KTH Stockholm, and a year at a nuclear laboratory Laboratoire Léon Brillouin, just outside Paris, before doing my PhD in polymer thermodynamics at Imperial. I then moved to Washington DC as a postdoc at the National Institute of Science and Technology, and learned the importance of articulating the significance of our research to funders in industry and government, before returning to Imperial as a lecturer.

LGBTQIA+ History Month is a time to remember and celebrate the many contributions of LGBTQIA+ individuals to society. This requires some research, particularly in science and engineering, where so little is known about these individuals.

True to my conservative, catholic, upbringing, I have generally kept my personal life to myself. In recent years, however, I have felt some responsibility towards students and colleagues at home and abroad. I am an incredibly lucky married gay man, with two children, and Imperial has provided me with a great supportive environment. Just after my ‘shotgun wedding’ and just months before my kids were born, HR changed the rules for paternity leave and benefits so my family could be accommodated. I was immensely proud of Imperial and my department.  

From our Imperial values, Respect and Collaboration really resonate with me. I recall several ‘before and after’ moments, when a few words with someone can bring you clarity, inspiration and encouragement. I once had a brief chat with Pierre-Gilles de Gennes (Physics Nobel prize 1991), who was visiting Imperial, and he clapped when I shared some quite pedestrian results from my PhD. Good (and bad) mentors truly shape us.

Prof Joao Cabral and family
Professor João Cabral with his family.

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