Record number of Imperial academics win Royal Society of Chemistry Prizes

Eight individuals and two teams involving researchers have won accolades in this year’s RSC prizes.

The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) has announced the winners of its prestigious 2024 prizes. With 10 winners from the Departments of Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Physics and Mechanical Engineering, this year has been a record-breaking one for Imperial. The winners have been recognised for their outstanding contributions to various fields, from glycan biology to ionic liquids.

Professor Ian Walmsley , Provost of Imperial College London, said: "We celebrate an exceptional achievement this year with so many of our brilliant researchers being honoured with Royal Society of Chemistry prizes.

"Their pioneering work spans a remarkable range of disciplines, underscoring the interdisciplinary nature of modern scientific inquiry. These awards not only highlight the invaluable contributions of chemistry to innovation and research but also reinforce the pivotal role Imperial’s academics play in advancing knowledge and addressing global challenges."

The winners are (click to jump to):

Dr Maxie Roessler - Joseph Black Prize

Dr Maxie Roessler , from the Department of Chemistry, has won the Joseph Black Prize for the development of advanced electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) spectroscopy to investigate, structurally define and exploit catalysis by chemical and biological systems. Dr Roessler also receives £3,000 and a medal.

Magnetic resonance is widely used in science and medicine, including MRI in hospitals and advanced spectroscopy. Dr Roessler’s research group focuses on electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) to study materials and molecules with unpaired electrons, particularly in enzymes. This research could lead to advancements in sustainability and healthier ageing.

After receiving the prize, Dr Roessler said: "After surprise and disbelief, I just felt very grateful. Grateful to everyone who supported me in my journey so far, both academically and personally. I was lucky to have a very supportive PhD supervisor, Professor Fraser Armstrong, I am lucky to be part of a very inspiring community not only every day at Imperial but also more widely in EPR spectroscopy and bioinorganic chemistry.

"Of course, the prize is about science, and I am very happy that our work has been recognised in this way: when I first started talking about wanting to develop a method that allows watching electrons in real time during electrochemical (catalytic) reactions, this was met with some scepticism. I guess the prize gives me some confidence to pursue this direction and to make it work for enzymes.

"But for me, science is also very much about the people. I also feel that the prize is not just for me - everyone who worked with me owns a little part of it, most and foremost my research group members, past and present."

Dr Nicola Gasparini - Materials Chemistry Early Career Prize

Dr Nicola Gasparini, from the Department of Chemistry, has won the Materials Chemistry Early Career Prize for his work in understanding processes in materials for advanced solar cells and light detectors. Dr Gasparini also receives £3,000, a medal and a certificate.

Dr Gasparini investigates charge recombination processes in thin-film organic and perovskite semiconductor materials used in solar and photodetector applications. These materials are about as thin as a human hair, and yet they can conduct electricity and convert light into usable current. They are lightweight, flexible, solution-processable, and cost-effective for large-area manufacturing. They can also convert weak indoor light into electricity more efficiently than other photovoltaic (PV) technologies.

These technologies are essential in society for cost-effective, reliable, durable, and efficient devices and for more sustainable energy generation solutions that can replace, for example, primary batteries.

On receiving the prize, Dr Gasparini commented: "I am delighted to receive the Materials Chemistry Early Career Prize. This is a milestone for my career and for my group. This prize is the coronation of my collaborative work with many talented people that have crossed my academic life."

Dr Yuval Elani - Harrison-Meldola Early Career Prize

Dr Yuval Elani , from the Department of Chemical Engineering, has won a Harrison-Meldola Early Career Prize for his pioneering contributions in synthetic cell engineering and BioHybrid systems. Dr Elani also receives £5,000 and a medal.

Dr Elani is a trailblazer in his area of research, having established the area of Chemical Synthetic Biology as an emerging research discipline. Instead of re-designing cellular systems using traditional genetic and metabolic engineering techniques, Dr Elani has developed a series of technologies that allow synthetic cells to be constructed from scratch , from the bottom up, using biomolecular building blocks.

