University of Dundee

School Prizes presented at Review of the Year 2021

19 Jan 2022

Review of the Year 2021 took place virtually today with the former Interim Dean, Inke Näthke sharing the highlights of activity within the School from 2021. Returning Dean, Julian Blow concluded the review with a look to the future where he highlighted plans for the coming year. The Review included the presentation of the annual School prizes. Here are the winners:

People’s Award

The People’s Award is for positive contributions to School culture.

Individual Award: Nicola Darling (MRCPPU) for her leadership in improving working culture. Activity included the facilitation of open discussions and development of action plans on Equality, Diversity & Inclusion, as well as wider cultural issues, within the MRC PPU.

Team Award had two winners: 

  • SLS COVID-19 testing programme team (assay development, software development & data handling, test day activities) for providing reassurance for a safe working environment during initial return to work period for all of SLS. 
  • D'Arcy Thompson Unit technical team for their outstanding teamwork to deliver excellent practicals to undergraduate students under very challenging circumstances.

A commendation was also made to Prosenjit Pal (MRCPPU) for creating artwork to raise funding and awareness of Parkinson's disease.

PiCLS Best Mentor Award

The PiCLS Best Mentor Award is presented to recognise a person who has proven to be great mentor to a postgraduate student. The Best Mentor was Nicola Stanley-Wall, a Head of Division of MMB. Charlotte Hurst, a postdoctoral researcher from Piers Hemsley’s lab in Plant Sciences was named Best Postdoc Mentor. A special mention went to Satpal Virdee, a Principal Investigator in MRCPPU, who narrowly missed out on the Best Mentor title.

Hajra Bibi, President of PiCLS said, "We’d like to thank the judges for reviewing the nominations and ranking them. The one piece of feedback we received was that ranking the nominations was very difficult as they were all so incredible and heart-warming to read. Nonetheless we must have a winner."

Innovator of the Year

Innovator of the Year is for any member or team within SLS that demonstrably achieved scientific, technical or commercial innovation that came to fruition in 2021. It has two categories, Best Innovation and Best Early-Stage Business Idea.

Best Innovation was awarded to the Drug Discovery Unit (DDU) Apicomplexan Team led by Ian Gilbert, Beatriz Baragana and Kevin Read for the clinical validation of a novel antimalarial that has successfully passed through phase 1 clinical trials. The judging panel said, "The compound is a promising preclinical candidate for the acute treatment and prophylaxis of malaria. It has a completely novel mode of action and stunning pharmacokinetic properties with very minimal secondary effects and complete efficacy against malaria infection. The panel are unanimous in awarding the Prize of Best Innovation to this team."

Two runner-ups were named in the Best Innovation category:

  • Sara Gomes (MRCPPU) for developing a custom-designed adaptor to integrate two robotic systems essential for her research. The technology has attracted interest from robotics manufacturers and commercial opportunities are being explored. The judging panel said, "The fact that Sara didn’t give up and brought together expertise from engineering and design to assist with the project impressed the panel greatly and Sara deserves a special mention for her ingenuity."
  • Erin R. Butterfield, James C. Abbott & Mark C. Field (BCDD, CB) who developed a software package for performing rapid manual best reciprocal BLAST which can reduce user time from over 6 months to 15 minutes. Batch.brb has been made freely available to the research community and been downloaded 600 times already. The judging panel said, "The panel felt the solution this team had produced for an important scientific problem was a game changer in the field and deserved commending."

Best Early-Stage Business Idea was won by Adam Bond and Connor Craigon (CeTPD) for a BromoTAG is a new ligand-inducible degron system. Several companies have already shown interest in commercialisation opportunities and Connor and Adam are working to produce reagent kits for sale. The judging panel said, "The technology is already proving to be a game changer in the field and is currently going through the patenting process. There are opportunities for a future spin out and the panel felt that Adam and Connor will be assisted greatly by The Centre of Entrepreneurship, where they will be guaranteed an automatic place in the appropriate category of the University of Dundee, Venture 2022 Final, plus a chance to participate in the Elevator's summer business accelerator programme."

The runner-up in the Best Early-Stage Business Idea was Kaushik Hatti (BCDD) for Ai-orta. Ai-orta seeks to develop software that will provide personalised recommendations to aide clinical decisions in IVF. There is an impressive team behind the project. The judging panel said, "The panel were impressed by the drive and ambition of the Ai-orta team, but the panel felt that the innovation had yet to be fully realised The panel strongly felt that the team should enter the Venture competition this year and seek the guidance and support of The Centre of Entrepreneurship."

Howard Elder Prize

Howard Elder Prize is for a postgraduate student or postdoctoral researcher deemed to have published the most significant paper in an area related to cancer research. The winners were Nicola Wiechens and Seraina Blümli (GRE) for their paper 'Acute depletion of the ARID1A subunit of SWI/SNF complexes reveals distinct pathways for activation and repression of transcription' published in Cell Reports. The judging panel said, "The judges congratulate Nicola and Seraina on their excellent study that has potentially important implications for targeted treatment of the many cancers in which ARID1A is defective."

Molecular and Cellular Biology Prize

Molecular and Cellular Biology Prize is for a postgraduate student or postdoctoral researcher to recognise excellence in basic research. The winner was Olivia James, a PhD student in Mahima Swamy's lab in the MRCPPU, for the paper 'IL-15 and PIM kinases direct the metabolic programming of intestinal intraepithelial lymphocytes' published in Nature Communications. The judging panel said, "Olivia James’ study formed the core of her PhD research project. It uses technically-challenging cellular immunology, proteomic and biochemical techniques to characterise intraepithelial lymphocyte responses, a poorly-understood immune population. A worthy winner of the 2021 Cell and Molecular Biology Prize."

Brian Cox Prize for Excellence in Public Engagement with Research 

Engaged Researcher of the Year was named as Jorunn Bos, Public Engagement Lead in the Division of Plant Sciences. The panel said, "Jorunn is the leader of public engagement for the division of Plant Sciences and has been involved in the delivery of several very successful events during the past years targeting a broad range of audiences. Jorunn has also taken on an engagement role outside the University and successfully gained funding for public engagement. Overall, a good example for someone having a quality and cohesive engagement strategy."

Three members of the School were also acknowledged in the category:

  • Highly Commended – Irene Hallyburton (DDU) for her long lasting and sustained commitment to engaging members of the public in the work of the School of Life Sciences and using a wide range of methods for events and promoting discussion.
  • Commended – Kaushik Hatti (BCDD) for his preparation and use of engaging public engagement resources that are permanent and digital, which helps with accessibility.
  • Commended – Thomas Williams (MRCPPU) for his wide range of activities and ability to turn relevant scientific concepts into games for kids. This is a great way to engage young people very early with science.

Project of the Year was awarded to Girlguiding Dundee STEM inclusion Project that was led by Fiona Bellany (WCAIR). The judging panel said, "Fiona has worked hard to introduce young girls and women to STEM subjects. Introducing an unofficial badge for girl guides and being part of the virtual sleepover seems to be a good way to reach a great number of participants even during a pandemic. It made the panel happy that the project has gone beyond the original creators, such as teaching Guides to deliver activities to younger members. Also strengthening the application were metrics for success – e.g. download numbers noting access to the materials and the range of participants."

Thanked for contributions to the Virtual Sleepover were Janet Peggie and all on the Girlguiding Dundee committee, Alice Dawson, Lesley-Anne Pearson, Inke Näthke, Nicola Stanley-Wall, Ali Floyd and Ailsa Mackintosh.

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