From adversity to acclaim: The resilient journey of Assoc. Prof. Pham Minh Son, 2024 Young Innovator Award Recipient

Sunday - 19/11/2023 02:41
In his formative years, Pham Minh Son navigated a challenging path, earning a livelihood by collecting trash, and discontinuing his education due to his family's financial downfall. However, upon his return, Pham Minh Son exhibited an unwavering determination to surpass academic expectations, securing numerous scholarships and ultimately being honored with the 2024 Young Innovator Award. Currently, Associate Professor Pham Minh Son is the Chairman of the Hanoi University of Science and Technology's Alumni UK Charter.
Associate Professor Pham Minh Son at the Imperial College London (UK)
Associate Professor Pham Minh Son at the Imperial College London (UK)
At 41, Associate Professor Pham Minh Son leads a research group specializing in advanced materials for aviation, space, and energy systems at Imperial College London. As a Vietnamese scientist, he received the prestigious 2024 Young Innovator Award from The Minerals, Metals, and Materials Society (TMS) and is scheduled to deliver a keynote address at the TMS Annual Conference, addressing an audience of over 4,000 scientists and speakers in Florida in March 2024. Reflecting on his journey to success, Associate Professor Son shared insights into the numerous challenges he faced.

In 1989, shortly after completing first grade, Minh Son's family experienced financial hardship, leading them to reside in a makeshift tent between two hills in Viet Tri, Phu Tho. Driven by economic adversity, Son's mother engaged in collecting scrap metal, while his three siblings were compelled to abandon their studies and scavenge for trash across the streets and landfills of Viet Tri.

As the youngest member of the family, Son was encouraged to resume his studies at the age of 9. "During that period, I was too young to fully comprehend the difficulties my family was enduring. My joy was primarily derived from the realization that I no longer had to wake up early every morning to collect trash," he reminisced.

In a unique upbringing, he cites a particular drive to overcome adversity. Despite missing the 2nd and 3rd-grade programs, he was steadfast in leaping to the 4th grade to avoid redundancy. Forgoing additional schooling, Son sought books for self-study while assisting his mother in selling goods at the market. His prowess in Mathematics earned him the second prize in the provincial excellent student competition - the highest accolade in the entire cohort of Viet Tri High School at that time.

Son successfully passed the entrance exam and graduated with honors from Hanoi University of Science and Technology in 2005. Subsequently, he secured a master's scholarship at Korea University (Korea). Initially grappling with mockery due to his limited English proficiency, Son also faced challenges adapting to the new environment. In 2008, Minh Son received a doctoral scholarship at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology ETH Zurich. His doctoral thesis on the structural degradation of steel in nuclear power plants earned him the ETH Medal for an outstanding doctoral thesis. In 2013, rejecting invitations from esteemed institutes in Germany and the UK, Dr. Son chose to work at Carnegie Mellon University (USA) to pursue his scientific research.

In December 2015, he embarked on establishing a research team at Imperial College London, ranked among the top 10 universities globally according to Times Higher Education. By 2021, Associate Professor Son assumed the role of a senior lecturer. His impressive body of work includes groundbreaking research published in reputable journals such as Nature and Nature Communications, with over 20 invited presentations at major international conferences like TMS, Programmable Materials 2020, ICMAT 2019. He has also delivered lectures at esteemed institutions worldwide, including MIT, Oxford, and Michigan.

Associate Professor Son is dedicated to advancing the production of sophisticated metamaterials, targeting applications in aviation, space, automobiles, energy, and medicine. Collaborating with industry giants such as Rolls Royce, the European Union's Space Agency (ESA), and BP, he strives to push the boundaries of scientific innovation.

A standout achievement in his recent research endeavours is the development of "supercrystals" with enhanced damage resistance, increased strength, and reduced weight. Published in Nature in 2019, this work is recognized by the Nature editorial board as a superstructure with diverse applications in aviation and space.

Dr. Son's team at the Imperial College London ingeniously blends metal science with 3D printing technology to craft super-lightweight supercrystals. These materials boast high durability and programmable smart capabilities. By simulating natural crystal structures, the team creates "crystals within crystals," altering the material's structural properties and enabling programmable shape changes. This groundbreaking discovery opens avenues for the production of compact, resilient 3D printing materials applicable in automotive, aviation, and space equipment.
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Assoc. Prof. Son at the Net Zero Conference, organized by HUST and Imperial College London in 2023
Dr. María Teresa Pérez-Prado, one of the leading materials scientists from the IMDEA Materials Institute, hails this research as the most intriguing and groundbreaking in the past decade. She emphasizes its potential to revolutionize the design of crystal lattice structures with unprecedented properties, as noted in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

One notable application of supercrystalline structures is in the realm of medical science. Collaborating with doctors at Hammersmith Hospital in London, Associate Professor Son successfully implemented materials with programmable shapes for use in heart surgery. The team engineered a micro-chip Catheter tip by combining Shape Memory Alloy (SMA) with a multi-stable structure. This innovation enables the Catheter head structure to unfold and change shape based on pre-programming, facilitating swift measurement of the heart's electrical pulse signal upon entering the heart cavity. The success of this research lies in the meticulous design of small metal bars that can measure signals at multiple points, utilizing the phase change principle in crystals to optimize shape for increased contact with the heart cavity wall. This breakthrough not only aids accurate detection of the electrical pulse signal's origin but also uses a laser within the catheter to block undesirable signals, aiding patients in restoring normal heart rates and preventing complications.

Looking ahead, Associate Professor Son expresses his commitment to collaborating with industrial partners, furthering groundbreaking research that combines metal science with 3D printing technology. This pursuit aims to create supermaterials with unique properties—lightweight, highly durable, and intelligent, with sensing, logical reasoning, and transformative capabilities. These advancements hold immense promise across various sectors, including automobiles, aviation, space, and energy.

Open to collaboration with domestic scientists, Dr. Son's team delves into materials research for creating self-recovering car components, utilizing shape memory materials to minimize repairs and facilitate self-healing when deformed. Additionally, their work contributes to the development of materials supporting the green hydrogen economy.

Recognizing his outstanding contributions to the field, Associate Professor Son was honored with the 2024 Young Innovator Award from the Minerals, Metals, and Materials Association (TMS). This prestigious annual award acknowledges scientists under 40 who have made exceptional contributions and breakthroughs in materials for 3D printing manufacturing technology.
(Vnexpress, translated by DPE - HUST)
 Tags: #UK, #UK-ICL, #UKAlumni
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