Potential uses of these micro-robots include targeted drug delivery within the body, chemical manufacturing, novel material production, and environmental monitoring.

After receiving the prize, Dr Elani said: "It is a joy and a privilege to receive this prize. I am thrilled to see the hard work of our entire team recognized in such a significant way. And when I say team, I mean it in the broadest sense - our PhD students, research staff, and academic collaborators who have all been deeply involved in every step of our research."

Professor Marina Kuimova - Corday-Morgan Mid-Career Prize for Chemistry

Professor Marina Kuimova, from the Department of Chemistry, has won the Corday-Morgan Mid-Career Prize for the development of unique probes and methodologies in fluorescence imaging, leading to an understanding of dynamic biological processes in living systems pertinent to health and disease. She also receives £5,000 and a medal.

Prof Kuimova’s research involves the use of ’molecular rotors’ to non-invasively measure the microscopic viscosity (a fluid’s resistance to flow) in live cells. This parameter is controlled by the packing or crowding of biomolecules and can provide insights into various processes, such as changes in lipid (fat) packing due to disease or medical treatment, and the configuration of DNA as it forms secondary structures.

This research has already had an impact on the fundamental understanding of cell biophysics, lipid transformations , and DNA maintenance, and has the potential to impact drug delivery studies , diagnostic methods , and atmospheric and materials sciences.

Professor Kuimova commented: "I am absolutely delighted that my work and the work of my group have been recognised by the Corday-Morgan Prize. This sign of recognition will fuel us to do more and collaborate even more widely, developing our probes and techniques to try to tackle mysteries of chemistry and biology."

Dr Felice Torrisi - Harrison-Meldola Early Career Prize

Dr Felice Torrisi, from the Department of Chemistry, has won a Harrison-Meldola Early Career Prize for innovative contributions to the understanding of charge transport in networks of two-dimensional materials to develop printed electronics. In addition to this, Dr Torrisi wins £5,000 and a medal.

Dr Torrisi’s work is groundbreaking in studying the physical mechanisms responsible for electricity transport in printed two-dimensional materials. His research includes using solution processing techniques and electrochemical synthesis to create functional polymer composites and advanced printable and sprayable inks for wearable electronics , quantum computing, and optimising electronic devices.

After receiving the prize, Dr Torrisi said: "I am thrilled to be awarded the Harrison-Meldola Prize. I am grateful to the collaborators and funders who supported my work, and I am so proud of the research group I am working with daily."

Professor Jason Hallett - Environment Prize

Professor Jason Hallett , from the Department of Chemical Engineering, has won the Environment Prize for pioneering work on the development of ionic liquids as commercially relevant solvents in biorefining and the circular economy. Professor Hallett also receives £3,000 and a medal.

Professor Hallett’s research aims to transform the future chemical manufacturing sector by moving from fossil feedstocks to sustainable, low carbon bio-renewable feedstocks and from a linear to a circular manufacturing economy.

He has developed a unique technology that uses multiple feedstocks (wood and waste) to ensure the continued growth of this thriving industry base without compromising global sustainability efforts.

After receiving the prize, Professor Hallet said: "I was positively thrilled to receive the RSC ESE Open Prize for the Environment. The Royal Society of Chemistry is an outstanding organisation pushing forward the entirety of the chemistry professions, and the list of past winners of this award that I am joining is a humbling experience. My work is motivated by a drive to improve the impact of humans on the environment, and to be recognised with a prize in this exact area is a major career highlight."

Dr Ben Schumann - Chemistry Biology Interface Early Career Prize: Norman Heatley Award

Dr Ben Schumann, from the Department of Chemistry and the Francis Crick Institute, has won the Chemistry Biology Interface Early Career Prize: Norman Heatley Award for the creative use of chemistry-centred tools to provide valuable insights into the biology of glycans - the sugars that coat every cell in our bodies. Dr Schumann also receives £3,000 and a medal.

His research involves using synthetic ’precision tools’ to explore how particular glycans control processes in and on the living cell, and how these are associated with human disease, particularly the formation of tumours. His team has recently obtained new insight into the role of glycans on the evolutionary trajectory of SARS-CoV-2 .

