Professors Junwang Tang, David Scanlon and Vijay Chudasama have been named the winners of three Royal Society of Chemistry prizes recognising excellence in the chemical sciences.
Separately, two projects involving UCL - MagLiB, which speeds up charging times for electric vehicle batteries, and Finden, which uses machine learning to better understand a material’s structure - have been shortlisted as finalists in the Society’s Emerging Technologies Competition for early stage companies and academic entrepreneurs.
Among the individual award-winners, Professor Tang (UCL Chemical Engineering) won the Corday-Morgan Prize for the discovery of efficient photocatalysts that can convert solar energy into renewable fuels - an important step towards making society sustainable.
Professor Tang said: "The 2021 Corday-Morgan Prize recognises not only my achievements but more importantly my group members’ contribution to renewable fuel synthesis, as such novel results are a collective contribution from many talented students and postdoctoral researchers working in my group over the past decades.
"I am also very grateful to the RSC as the prize will encourage more researchers to concentrate on this challenging frontier topic and contribute to a sustainable economy and low carbon society."
His research focuses on the discovery of efficient photocatalysts for renewable fuel synthesis and chemical recycling and chemical systems, helping to increase the supply of renewable energy and protect the environment.
His research group uses two key synthesis processes to produce renewable fuels: splitting water to produce H2 and converting CO2 to produce alcohols. Both processes are driven by solar energy.
The group is also exploring the conversion of shale gas/natural gas to high value chemicals to provide a low carbon process for chemical synthesis. Another area they are working on is the decomposition of plastics into feedstock using robust catalysts driven by microwave energy.
Professor Scanlon (UCL Chemistry) won the Materials Chemistry Division Early Career Award for contributions to materials modelling of conducting oxides - that is, using computer modelling to better understand materials used widely in smartphone, computer and TV screens.
Professor Scanlon said: "This award recognises work carried out with a myriad of excellent collaborators, in UCL, Diamond Light Source, nationally and internationally, as well as with a host of dedicated and talented students and postdocs from my group at UCL. This prize showcases the importance of predictive modelling of solid state materials and I am excited to see the future developments of this emerging field."
Professor Scanlon’s materials theory group (SMTG) uses computational models to better understand what happens in materials at an atomic scale.
These models are used to predict new materials, or to predict the property of materials, allowing for the better design of materials that we use in everyday life: for example, the materials that are used in the screens of smart phones, tablets, laptops and flat screen TVs.
Professor Chudasama (UCL Chemistry) won the Hickinbottom Award for developing techniques that can enable more targeted therapy, imaging and diagnostics for cancer.
Professor Chudasama said: "I have been very lucky to have been mentored by and worked with excellent academics throughout my career. I have also had the great privilege to have worked with, and continue to work with, incredible master’s students, PhD candidates and postdoctoral research fellows; they deserve so much credit for enabling the research."
Professor Chudasama’s research group works in a variety of fields but one of its main focuses is to enable more targeted treatment and imaging of cancer. This is by using a site-selectively modified protein that selectively targets a biomarker overexpressed on cancer cells (as compared to non-cancerous cells) and combining it with a nanoparticle or cargo that can kill or image tumours.
Meanwhile, UCL researchers have also been recognized in the Royal Society of Chemistry’s annual Emerging Technologies Competition f or early stage companies and academic entrepreneurs. Two technologies developed by UCL researchers have been shortlisted; winners are announced after a live final at the end of June.
MagLiB, pioneered by Dr Tom Heenan (UCL Chemical Engineering) and colleagues at the UCL Electrochemical Innovation Lab, involves applying a tailored magnetic field to speed up charging times for electric vehicle batteries.
Finden, a scientific consultancy co-founded by Professor Andrew Beale (UCL Chemistry), has developed machine learning methods to extract and predict fine details from large volumes of X-ray diffraction data, allowing for fast, detailed screening of material’s properties.
Commenting on the individual prize-winners, Dr Helen Pain, Chief Executive of the Royal Society of Chemistry, said: "From developing vaccines for COVID-19 to continuing to work towards a more sustainable world - the contribution of chemical scientists has never been more tangible or important.
"In a recent review of our recognition portfolio, we committed to ensuring that our prizes reflected the incredible diversity and excellence of chemistry being carried out today. The work of these three winners is a prime example of what we are so passionate about and we are proud to recognise this contribution with this prize."
The Royal Society of Chemistry’s prizes have recognised excellence in the chemical sciences for more than 150 years. Of those to have won a Royal Society of Chemistry Prize, over 50 have gone on to win Nobel Prizes for their pioneering work.