Month: March 2024

Start-up insights: AminoAnalytica

Abhi Rajendran is a fourth-year undergraduate student in the Department of Materials. Together with recent alumnus Adam Wu, they have founded a new start-up, AminoAnalytica and are participating in this year’s Venture Catalyst Challenge, Imperial College London’s flagship entrepreneurial competition.

In this new blog post, the team tell us more about their start-up and what they’ve learned so far.

Can you tell us more about your company?

One of the main challenges when making drugs is that it takes a long time to test them in a laboratory. A lot of time and cost is spent on screening thousands of proteins in a lab, often to find only one has a chance of making it to a phase-one clinical trial. It can cost over $1000 to physically screen a single compound, making this process incredibly wasteful.

Our new company, AminoAnalytica is a protein property prediction software that aims to accelerate drug discovery. We develop an AI tool to predict the physical properties of drugs before you need to synthesise them in the real world. This means the only drugs that are made are the drugs that will cure your target disease.

Long term, we are aiming to form strategic partnerships with biotech companies where we can combine their in-house data with our proprietary datasets to develop the most accurate virtual screening method for protein-based therapeutics.

What was the inspiration behind starting your company?

I took a deep dive into the into the world of protein modelling as part of my MEng project with Dr Stefano Angioletti-Uberti. This was new space for me, but I did have some prior experience in data-driven environments which was quite applicable. As soon as I started to see promising technical results from my project, I reached out to my housemate Adam Wu who graduated from the Department of Materials last year.

Using his experience in business consulting, we assessed the market and made a few calculations to see if there was potential in the property prediction space. From there, we applied to the Imperial Venture Catalyst Challenge and got accepted onto the 2024 AI x Robotics track.

Starting a business as a student or new graduate can be challenging. Have you had any obstacles and how have you navigated these? 

At this stage in our careers, it has been challenging to grow a significant network in the biotech/pharma space – this makes everything from customer discovery, idea refinement and feedback a challenge. Fortunately, the Enterprise lab at Imperial have been incredibly helpful in perfecting our approach to reaching out and we’ve met some very useful people as a result.

In addition to this we have got involved in several student led organisations such as Nucleate (biotech community) which has been great for sparking interesting conversations with academics and industry leaders.

Are there any key lessons or skills you’ve learned through the process?

Don’t be afraid to reach out to people, just be honest about what you know and what you are after – most people are actually out to help you!

Since publishing this blog post, AminoAnalytica has won its track and is a finalist in the Venture Catalyst Challenge 2024 Grand Final!

Get your tickets for the Grand Final.

PhD Spotlight: Transforming battery technologies

Ramin is a PhD student in the group of Professor Mary Ryan. Her research focuses on understanding some of the major degradation processes we see in lithium-ion batteries – which are found in your laptops, calculators, e-bikes, children’s toys. Improving this battery technology, could lead to reduce consumer costs for battery replacement, as well as contribute towards legislative efforts in electrifying the UK.

What inspired you to study for a PhD?

I always knew that I wanted to do a PhD because I loved the idea of having a specific research question and dedicating time to answering it (or trying to, at least!). I did my undergraduate degree in Chemical Engineering at UCL, and my master’s project, supervised by Dr Yang Lan, revolved around investigating the colloidal stability of coronavirus-like particles, a highly relevant project during the pandemic. I enjoyed variety of tasks needed to complete my project, such as deriving a theoretical model to simulate the particle behaviour and writing a comprehensive literature review and knew that I wanted to continue working in a research field.

The only question that I had was ‘which field do I want to study in?’, which was quickly answered as I undertook three modules related to energy sources. I immediately learnt about how crucial a role renewable sources play in transitioning our world to net zero. The idea of being able to contribute directly to society and have the opportunity to work with some fantastic researchers is definitely a ‘pinch me’ feeling!

Can you tell us more about your research?

My research focuses on understanding some of the major degradation processes we see in lithium-ion batteries. These batteries can be found in your laptops, calculators, e-bikes, children’s toys, just to name a few applications, but they come with several issues. The biggest challenge they face is their susceptibility to the formation of dendrites.