After receiving the prize, Dr Schumann said: "I am excited and extremely grateful to the Royal Society of Chemistry. This award is a testament to the ever-increasing need for chemical methods to understand what glycans do. Our work would not be possible without my amazing team members, colleagues, mentors, and family!"

Professor Jenny Nelson - Faraday Lectureship Prize

Professor Jenny Nelson , from the Department of Physics, has won the Faraday Lectureship Prize for contributions to the understanding and development of novel electronic materials for solar energy conversion. Professor Nelson also receives £3,000 and a medal.

She investigates new materials for solar energy conversion, including taking inspiration from nature. New, cheaper and more flexible materials to make solar cells have been developed over recent years, but these often lack performance and stability. Much of the early improvements in design were achieved through trial and error, but Professor Nelson has pioneered approaches to rationally design new photovoltaics based on an understanding of their functioning principles.

A-WOL Antifilarial Drug Discovery Team - Horizon Prize

The A-WOL Antifilarial Drug Discovery Team , is a collaboration between the University of Liverpool, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Imperial College London, University of Bonn and industrial partners from Astra Zeneca and Eisai Ltd.

They have won a Horizon Prize for discovering fast-acting, highly specific anti-Wolbachia candidates for the oral treatment of lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis) and onchocerciasis (river blindness). The winners also receive a trophy and individual recognition for their contribution.

Caused by parasitic worms, these diseases result in devastating health impacts for more than 150 million people in some of the poorest countries worldwide. The team’s collaborative research in drug discovery has resulted in the development of the first synthetic drug candidate, AZ1066, to combat them.

The drug targets Wolbachia, the bacteria that the parasitic worms rely on, using the antibiotic doxycycline. Wolbachia is required to maintain the worms’ fertility, so that eliminating these bacteria safely sterilises the female parasite without causing the damaging inflammation that can result from directly killing the worms.

Professor Ed Tate , one of the co-leads from Imperial’s Department of Chemistry, said: "The Horizon Prize is a huge tribute to the multidisciplinary and international team of drug discovery scientists at Liverpool, Imperial and beyond who have worked over many years to demonstrate the feasibility of targeting an extraordinary Achilles heel in parasitic nematode worms.

"I am delighted that my group had the opportunity to contribute towards our understanding of how these agents work, and proud of the team which has now progressed their compounds into clinical trials, opening a new chapter in the fight against river blindness and elephantiasis."

ReLiB team - Horizon Prize

The ReLiB (Reuse & Recycling of Lithium-Ion Batteries) team have won a Horizon Prize for transformative research and influence leading to the establishment of a technology pipeline for low-cost, high-throughput, and low environmental impact lithium-ion battery recycling. The team receive a trophy and a video showcasing their work, and each team member receives a certificate.

The team is a multidisciplinary collaboration between Imperial College London, the universities of Edinburgh, Leicester, Newcastle, and Oxford, led by the University of Birmingham.

The ReLiB project focuses on reducing the steps needed to remanufacture end-of-life (EoL) materials into new battery cells. The team believes that highly efficient recycling methods with exceptional material recovery rates are crucial to preventing significant long-term environmental issues and waste buildup.

Using this approach, the project has fast-tracked the development of low-cost technologies for separating layers (delamination), removing unwanted materials (leaching), and reviving usable components (regeneration) - all’on an industrial scale.

Dr Jacqueline Edge , from the Department of Mechanical Engineering, is Co-Investigator on the project. She leads the sustainability assessment workstream, which includes life cycle assessment and techno-economics, and works to develop these metrics for the direct recycling processes being developed within the project.

Dr Evangelos Kallitsis is a postdoctoral researcher within the project, developing models to analyse the environmental impact of direct recycling processes and position them in a broader context of establishing a sustainable lithium-ion battery value chain.

Dr Edge said: "The ReLiB project is pioneering not only novel methods for recovering a wide range of materials from batteries, but also assessing the wider impacts of these methods, so that we can select the most effective processes, from the environmental and economic points of view."