Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists award £480,000 to nine UK-based scientists


Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists award £480,000 to nine UK-based scientists.

The Blavatnik Family Foundation and the New York Academy of Sciences have announced the recipients of the 2022 Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists in the UK.

Now in its fifth year, the Awards are the largest unrestricted prize available to UK scientists aged 42 or younger. It is fast becoming recognised internationally among the scientific community as instrumental in expanding the engagement and recognition of young scientists and providing a strong foundation on which science can prosper.

This year’s laureates, who will each receive £100,000, are:

  • Kim Jelfs, PhD (Chemistry)—Imperial College London
  • Matthew Brookes, PhD (Physical Sciences & Engineering)—University of Nottingham
  • Madeline Lancaster, PhD (Life Sciences)—MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB)

In each of the three categories—Chemistry, Physical Sciences & Engineering, and Life Sciences—a jury of leading scientists from across the UK also selected two finalists, each receiving £30,000. The 2022 finalists are:

  • Gonçalo Bernardes, DPhil (Chemistry)—University of Cambridge
  • Stephen Thomas, PhD (Chemistry)—The University of Edinburgh
  • Sarah Haigh, DPhil (Physical Sciences & Engineering)—The University of Manchester
  • Anja Schmidt, PhD (Physical Sciences & Engineering)—University of Cambridge
  • Erin Saupe, PhD (Life Sciences)—University of Oxford
  • Sonja Vernes, DPhil (Life Sciences)—University of St Andrews

These honorees are recognised for their research, which is already transforming technology and our understanding of the world.

Sir Leonard Blavatnik, Founder and Chairman of Access Industries and head of the Blavatnik Family Foundation, said: “The remarkable scientific talent and research in the UK grows stronger every year.

“The brilliant, innovative work for which this year’s laureates and finalists are recognised and honoured improves our world for the better and further extends the boundaries of scientific knowledge and understanding.”

Professor Nicholas B. Dirks, President and CEO of the New York Academy of Sciences and Chair of the Awards’ Scientific Advisory Council, noted: “Society cannot surmount world crises like the COVID pandemic without science.

“It is critical that we continue to invest in science and these young, trail-blazing scientists who have the energy, optimism, and brilliance to continue developing scientific solutions benefitting millions, even billions, of people.

“On behalf of the Academy, we are honoured to administer the Blavatnik Awards in the UK in its fifth year, and we are thrilled to see a growing list of UK institutions submitting nominations since the program was established. We are also excited to honour six women in 2022.”

Dr Kim Jelfs has been named the Chemistry laureate. At Imperial College London, she has developed revolutionary computer software that enables the accelerated discovery of new materials.

The software is capable of predicting not only the structure of materials before they are created but also their unique properties and functions.

The laureate in Physical Sciences & Engineering is Professor Matthew Brookes. At the University of Nottingham, he has created a new magnetoencephalography (MEG) technology that influences functional brain imaging capabilities.

His invention allows the mapping of brain connections in moving subjects and opens up a wide range of new paradigms and subject groups for study, such as non-invasive imaging of children’s brains.

The Life Sciences laureate, Dr Madeline Lancaster from the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB), has created the first method for generating brain organoids, which are artificially grown in vitro from human induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells.

These miniature organs share many features with the brain, which can be exploited to investigate the blood-brain barrier, primate brain evolution, foetal brain development, and disease.

Amongst the 2022 finalists is Dr Erin Saupe of the University of Oxford. Dr Erin Saupe investigates the interactions between life and environments over long geological time scales.

By integrating fossil records and modern data, she creates models that characterise how species and communities interact, allowing her to forecast future changes to Earth’s biodiversity as a result of climate change.

This is critical because humans rely on Earth’s biodiversity for survival, and climate-change-induced disruption to ecosystems, including the extinction of species, could impact our standard of living and ability to persist on this planet.

The 2022 Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists in the UK received 94 nominations from 47 academic and research institutions across the UK.

The Blavatnik Awards in the UK sit alongside their global counterparts, the Blavatnik National Awards and the Blavatnik Regional Awards in the US and the Blavatnik Awards in Israel, all of which honour and support exceptional early-career scientists.

By the close of 2022, the Blavatnik Awards will have awarded prizes totalling US$13.6 million. About 60 per cent of all recipients are immigrants to the country in which they were recognised and hail from 48 countries across six continents, reflecting the Blavatnik Family Foundation’s recognition that important science is a global enterprise.

The 2022 Blavatnik Awards in the UK laureates and finalists will be honoured, as COVID-19 restrictions allow, at a black-tie gala dinner and ceremony at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London, currently scheduled for 28 February 2022.

The following day, on 01 March 2022, from 11.00am to 6.00pm, the honourees will present their research with a series of short, interactive lectures at a free public symposium, also to be held at the V&A. More details about the symposium will be posted on the website of the New York Academy of Sciences soon.

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