- The 2024 Awards recognise scientific advances driven by researchers who have:
- Used new research in RNA structure to improve crop resilience
- Detected water and other life-signalling molecules from planets beyond the solar system
- Designed new enzymes never before seen in nature or a lab
- Encoded photons with information in new ways that enable the possibility for high-capacity quantum communication networks for the first time
- Heriot-Watt University in Scotland and the John Innes Centre in Norwich, England, are honoured for the first time.
- Five of the nine honourees come from ethnic minority groups of the UK academic community.
17 January 2024 – London – Today, the Blavatnik Family Foundation and The New York Academy of Sciences have announced the nine recipients of the 2024 Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists in the UK. The grants, totalling £480,000, recognize research that is transforming medicine, technology, and our understanding of the world across three categories: Chemical Sciences, Physical Sciences & Engineering, and Life Sciences.
This year’s Laureates, selected by an independent jury of expert scientists across the UK, will each receive £100,000 in unrestricted funds:
- Professor Anthony P. Green, an organic chemist from The University of Manchester, has been named the Chemical Sciences Laureate for his discoveries in designing and engineering new enzymes, with valuable catalytic functions previously unknown in nature that address societal needs. Recent examples include the development of biocatalysts to produce COVID-19 therapies, to break down plastics, and to use visible light to drive chemical reactions.
- Professor Rahul R. Nair, a materials physicist at The University of Manchester, was named Laureate in Physical Sciences & Engineering for developing novel membranes based on two-dimensional (2D) materials that will enable energy-efficient separation and filtration technologies. Using graphene and other 2D materials, his research aims to study the transport of water, organic molecules, and ions at the nanoscale, exploring its potential applications to address societal challenges, including water filtration and other separation technologies.
- Dr. Nicholas McGranahan, a computational biologist from University College London (UCL), was named the Life Sciences Laureate. His research explores how to harness evolutionary principles to understand cancers and why tumours are so difficult to treat. His work also aims to understand why and how tumours spread to other parts of the body and to explore the interaction between cancer and the immune system. His work is intended to inform clinical decision-making, identify determinants of treatment resistance, and promote the development of personalized immunotherapies.
Now in its seventh year, the Awards are the largest unrestricted prizes available to UK scientists aged 42 or younger, donating £3.3 million to scientists across UK academia since their inception. Internationally recognised by the scientific community, the Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists are instrumental in expanding the engagement and recognition of young scientists and provide the support and encouragement needed to drive scientific innovation for the next generation.
The jury also selected two Finalists from each category, who will each receive £30,000:
- Fernanda Duarte, PhD, from the University of Oxford (Chemical Sciences)
- Samuel D. Stranks, DPhil, from the University of Cambridge (Chemical Sciences)
- Jayne Birkby, PhD, from the University of Oxford (Physical Sciences & Engineering)
- Mehul Malik, PhD, from Heriot-Watt University (Physical Sciences & Engineering)
- Tanmay Bharat, PhD, from the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (Life Sciences)
- Yiliang Ding, PhD, from the John Innes Centre (Life Sciences)
This is the first year that Heriot-Watt University and the John Innes Centre were recognised by the Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists in the UK. The 2024 Awards received 84 nominations from 40 academic and research institutions.
“Providing recognition and funding early in a scientist’s career can make the difference between discoveries that remain in the lab and those that make transformative scientific breakthroughs,” said Sir Leonard Blavatnik, Founder and Chairman of Access Industries and Head of the Blavatnik Family Foundation.“We are proud that the Awards have promoted both UK science and the careers of many brilliant young scientists and we look forward to their additional discoveries in the years ahead.”
Professor Nicholas B. Dirks, President and CEO of The New York Academy of Sciences and Chair of the Awards’ Scientific Advisory Council, noted, “From studying cancer to identifying water in far-off planets, to laying the groundwork for futuristic quantum communications systems, to making enzymes never seen before in a lab or in nature, this year’s Laureates and Finalists are pushing the boundaries of science and working to make the world a better place. Thank you to this year’s jury for sharing their time and expertise in selecting these daring and bold scientists as the winning Laureates and Finalists of the 2024 Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists in the UK.”
The Blavatnik Awards in the UK sit alongside their global counterparts, the Blavatnik National Awards and the Blavatnik Regional Awards in the United States, and the Blavatnik Awards in Israel, all of which honour and support exceptional early-career scientists. By the close of 2024, the Blavatnik Awards will have awarded prizes totalling US$17.2 million. About 60% of all recipients are immigrants to the country in which they were recognised; honourees hail from 54 countries across six continents, reflecting the Blavatnik Family Foundation’s recognition that groundbreaking science is a global enterprise.
