Prof Jawwad A Darr | Creating Linkages Between British and Pakistani Scientists

  • Your profile mentions that you are a professor, Chairman of a UPSIGN charity, British Pakistani Diaspora leaders. What exactly is your introduction?

I am a professor of materials chemistry and I like to discover materials with improved properties; materials chemistry, gives almost unlimited opportunities for developing key technologies such as energy storage devices (e.g. batteries), green fuel cells (using fuels to generate electricity), energy harvesting devices (e.g. solar panels) and catalysis for making useful chemicals.  Over the last 20 years, I’ve developed new manufacturing capabilities, which allow us to develop these new materials faster and also scale them up through process engineering.  I’m also interested in how we can use robots and automation to reduce materials development timelines!   On a personal note, I’m one of those people who likes to learn how to do everything, usually through watching others or trial and error!  I enjoy doing small building projects or creative things, e.g. during the last pandemic, in my spare evenings I put together a large log cabin office in my back garden, which is now my office most of the week!

  • How did you conceive the idea of UPSIGN? What are its goals?

UPSIGN is a UK-Pakistan charitable network in academia.  We are here to uplift both British Pakistanis and Pakistani university academics in academia and to help create linkages and support creation of research impact, wealth creation and job creation in Pakistan and the UK. You can find out more about our mission with the following link  The charity has organised a number of webinars, workshops and conferences and online and face-to-face teaching over the years.  

One of the UPSIGN’s events workshops and events related to Pakistan’s Global Challenges 

Why did i co-found the charityLike many British Pakistanis who come from humble beginnings, where we are the first person from our family to go to university, I had a hard path to become Professor at one of the world’s top 20 universities (UCL).  On this long journey, I recognised that British Pakistanis are not given equal opportunities in the UK to progress in academia. Furthermore, as a visiting professor in Pakistan, I learned that foreigners didn’t want to travel to Pakistan or were uncertain about the quality of its research. I wanted to improve opportunities for Pakistanis in Science and Technology worldwide, but was not sure how I could make a difference. One day, I met another individual, Dr Khalid Mahmood, who was equally frustrated about the aforementioned matters and soon after we decided to join with others and setup the network and charity.  Currently, I’m fortunate to work with a small but dedicated leadership team, who all contribute to UK Pakistan academic cooperation as volunteers. I’ve spoken about this issue and my early journey in a recent interview with Pervez Hoodbhoy in fact [ part 1] and [part 2]

One of the three UPSIGN Global Development Workshops in 2020. The video of that speech at the dinner can be found here; 
  • Please tell us about your journey to the Professorship in UCL? Why did you choose the Materials Science?

I started off doing my chemistry undergraduate at Manchester University in 1988 and then happened to secure a PhD at Imperial College afterwards.  At that time, I realised that I was actually more interested in materials chemistry, which I felt was more applied.  As my career progressed and after doing post-doc research in catalysis, I began to develop cleaner materials and processes, which were more sustainable.  Around the millennium, I started to take an interest in biomedical materials (artificial bone and skin and dental materials) and this led to a long-term collaboration with colleagues including British Pakistani and Pakistani scientists, which eventually led to the formation of IRC in biomedical materials in Lahore (Part of what is now called COMSATS Islamabad university), by my long-term mentor Prof Ihtesham Rehman (Lancaster university).  A link to this amazing centre is here

I’ve been a visiting academic at this highly impressive research centre since 2008 and learned a lot about the struggles of Pakistani academics.  Eventually in 2007, I got my dream move to University College London because of my excellent research track record.  University College London has been everything I hoped it would be in terms of the environment and the quality of researchers.  In 2011, I was promoted to a full Professor, which I guess was a rare thing considering that very few scientists from the working class British diaspora are found in the UK’s top universities.

  • Recently you met with PM Imran Khan, what did you discuss with him?

Just before the global pandemic in March 2020, UPSIGN and its partners, organised three global development workshops to bring together 70 academics from Pakistan and 70 from the UK in Islamabad.  Such was the excitement about this series of workshops that we were fortunate enough to be hosted for a dinner by the President of Pakistan and were afforded an audience with Prime Minister Imran Khan.  I must be honest, but I was rather starstruck by meeting him and after introducing some of our team, we spoke about our mission and workshops on how we hoped to improve UK-Pakistan cooperation in specific sectors through universities.  He was very encouraging and supportive.  I also spoke to the president of Pakistan about his interests in improving healthcare and nursing and also how we could improve UK Pakistan relations.  

PM Imran Khan (centre) with UPSIGN members (anticlockwise): Prof. Jawwad Darr, Prof. Ihtesham Rehman, Dr Farooq Shah, Riaz Hasan, Dr Aqif Chaudhry, Dr Khalid Mahmood, Fawad Chaudhry, (Minster of Science and Technology at the time) Dr Parveen Ali and Prof. Nicola Lowe (UKRI)
(Left to right) High Commissioner Christian Turner, Fawad Chaudhry, Dr Arif Alvi (President of Pakistan), Prof. Jawwad Darr (UPSIGN Chairman) and Dr Parveen Ali.
  • What is your current area of research?

