June 5, 2024

Chenying Liu is one of seven British Science Festival 2024 Award Lecturers and winner of the Josh Award from the BIG STEM Communicators Network

Postdoctoral researcher Chenying Liu has been recognised for her outstanding science communication and ongoing public engagement activities. She has been selected as the British Science Festival 2024 Award Lecturer for Engineering, Technology and Industry, and has also been named winner of the Josh Award for Science and Showmanship by the BIG STEM Communicators Network.

Each year, the British Science Association (BSA) recognises seven Award Lecturers, each of whom is carrying out pioneering research as well as committing to public engagement activities to ensure their work reaches a non-specialist audience. The Award Lectures have previously been given by high-profile scientists and science communicators such as Brian Cox, Richard Wiseman and Maggie Aderin-Pocock.

BIG is the skills sharing network for individuals involved in the communication of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects. The Josh Award is a national prize for early-career science communicators who are passionate about continuing to work in this field in the future.

Chenying brings her research at Oxford to life for the general public by thinking carefully about how to make it accessible and using interactive hands-on activities. She was selected as the first cohort of Oxford Sparks Ambassadors in 2021 to enhance the university’s digital science engagement and produced a video explaining her research revolving around origami, 3D printing, and robotics which was viewed over 70,000 times.

Chenying is particularly keen to inspire future engineers, as evidenced by her continuing participation in Oxplore, the university outreach programme, and involvement in various science festivals including the 2022 Great Road Festival Exhibition and the 2023 Begbroke Science Wonder Garden Party.

She says, “It is an incredible honour and pleasant surprise to be recognised with both awards alongside other science communicators across the UK. I am very grateful to the British Science Association and the BIG Network for acknowledging my dedication to public engagement.”

She completed her DPhil in Engineering Science at the University of Oxford under the supervision of Professors Zhong You (Special Structures Group) and Perla Maiolino (Soft Robotics Lab, Oxford Robotics Institute), following her BEng at Beihang University, China. She has worked on modern structures inspired by origami and leveraged their exceptional mechanical properties to design robots with “intelligence”. Examples include flat surfaces that can deform upon pressure, a gripper to manipulate delicate objects, and a millipede-like robot that can adapt to the environment by changing its morphology. Chenying is always keen to explore how structures can benefit society in different domains. and a millipede-like robot that can adapt to the environment by changing its morphology. Chenying is always keen to explore how structures can benefit society in different domains.

After graduation, Chenying joined the Podium Institute for Sports Medicine and Technology as a Postdoctoral Researcher. Working with Professors Liang He (Healthcare Biorobotics Lab), Zhong You, and Constantin Coussios at the Institute of Biomedical Engineering, Chenying is now extending her origami expertise for healthcare applications. Currently, she is developing origami-inspired personal protective equipment (e.g. helmets and exoskeletons) with improved protection and personalised design. Chenying is also a Stipendiary Lecturer at Christ Church college, teaching structures and mechanics.

She says, “My heartfelt gratitude goes to all my academic mentors, collaborators, colleagues, and peers who have bolstered me along this journey, particularly Professors Zhong You, Perla Maiolino, and Liang He at Oxford. I must also express my deepest appreciation to Professor Barbara Rossi who ignited my passion for outreach and has always been an inspiring role model. Tutorial teaching at Christ Church is a truly rewarding experience, allowing me to practice and communicate science with my students. Last but not least, this award would not be possible without the nomination and unwavering support from Dr Michaela Livingstone-Banks, Dr Fiona Suttle, and the entire Maths, Physics and Life Sciences (MPLS) engagement team. I look forward to sharing my insights on origami robots this summer!”

James Brown, Chair of the UK Science Festivals Network and Member of the Josh Award Selection Panel, comments: “We are very excited to be able to award the 2024 Josh Award to Chenying Liu for her work with Origami Robotics. The judging panel had a hard time trying to decide between some fantastic applications this year, but were very impressed with Chenying’s proposal for a range of different activities and events which would appeal to and engage with new audiences. Covering topics including engineering, space, climate and creativity, we are looking forward to seeing how Chenying develops these activities across the next 12 months, starting with the British Science Festival in September in East London.”

Chenying and her peers at the 2022 International Women in Engineering Day contributed to a series of outreach talks for A-level students who self-identify as female or non-binary and are interested in pursuing an engineering degree.

Find out more about this year’s Award Lectures from the press release here: