Pola Goldberg Oppenheimer

I have a unique interdisciplinary background with formal training in Chemical Engineering, Chemistry, Physics and Electrical Engineering.

I have been pioneering technologies at the forefront of microengineering and sophisticated nanofabrication, including the development of innovative Electrohydrodynamic lithography (EHL) for advanced functional devices. The importance of these developments has been recognized by my work being featured as frontispieces in leading journals including the Nature Biomedical Engineering, press-releases, BBC news, radio exposures and EPSRC and Royal Academy of Engineering Case Studies.

I received my PhD in Physics from the University of Cambridge, with the Springer Award for scientific excellence, in 2012. In 2013, I was appointed as a Research Fellow at the University of Birmingham in the School of Chemical Engineering and won the highly prestigious Royal Academy of Engineering Research Fellowship – the ‘leading scheme to recognise and reward the brightest and most talented engineers working in the UK’. In recognition to my discoveries and technological accomplishments I was promoted to Reader in Microengineering and Bionanotechnology, just 5 years after graduating with my PhD, recognising outstanding performance in delivering impact through a diverse range of activities and initiatives.

I have published nearly seventy high-impact papers and book chapters, two books, filed three patents, attracted considerable funding from the Ministry of Defence, BAE-Systems, Procter & Gamble, Wellcome Trust and the Royal Society and, given over thirty invited and key-note lectures at leading academic institutions and international conferences. I have been a recipient of several prestigious awards and markers of esteem including, the Royal Academy of Engineering Fellowship (2016), Female Faces of Engineering (2014), Excellence in Leadership and Management, University of Cambridge (2014), the Carl-Zeiss Technology Award (2013) and Early Career Achievement Award (2017) in recognition of my technological innovation. In 2017, I was invited to the House of Commons Science & Technology Committee, in the ‘Voice of the Future’ session organised by Government Ministers of State for Science, Research and Innovation. In 2018, I was featured in the ‘Birmingham Heroes in Healthcare Technologies’ Campaign and in 2019, I became a member of the ‘Parliamentary Engineering Committee’ at the House of Lords.

Since the start of my independent academic career, I have made instrumental contributions in developing sophisticated platform technologies at the forefront of interdisciplinary science in applied nanotechnology and engineering. I initiated a new area of research in synergistic materials and devices for bio-nanotechnology and have discovered intelligent methods for micro and nano-structuring of surfaces via a novel lithographic route. These have resulted in development of new miniaturised devices, which are now being exploited in high performance electronic chips, accurate chemical and biological sensors and powerful diagnostic tools for medical research. The enhanced performance of the developed nanoplatforms expanded technological applications of these to light emission diodes, field effect transistors, advancing photovoltaic devices and portable biochemical sensing.

My current research is focussed on developing new cost-effective, sensitive and portable optofluidic lab-on-a-chip technologies based on unconventional lithographic nanoengineering, to deliver enhanced biomedical diagnostics at the point-of-care at a fraction of the speed and cost of incumbent lab-based modules. I am in process of translating a patented technology, with the financial support of the Royal Academy of Engineering, into a diagnostic portable assay for early-stage detection of blood biomarkers of devastating diseases and particularly, to accurately diagnose traumatic brain injury (TBI) at the point-of-care. TBI is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide, which has become a major challenge of the 21st century and by 2023, the WHO estimates that neuro-trauma will become the leading cause of death worldwide. While life-changing decisions must be made rapidly, it is notoriously hard to diagnose at the point-of-need, resulting in incorrect patient management and the chances of an individual suffering cognitive or physical impairment are massively increased. Existing diagnostic modalities are woefully inadequate either requiring large equipment, long-waiting times, invasive or not sensitive and timely enough.

To realise the next-generation tools for point-of-care diagnostics, I have been driving the development of new reliable technologies for TBI, deployable at the pitch-side, by the roadside, at home or on the battlefield, which can improve clinical outcomes for millions of patients in both military and civilian settings. One of these is underpinned by a cutting-edge microengineering via EHL, which enabled low-cost, custom-designed high-sensitivity and specificity nanosensors to rapidly detect disease indicative biomarkers at trace-level concentrations in blood. The portable technology combines these smart sensors into spectroscopic lab-on-a-chip devices for early-stage detection in scenarios where point-of-care diagnosis is vital and the damage becomes more significant with time, e.g., TBI. Given the high-complication rate of TBI, many permanent disabilities, post-traumatic neurodisorders requiring long-term care, with an estimated annual cost in the UK of £7.5B, the socioeconomic impact of the new technology will be significant. In addition to delivering timely intervention and organised trauma-care to millions of individuals, it will decelerate the patients’ cognitive decline, reduce mortality, avoid long-term hospital stays and reduce a major burden on the NHS and the taxpayer. The initial impact of the technology has been recognised by news in “Physics World” Press Release (https://physicsworld.com/a/brain-injury-diagnosed-with-a-finger-prick-and-an-optofluidic-chip/), Case Study (https://drive.google.com/file/d/19MZ5XTrcQZN2IgELzE1xeE55aj6Mt3Jc/view), BBC1 Radio Interview and BBC1 WM News (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-birmingham-36915948).