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The Royal College of Art Welcomes Six Stavros Niarchos Foundation PhD Scholars

The Royal College of Art and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation are pleased to welcome the first generation of RCA STEAM-focused (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics) doctoral students to benefit from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation STEAM Scholarship & Research Fund, established earlier this year to strengthen the RCA’s leadership and innovation in three new fields. Fellows will help build the foundations for the RCA's research activity and capacity in the three new fields of City Design, Machine Learning and Materials Science, aiming to deliver creative solutions at the vanguard of design and technology to help solve today’s global challenges.

The six outstanding PhD candidates will join the creative postgraduate research community at the RCA to undertake doctoral research that draws together design, scientific and technological fields of enquiry to address key contemporary challenges. ‘We are delighted to be able to offer these scholarships, which are all focused on the key research themes in the College Strategic Plan,’ explained Head of Research Programmes Dr Catherine Dormor.

Dr Dormer continued: ‘Their research is set at the confluence of art and design with STEM, while also adopting human-centred thinking. This marks a new and exciting mode of engagement for the RCA, but one which builds upon our existing strengths and expertise. We will be the first specialist art and design university to work in this way and these scholars, together with their supervisory teams, are at the forefront of this research.’

The six scholars were selected from a strong pool of UK and international applicants. The generous support of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation has enabled these students to undertake doctoral studies in vital areas of enquiry, covering academic fees for the six scholars for three years as well as a tax-free stipend for subsistence costs.

Francesca Romana Forlini, City Design
Francesca Forlini
Francesca Forlini

‘I look forward to contributing positively to the development of research within the RCA Architecture programme. This great opportunity will allow me to research in-depth about the topics I am most passionate about, and hopefully find solutions to help improve the lives of those in need.’

Forlini holds a Master's in Design from Harvard University, and a Master's in Philosophy from the Architectural Association. Her research focuses on existing European post-war mass-housing ensembles, the politics and economics behind their demolition and the benefits to communities of the transformation of these estates. She will explore the theoretical implications behind the preservation of these buildings by considering them as unfinished projects worthy of contemporary additions and accumulations, and she will investigate how they can be adapted to meet the needs of today’s society.

Guillermo Ruiz de Teresa, City Design
Guillermo Ruiz de Teresa
Guillermo Ruiz de Teresa

‘I am incredibly grateful for the Stavros Niarchos Foundation support, and the opportunity to join a stellar group of researchers and scholars. The RCA is at the forefront of research that crosses traditional conventions and disciplinary boundaries. I am honoured to be part of the pioneering cohort for its City Design programme and contributing to the development of a new research cluster Neighbourhood Transformations and New Communities with my research on Border Urbanisation.’

Ruiz de Teresa has a BSc in Architecture and Urban Planning from the University of Iberoamerica, a BSc (Hons) from the Architecture Association and a Master's in Design from Harvard University, where he also collaborated as a research fellow. At the RCA he will be researching the moments when urbanisation crosses national boundaries, offering a lens for considering borders, boundaries and their modes of operation. He will focus initially on two key borders, the US–Mexico Border and the English Channel, to develop empirical ground that can be applied to other scenarios.

Lawrence Lek, Machine Learning
Lawrence Lek
Lawrence Lek
Photographer: Eriver Hijano

‘Since 2012, I've used video games and 3D animation software as an artistic medium, drawing from my background in architecture and music to create site-specific virtual worlds and videos. The Stavros Niarchos Scholarship at the RCA allows me to explore what I call 'Posthuman Cinematography' – moving image works created by non-human authors. By integrating machine learning techniques within my own filmmaking process, I hope to formulate an answer to the question: What kind of film would an AI make?’

Lek is a multimedia artist and exhibits both internationally and nationally. He has won a number of prestigious awards, including the 2017 Jerwood Film and Video Umbrella Award and holds degrees in Architecture from the University of Cambridge, The Cooper Union and the Architectural Association. At the RCA he will apply machine learning to camera path finding tools within 3D visualisation workflows automating the creation of original cinematic content, contributing towards better computer-controlled players, and investigating how these AI technologies can be adapted for cinematic purposes.

