Scientists from the Department of Chemistry win four RSC prizes
7 June 2022
Congratulations to the many scientists based in the Department of Chemistry who have been awarded prizes this year by the Royal Society of Chemistry. One team, and three individuals, win prizes for their research across the breadth of the chemical sciences, from developing ground-breaking new medical devices to uncovering novel catalytic synthetic methods.
Molecular Flow Sensor Team – Sir George Stokes Award
The Molecular Flow Sensor Team, a collaboration between chemists, physiologists, computer modellers, clinicians and the NHS Trust, has been awarded the RSC’s Analytical Division Horizon Prize: Sir George Stokes Award. The Horizon Prizes celebrate the most exciting, contemporary chemical science at the cutting edge of research and innovation. These prizes are for teams or collaborations who are opening up new directions and possibilities in their field, through ground-breaking scientific developments.
Led by Oxford Chemistry Professors Gus Hancock and Grant Ritchie, alongside Professor Peter Robbins, the Molecular Flow Sensor team won the prize for the development of a non-invasive breath analyser to provide measurements of respiratory disease and cardiac output.
After receiving the prize, Kevin Valentine, who led the electronic development of the sensor, said:
Designing the Molecular Flow Sensor has been really rewarding. To see the work carried out over many years by Professor Gus Hancock and Professor Grant Ritchie develop into a real-world application with the potential to help many people shows the importance of this type of research.
The team’s work uses a combination of optical, mechanical, signal processing and computational techniques to construct a small instrument called a Molecular Flow Sensor which can make highly precise, non-invasive measurements of breath gases.
The sensor has been used as a tool in several respiratory medical studies, including measuring the lung function of asthma and cystic fibrosis sufferers as well as for investigations into long COVID. All the results point to the effectiveness of the sensor in early diagnosis and management of lung disease.
The full team behind the Molecular Flow Sensor is listed at the bottom of this article.
I was absolutely delighted to be awarded this prestigious Prize, but it's been a collective effort, so I am also extremely thankful for and proud of the students and colleagues, past and present, who have worked so hard and so passionately towards our goals.
Professor Flashman’s team look at the role of enzymes in plant and humans in response to reduced oxygen availability. The team explores how the structure and mechanism of these enzymes helps them control their rate of reaction with oxygen and therefore their ability to act as good oxygen sensors.
Excitingly, finding inhibitors for plant oxygen-sensing enzymes or engineering changes to their structure and mechanism could slow their activity and help plants survive flooded (low oxygen) conditions for longer. This will be important in generating crops that are more tolerant of stresses associated with climate change.
After receiving the prize, Professor Deringer said:
I am honoured by the recognition and very grateful for the award. I am also excited to share the news with my team when I can!
Amorphous (non-crystalline) materials are important for many modern technologies: for example, encoding ‘ones’ and ’zeros’ in digital memories, or storing ions in rechargeable batteries. Professor Deringer's research uses computer simulations to explore the structure of such amorphous materials: where the atoms are, what forces hold them together, and how that atomic structure is connected to properties. His team is particularly interested in leveraging machine-learning methods to enable new insights in materials chemistry.
I was extremely pleased and honoured to receive this Prize and most of the credit should go to my research group, both past and present, for their hard work and dedication to the field.
Professor Donohoe’s work concentrates on making carbon-carbon bonds, which provide the skeleton or framework of a vast array of molecules. Some of these have fascinating and useful properties (for use in pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals, dyes, and polymers for example).
By harnessing the unique reactivity of a metal catalyst, his research group has been able to uncover some new and powerful ways of making C-C bonds which will allow synthetic chemists to access new compounds and explore their properties. These new methods of synthesis have a promising future in chemical synthesis due to their high efficiency and lack of toxic by-products.
Speaking about the prize winners, Dr Helen Pain, Chief Executive of the Royal Society of Chemistry, said:
Great science changes the way we think about things – either through the techniques used, the findings themselves, the products that emerge or even in how we interact with the world and those around us. Importantly, it also allows us to reflect on the incredible people involved in this work and how they have achieved their results.
Some of the most incredible work in chemical science is carried out by teams and collaborations who use their diversity of thought, experience and skills to deliver astonishing results. These synergies are often at the very forefront of expanding our understanding of the world around us, and why our judges have such a difficult job selecting winners for our Horizon Prizes.
Although we are in the midst of negotiating a particularly turbulent and challenging era, it is important to celebrate successes and advances in understanding as genuine opportunities to improve our lives. The work of our Research & Innovation Prize winners is a fantastic example of why we celebrate great science, and we’re very proud to recognise their contribution today.
Molecular Flow Sensors team:
The molecular flow sensor device in use. It can be used to monitor gases being inhaled and exhaled, which is of great importance when diagnosing lung-related diseases.