Blavatnik Awards scholars are driving economic growth by embarking on new scientific trajectories to pursue high-risk, high-reward scientific research. To date, Blavatnik Awards honourees have founded 72 companies. After recognition by the Blavatnik Awards, 30% of past honourees obtained a patent or filed a patent application, 75% have started a new research direction, and 11% have started a new collaboration with another Blavatnik Awards honouree.
The 2024 Blavatnik Awards in the UK Laureates and Finalists will be honoured at a black-tie gala dinner and award ceremony at Banqueting House in Whitehall, London, on 27 February 2024; Professor Irene Tracey, vice-chancellor of the University of Oxford, will serve as ceremony presenter. The following day, on 28 February 2024 from 11:00 to 17:00 GMT, the honourees will present their research with a series of short, interactive lectures at a free public symposium at the RSA House located at 8 John Adam St., London. To attend the symposium, click HERE to register.
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For further details about the 2024 Blavatnik Awards in the UK Laureates and Finalists, the Blavatnik Family Foundation, and the New York Academy of Sciences, please see below.
About the Laureates
As Professor of Organic and Biological Chemistry at The University of Manchester, Professor Anthony P. Green studies and designs enzymes – nature’s catalysts – that speed up almost all of the biochemical processes needed for life. He was recognised for the targeted engineering of enzymes to catalyse new chemical reactions not possible using conventional techniques. Building from fundamentals of synthetic chemistry, Professor Green designs and evolves bespoke enzymes to perform valuable chemical reactions, unlocking synthetic pathways never seen before in chemistry labs or in nature. His research allows the chemical industry to develop more efficient and environmentally benign ways to solve global challenges, from making new pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals, or biofuels to breaking down environmental pollutants such as plastics.
Physical Sciences & Engineering
As Professor of Materials Physics and Carlsberg/Royal Academy of Engineering Research Chair at The University of Manchester, Professor Rahul R. Nair conducts research in two-dimensional (2D) material-based membranes, using the technology to solve real-world global challenges. Professor Nair's work on graphene oxide and other 2D material membranes highlights their potential in various real-world applications: water filtration and seawater desalination, organic solvent nanofiltration, and intelligent membranes for filtration and biomedical uses. Additionally, his research has provided valuable insights into the movement of water and other molecules in nanocapillaries, as those movements differ from their behaviour on the macro scale.
Nicholas McGranahan, PhD, University College London (UCL) – Harnessing evolutionary principles to understand cancers, tumour development, and metastasis, laying the foundation for developing new treatment approaches
Cancer remains one of the leading causes of death worldwide; for each patient, cancer manifests differently, but it is always an uncertain diagnosis. Computational biologist and Principal Research Fellow at University College London (UCL), Dr. Nicholas McGranahan, was recognised for developing computational analyses to understand how tumours have developed and how they might be treated. Dr. McGranahan’s work has laid a foundation for exploring tumour development as an evolutionary process. He has developed tools to permit researchers to understand the genetic faults that have accumulated during a tumour’s development and to evaluate how these can be harnessed to predict the tumour’s future trajectory. His tools also allow researchers to determine how we might design more effective cancer treatments, which are specific to each individual tumour.
About the Finalists
Professor Fernanda Duarte, Associate Professor of Computational Organic Chemistry at the University of Oxford, is developing groundbreaking computational tools to simulate chemical reactions, optimise chemical synthesis, and guide the design of new molecules. Professor Duarte integrates molecular modelling with advances in computer science to address pressing challenges in computational chemistry. A key application of Professor Duarte’s work is the identification of new therapeutic agents to address global health challenges. The traditional drug discovery process is time consuming and costly, but through her new techniques, Professor Duarte can screen and analyse large chemical libraries quickly, identifying potential drug candidates before the rigors of experimental testing.
Traditional silicon-based solar cell technology has reached an efficiency plateau. Next-generation solar cells based on perovskite materials hold extraordinary potential to improve solar panel efficiency. Despite their high efficiency, perovskite solar cells have several technical challenges to address before they can be widely deployed commercially. These include pushing performances to their potential efficiency limits and stopping performance degradation over long-term operation. Professor Samuel D. Stranks, Professor of Optoelectronics at the University of Cambridge, has developed novel techniques to study the optical and electronic properties of novel perovskite semiconductors to inform the design of low-cost, high-performance and stable technologies to drive society’s next-generation energy transition.