Over the last 20 years I’ve developed continuous processing technologies for the controlled manufacturing of inorganic materials.  I’m best known for developing both lab scale discovery and pilot plant scale continuous hydrothermal flow reactors, which use supercritical water at 450°C to cleanly make inorganic nano materials. I’ve also developed continuous processes for solid state chemistry, which use less energy and can be scaled-up inexpensively.  Over the course of my career, I worked in a wide range of materials applications, however most recently, my current research focuses around energy storage (batteries), catalysis and medical nanoparticles.  Eight years ago, we didn’t even know how to make a battery at all and we were watching youtube videos!!  Today we train over 150 undergraduates a year in batteries and have a strong research programme on battery manufacture and testing with UK industry.  I’m also hosting a Pakistani scholarship student Ms Zaibi Khan from QAU who is doing her PhD in sodium ion batteries in my lab.

Here is a video which shows some recent research in this space

  • What is the Materials Science landscape in UK? 

Materials science in the UK is very diverse and we have strong interactions with industry and academia.  Advanced Materials Manufacturing sector in the UK alone is worth £33.5 Bn per year (exports worth £15.5 Bn in 2017). The key growth sectors are materials for transport and healthcare, and emerging materials are predicted to have much higher growth than traditional sectors. Right now the hottest topics are associated with decarbonising energy so battery research and hydrogen research are very big.  In battery research we want to make materials that can deliver energy faster or store more energy per unit volume for cars etc.  In hydrogen, the materials angle is to do with developing new electrode materials, which offer “more bang for your buck”.  Materials sustainability is key and we need to avoid expensive or scarce elements or make materials last longer or work more efficiently.  My advice is for Pakistani researchers to look at such topics in materials!!!.

  • What advice you will give to young researcher who wants to come to UK to pursue their PhDs or find a research related job

Main thing is do your homework before going abroad, try to understand what is different overseas and show keenness to learn and do things for yourself as quickly as possible.  I recommend people check out something UPSIGN launched as a pilot this year, it is an online educational programme designed to enhance the skills and knowledge of Pakistan’s graduates to get them ready for an international platform.  The set of talks we did that can be found via the link here

  • Materials Science has become a key area of research all over the world, but in Pakistan it has not got the recognition yet. Most of the Materials Science PhDs find it hard to find jobs as there are few materials science related departments. What is your take on this issue?

There are some excellent centres of materials, but I guess they are far and few between.  I think materials is pretty much linked to everything, so is clearly a need in Pakistan.  Pakistan also must have huge mineral or other reserves, so again it should be seeking to develop indigenous materials research based on its locally sourced elements.  One thing that is holding it back in Pakistan is the lack of national analytical and related facilities for supporting materials; this would allow people to undertake PhDs in materials without each university having to look after expensive kit.  If this was to happen, the national facility could look after training and maintaining kit.  This really needs to happen if materials science can ever take off in Pakistan.  Other nations have such national labs where you can send samples and also facilities as well as beamlines, which is a huge help to doing world class research.

  • How the Materials Science can play a part in the development of Pakistan

Virtually all scientific research involves materials at some point or other.  Pakistan needs materials and devices in agriculture, healthcare, energy/water, commerce etc and the key thing for Pakistan is to think about sustainable materials.  Making sure that materials and devices are more energy efficient and made in a sustainable way. Materials that can help in the quality of life and materials that are biodegradable or not harmful, can be recycled for a circular economy.  So, we must start to teach green chemistry and materials and we must start to evaluate the life cycle of materials and products. These are two areas that Pakistani scientists must become proficient at. Again, energy is important and given that over 25% of Pakistanis are off grid, Pakistan needs to accelerate is own battery or fuel cell research and make use of its mineral resources. Again, a national facility for materials processing, manufacture and training would be very useful in this regard to identify mineral sources.

  • What do you think of this initiative of launching Materials Science Society of Pakistan and our research journal Materials Innovations? Any comments or suggestions for us?

This is a great idea to bring focus to materials science and I wish you all the luck.  Build a community to share teaching and knowledge!  Don’t try to reinvent the wheel, so try to look at the topics that are hot and relevant to Pakistan and in which, Pakistan could solve its own challenges, whether they be local challenges or global challenges.  Look for how you can improve your local industry and try to work with international researchers who want to help.  There is a massive untapped Pakistani diaspora of 13 million people and some of them are in universities and willing to collaborate if there is a good synergy.

  • Is there any UK-Pakistan platform for Materials Science collaborations, if not how Materials Science society can play its part in establishing the links between two countries?

I think first you need to establish some leadership amongst the Pakistan materials community and organise yourself around key theme areas and try to meet and talk about your science and the challenges you’re trying to solve (regular meetings and workshops etc).   It may be that via such a platform or network you can better link up with international materials societies and try to form links that way via help from diasporas or scientists who work in Pakistan and UK.  This may open up bursaries etc and common training opportunities.  Other networks include UPSIGN that are a good way to meet potential international collaborators online or link to visiting scientists.  UPSIGN runs via Whatsapp groups and we are aligned to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) or Global Goals are a collection of 17 interlinked global goals designed to be a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all”.  These include clean energy, clean water, etc. So in many of these goals, there is a strong materials focus.  


 To see UPSIGN’s mission, see the page


One of  the UPSIGN events

links to the UPSIGN workshops that Prof. Jawwad Darr helped to co-lead