University of Birmingham scientists win prestigious Royal Society of Chemistry Awards

University of Birmingham RSC Award winners. Clockwise from top-left: Professor Emma Kendrick, Dr Pola Goldberg Oppenheimer, Elizabeth (Lizzie) Driscoll and Dr Ruchi Gupta
University of Birmingham RSC Award winners. Clockwise from top-left: Professor Emma Kendrick, Dr Pola Goldberg Oppenheimer, Elizabeth (Lizzie) Driscoll and Dr Ruchi Gupta

Four scientists from the University of Birmingham’s College of Engineering and Physical Sciences have today (8 June 2021) been recognised with prestigious awards from the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Professor Emma Kendrick, Chair of Energy Materials at the Birmingham Centre for Energy Storage, receives the Society’s 2021 Environment, Sustainability and Energy Division Mid-Career Award Prize. Dr Pola Goldberg Oppenheimer, Reader in Micro-Engineering and Bio-Nanotechnology at the School of Chemical Engineering and Healthcare Technologies Institute (HTI) receives the 2021 Beilby Medal and Prize. Dr Ruchi Gupta, Senior Lecturer and Birmingham Fellow in Healthcare Technologies in the School of Chemistry (SoC) and College of Medical and Dental Sciences (MDS) was named winner of the Joseph Black Award. Chemistry PhD student Elizabeth (Lizzie) Driscoll received the Society’s Inspirational Member Prize.

Professor Kendrick’s award is in recognition of her research awarded for discoveries and innovation in materials, manufacturing and recycling of lithium- and sodium-ion batteries. Professor Kendrick has worked extensively in industry and academic research environments towards the scientific understanding, development and demonstration of sustainable battery technologies.

On receiving the award, Professor Kendrick said: “This prize was much unexpected and means a lot to me. It is especially good to know that not having a traditional career path in academia is recognised as also having value, as often the metrics that we are assessed upon in each area are very different. I hope that this can inspire others to follow their own scientific career path knowing that all contribution to advancement in scientific understanding is valued and appreciated.”

Dr Oppenheimer’s Prize is awarded by the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Materials Chemistry Division Awards Committee for unconventional lithographic structuring of applied materials and advanced nanoplatforms for optical spectroscopy.

Dr Oppenheimer said: “I am deeply honoured to receive the 2021 Beilby Prize. My success builds upon my multidisciplinary background, which has been driving my discoveries challenging the existing postulates and enabling continuous new ways to look at Chemistry and Chemical Engineering. My diverse education, outstanding colleagues, research team and collaborators as well as family and mentors continually contribute, support and inspire my work. My research will continue making significant discoveries and I am enthusiastic about developing new technologies to make difference to people’s lives.”

Dr Gupta was recognised for her research in leaky waveguides for chemical and biological sensing. Currently, it is difficult to measure low concentrations of disease biomarkers in biological fluids rapidly and outside of laboratories. Dr Gupta's group aim to make an impact in this space, developing sensors that use the interaction of light with biomarkers of interest to perform the measurements.

“I am delighted to be a recipient of the Joseph Black Award,” says Dr Gupta. “This prize has been a real confidence booster in times of unprecedented challenges, which have been brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The Inspirational Member Prize recognised Lizzie Driscoll’s impressive public engagement work, which she carried out alongside her PhD commitments. One example is her work last summer at the CoCoMAD festival in Birmingham. Lizzie helped local children and their families at the festival develop their understanding of the science behind batteries by building battery packs from Jenga blocks.

Reflecting on being awarded her prize, Ms Driscoll said: “I am completely over the moon as I have never won anything like this before. I see myself as a state-school student from a working-class background in the West Midlands trying to make her mark in science. It’s a great feeling that the engagement work I have done during COVID-19 hasn’t gone unnoticed.”

The Royal Society of Chemistry’s Prizes and Awards are awarded in recognition of originality and impact of research, or for each winner’s contribution to the chemical sciences industry or education. They also acknowledge the importance of teamwork across the chemical sciences, as well as the abilities of individuals to develop successful collaborations.