Simon Picard, Machine Learning

‘I am hugely excited to be researching the future of autonomous characters as part of the world-class research community at the RCA. I am extremely grateful to the Stavros Niarchos Foundation for their support, without which I would not be here, at the cutting edge of science, technology and communication.’

Picard has a postgraduate diploma in Fine Art from the Slade School of Art, Advanced Engineering Robotics from the University of Bristol and an MA in Animation from University of the Creative Arts. His research will investigate the possibility of modifying interactive entertainment to be more enjoyable to the user, based on their personality profile. Working in partnership with Sony, Picard will develop the research with a view to cultivating a broader user base, which will have both cultural and commercial implications for the industry as well as unlocking new modes for this form of technology.

Laura Salisbury, Materials Science
Laura Salisbury
Laura Salisbury

'I would like to give great thanks to the Stavros Niarchos Foundation for the scholarship, without which this research would not have been possible. I can undoubtedly say that this has truly changed my life, and with further work, will hopefully change many more lives affect by stroke and beyond.'

Salisbury’s research explores user-led design solutions to the most common challenges faced by stroke survivors. It investigates how dressing, a basic daily living requirement, can actively facilitate stroke rehabilitation through the presence of stimuli within and around the garment. Salisbury has a BA in Fashion Design and Marketing and an MA in Pattern and Garment Technology from University of the Arts London. She is currently course leader at London College of Fashion, where she leads the Morningside Outreach Project, which works with local women to develop their skills in pattern cutting, fitting and garment construction to enable them to gain skilled employment.

As of 2020, Laura is in the final stages of writing up and will be submitting the PhD before the end of the year. In the past year, the research findings have led to the development of a new textile component to directly improve the recovery of upper limb ability for stroke survivors. The RCA has subsequently patented the component, which has wider applications in other neurological disorders, other healthcare applications and beyond into sports performance. 

She has won a number of grants that have accelerated the further development of the research findings, namely from Research England through the MedTech Superconnector and the EPSRC, through the Henry Royce Institute. The funds have enabled her to accelerate sampling and development, acquiring a new piece of equipment for us to make an important element of the textile component in-house at the RCA. Meanwhile, the Henry Royce Institute has provided access and funding to test the samples.

Laura has also just joined the incubator/ start-up programme at InnovationRCA, founding a new company after receiving a significant investment. The company aims to deliver the component to those who can benefit from it the most, improving health and wellbeing. She has a number of publications that are due to come out next year, including a book chapter in the second edition of Smart Clothes and Wearable Technology, Elsevier.

Claire Miller, Materials Science
Claire Miller
Claire Miller

'I am hugely excited to be a part of the design research community at the RCA looking into the future of textiles and materials. The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Scholarship has enabled me to carry out my research at the convergence of science, technology and design within a world class art and design environment.’

Miller has an MA in Textiles from the RCA, having previously studied at Chelsea College of Art. She has worked in the kitchen footwear design team at Nike, where she focused on material innovation and new technologies in sports footwear, and at Jaguar Land Rover. At the RCA she will research electronic textiles and ‘wearables’, not only as clothes in the conventional sense, but as part of the whole environment around the body. Specifically, she will be focusing on urban athletes and their needs in relation to wellbeing and design, considering the role of these new technologies in enabling wearers to communicate with their environment.

The Stavros Niarchos Foundation

The Stavros Niarchos Foundation is one of the world’s leading private, international philanthropic organisations, making grants in the areas of arts and culture, education, health and sports, and social welfare. Since 1996, the SNF has committed more than $2.4 billion, through almost 4,000 grants to non-profit organisations in 113 nations around the world – including a new SNF initiative to expand its support of the Health sector in Greece. The SNF funds organisations and projects that are expected to achieve a broad, lasting and positive impact for society at large, and exhibit strong leadership and sound management. The Foundation also supports projects that facilitate the formation of public-private partnerships as an effective means for serving public welfare.