Dendrites are tree-like, lithium-containing extensions that grow on the electrode surface and can potentially create a ’bridge’ between the cathode and anode, causing short-circuiting (and in worst-case scenarios, possible explosions) (Fig. 1). If dendrites are such a major problem in batteries, why can’t we stop them? The answer is a two-fold one.

  1. While various efforts have been taken to mitigate/ suppress dendrite growth in batteries, such as adding additives into the electrolyte, we cannot truly stop dendritic growth completely until we understand exactly how and why they even grow.
  2. To do this, we need to be able to visualise how batteries work at the nanoscale, which is a huge challenge due to the limitations in current analytical techniques.

My research aims to utilise the new cryogenic facility (cryo-EPS) in the Department of Materials at Imperial College London, more specifically the atom probe tomography (APT) and transmission electron microscopy (TEM) machines, to investigate the local chemistry and structure of dendrites at the nanoscale, just as they start to grow. An in-situ electrochemical cell is used to simulate early-stage dendritic growth and allow us to visualise this in real time, and this is then characterised to paint a clearer image of the redox/ degradation mechanisms occurring. This information will provide insights into predictive indicators of dendritic growth along the electrode surface and from this, we can devise more effective mitigating measures to suppress their growth. This research is also very cool as it involves plunge-freezing batteries in liquid nitrogen to ‘freeze’ the chemistry in place – this way, we’re able to achieve a snapshot of the battery system in real time!

By improving battery technology, this research aims to reduce consumer costs for battery replacement, as well as contribute towards legislative efforts in electrifying the UK.

What does a typical day involve?

One of the best parts of a PhD is how varied the days are. It’s essentially a four-year project, which means there are lots of tasks to get on with and these tasks differ depending on the stage of your PhD and personal deadlines.

Recently, I’ve been spending my mornings in the lab synthesising electrode materials (which involves a lot of stirring) or coin cell batteries. Testing the battery performance immediately after assembling them is always slightly stressful as you can expect at least one of them to fail! My afternoons are generally spent on desk, which can involve analysing data, putting presentation slides together or reviewing current literature, which has been especially important for a current paper I am working on. My days can also consist of teaching undergraduate students (as a Graduate Teaching Assistant) or supervising master’s students.

Can you tell us more about your research group?

My project ties in electrochemistry with complex materials characterisation techniques and because of this, I have several research groups spanning different research themes. I work primarily under Professor Mary Ryan(Fig. 2a), whose large interdisciplinary group covers nanoscale science and interfaces, including energy materials, bio-sensors and corrosion science.

I also work with Professor Baptiste Gault (Fig. 2b), who spends his time between Imperial and Max-Planck-Institut für Eisenforschung in Düsseldorf and whose research group specialises in APT and correlative TEM for various applications.

My other research groups include the Conroy group, led by Dr Shelly Conroy (Fig. 2c), and the Interfacial Electrochemistry group, led by Professor Ifan Stephens (Fig. 2d). The research of the former focuses on APT and TEM (particularly 4D-STEM strain analysis) and is part of the cryo-EPS facility at Imperial, while Stephens’ group focuses on the large-scale electrochemical conversion of renewable energy to fuels, namely via LIBs, catalysis and fuel cells.

What do you enjoy outside of your PhD?

I like to unwind from my PhD through trying out new recipes, whether it’s through cooking or baking. As science experiments tend to require careful measurements, I like that cooking is generally more flexible and gives me the chance to be slightly more creative. I also enjoy practising creativity through art, especially hyper-realistic drawings and paintings.

Aside from this, I still enjoy the science realm outside of my PhD, often engaging in outreach events, including school presentations and Student Ambassador days for upcoming engineering students. We also have several group lunches/ dinners per year as part of a research group, including the most recent Christmas lunch with the Conroy group (Fig. 3)!


[1] Babu G, Ajayan PM. Good riddance, dendrites. Nature Energy.