Professor Jonathan Reid, Professor Carmen Galan and Professor Michael Ashfold, of the University of Bristol, have been named the winners of three prizes from the Royal Society of Chemistry, celebrating the most exciting chemical science taking place today.
Professor Reid won the Tilden Prize for pioneering studies of the chemical and physical properties of micron-scale aerosol particles, and their impact in atmospheric, health, analytical and formulation sciences.
Professor Galan won the Jeremy Knowles Award for the development of bioinspired and transformative synthetic probes and their application to the targeting and regulation of cellular processes in both mammalian and plant cells.
Professor Ashfold won the prize for outstanding service to the Royal Society of Chemistry through our member communities and governance groups.
Professor Reid said: "I would like to recognise the many achievements and contributions of the wider aerosol research team in the School of Chemistry at the University of Bristol. I have had the privilege to work with an energetic, motivated and highly intelligent group of postgraduate students and postdoctoral researchers over the years.
"Like so many areas of research in applied science and technology, aerosol science is dependent on a healthy research base in the core physical sciences, particularly chemistry. It is exciting that the role chemistry plays in aerosol science has been recognised by the RSC through an award in this way."
Aerosols are so much more than the familiar aerosol can, says Professor Reid. Like any system of particles dispersed within a gas phase, aerosols are found widely in the atmosphere in clouds and in polluted urban centres. They are used in the delivery of drugs to the lungs to treat asthma, they play a crucial role in the transmission of disease when someone coughs or speaks, and they are used in a wide range of homecare and personal care products.
Professor Reid’s work specifically looks at the processes that occur at the level of a single aerosol particle that govern their behaviour and impacts. During the COVID-19 pandemic, his team have been measuring how many aerosol particles people emit when they speak, sing, play a wind instrument or participate in exercise, how long the coronavirus survives while airborne, and how far it can be transmitted. His team are also exploring the evaporation and condensation of water on particles on inhalation to the lung, how they can be resuspended from surfaces, and how to make particles of controlled properties using aerosols.
Professor Galan’s research group are interested in using chemistry to develop synthetic probes that can be used to target cellular processes in the context of disease: for example, to develop novel therapeutics and diagnostic tools, and also in agriculture to address the challenges of climate change.
She said: "I am both honoured and delighted to receive this Prize in recognition of our work at the chemistry and biology interface."
Professor Ashfold’s research uses advanced laser-based techniques to study the chemistry and physics of molecules upon exposure to light. A topic of recent interest within the Ashfold group has focused on how sunscreen molecules and formulations offer protection to ultraviolet (UV) light, and whether other molecules might offer superior properties. Investigations are underway into whether similar UV light-to-heat conversion mechanisms could find use in other fields; for example, to boost plant growth.
Professor Ashfold said: "It has been a pleasure to serve the RSC in some volunteer capacity for most of the time since the start of my academic career. I have chosen to give this ’service’. Rarely has it felt onerous, since it has also provided numerous benefits, not least opportunities to make new acquaintances, contacts and friends. I feel honoured to receive this Exceptional Service Award. I look forward to continuing to serve both the RSC and the wider scientific community in any ways that I can now that I have (a little) more free time."
The Ashfold group also uses a process known as chemical vapour deposition (CVD) to grow thin diamond films from activated hydrocarbon/hydrogen gas mixtures, and studies how the efficiency of this process might be improved. Using CVD allows for fine control over the chemistry and, therefore, the properties of the material produced.
Another research interest relates to the photochemistry of molecules like water, hydrogen sulfide and ethane in the interstellar medium - the material which fills the space between star systems in a galaxy.
Dr Helen Pain, Chief Executive of the Royal Society of Chemistry, said: "All of us have experienced tremendous challenges in the last year and the chemical sciences community has been integral to how the world has responded on a number of levels. 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 his contribution with this prize."
The Royal Society of Chemistry’s prizes have recognised excellence in the chemical sciences for more than 150 years. In 2019, the organisation announced the biggest overhaul of this portfolio in its history, designed to better reflect modern science.
The Research and Innovation Prizes celebrate brilliant individuals across industry and academia. They include prizes for those at different career stages in general chemistry and for those working in specific fields, as well as interdisciplinary prizes and prizes for those in specific roles. The Volunteer Recognition Prizes celebrate those who give their time freely in numerous ways, from serving on boards and committees to working on public engagement initiatives. The prizes celebrate teams and individuals at all stages of their career.
Of those to have won a Royal Society of Chemistry Prize, over 50 have gone on to win Nobel Prizes for their pioneering work, including 2019 Nobel laureate John B Goodenough.
For more information about the RSC’s modern Prizes portfolio, visit rsc.li/prizes.