Physical Sciences & Engineering
For centuries, the question of life beyond Earth has captivated human imagination. Today, thanks to the tireless efforts of astrophysicists like Professor Jayne Birkby, Associate Professor of Exoplanetary Science and Tutorial Fellow in Physics at Brasenose College at the University of Oxford, this inquiry is no longer a matter of speculation. Professor Birkby was recognised for detecting water in the atmosphere of an exoplanet – a planet that is beyond the solar system – with robust evidence, for the first time, and continuously advancing cutting-edge spectroscopy and imaging techniques for exoplanet research. Professor Birkby’s work accelerates the quest to identify life-signalling molecules like oxygen, methane, water, and carbon dioxide on nearby exoplanets.
While still in its infancy, quantum communication technology holds the promise of unprecedented levels of information security, positioning itself as the indispensable backbone for the future functioning of human society. Quantum physicist and Professor of Physics, Professor Mehul Malik, is advancing quantum communications at Heriot-Watt University through revolutionary techniques that harness high-dimensional entanglement, a complex quantum physics phenomenon. Professor Malik’s innovations enable the normally fragile entanglement to survive long distances and harsh conditions, laying the foundation for noise-robust and high-capacity quantum networks that securely transmit large amounts of information encoded on individual photons.
RNA biologist Dr. Yiliang Ding serves as Group Leader at the John Innes Centre, where she is developing innovative methods for profiling RNA structures in living cells. RNA has long been known as a crucial part of the central dogma of cellular biology, where DNA is transcribed into RNA and then translated into protein. However, less is known about the complex structures into which RNA can be formed and the importance of these structures in regulating diverse biological processes. Dr. Ding’s research is delivering new insights into the functional roles of RNA structures in gene regulation. This pioneering research provides a springboard for the global use of RNA structure-guided molecular designs in therapeutics and crop improvement.
Tanmay Bharat, PhD, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology – Tackling human health by understanding the mechanisms of biofilm and microbiome formation through new cutting-edge electron cryotomography (cryo-ET) techniques
Microorganisms such as bacteria and archaea are commonly found in complex multicellular communities; however, relatively little is understood about how these multicellular communities form. Dr. Tanmay Bharat, structural microbiologist and Programme Leader in the Structural Studies Division at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, has developed and applied cutting-edge cryo-ET techniques to create atomic-level pictures of cell surface molecules on microorganisms, revealing how these molecules mediate the formation of multicellular communities. Dr. Bharat’s work has important biomedical implications, since most pathogenic bacteria infect humans by forming multicellular, antibiotic-resistant, biofilm communities. This work is also vital for the fundamental understanding of the dynamics of cell-to-cell interactions that led to the historical evolution of multicellular life on earth.
About the Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists
The Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists, established by the Blavatnik Family Foundation in 2007 and independently administered by The New York Academy of Sciences, began by identifying outstanding scientific talent in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. In 2014, the Blavatnik National Awards were created to recognise faculty-rank scientists throughout the United States. In 2017, the Awards were further expanded to honour faculty-rank scientists in the UK and Israel. For updates about the Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists, please visit www.blavatnikawards.org or follow us on X and Facebook @BlavatnikAwards.
About the Blavatnik Family Foundation
The Blavatnik Family Foundation provides many of the world’s best researchers, scientists, and future leaders with the support and funding needed to solve humankind’s greatest challenges. Led by Sir Leonard Blavatnik, founder and chairman of Access Industries, the Foundation advances and promotes innovation, discovery, and creativity to benefit the whole of society. Over the past decade, the Foundation has contributed more than US$1 billion to more than 250 organisations. See more at www.blavatnikfoundation.org.
About The New York Academy of Sciences
The New York Academy of Sciences is an independent, not-for-profit organisation that, since 1817, has been committed to advancing science for the benefit of society. With more than 20,000 members in 100 countries, the Academy advances scientific and technical knowledge, addresses global challenges with science-based solutions, and sponsors a wide variety of educational initiatives at all levels for STEM and STEM-related fields. The Academy hosts programs and publishes content in the areas of life and physical sciences, the social sciences, nutrition, artificial intelligence, computer science, and sustainability. The Academy also provides professional and educational resources for researchers across all phases of their careers. The Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists is part of a series of prominent awards and scholarship programs that the Academy and its partners present each year to accomplished early-career and established scientists worldwide. These initiatives, along with education and professional development programs for students and young scientists, reflect the Academy’s broader commitment to strengthening and diversifying the pipeline for skilled and talented scientists globally. Please visit us online at nyas.org.