Once again, nominations were sought from MPLS researchers at all career stages, and each winner will receive a pay award of £1,000 (minus taxes) in recognition of their achievements. Full details of the six winning research projects and a further commendation are detailed below.
There were four award categories this year, with additional awards available for research demonstrating a significant impact on the fights against COVID-19:
- Commercial Impact: Recognising researchers at any career stage for research whose work has made a significant commercial/economic impact since 1 August 2017;
- Social Impact: Recognising researchers at any career stage whose research has had a significant social impact since 1 August 2017;
- Early-career Impact: Recognising an early-career researcher who has engaged successfully with external organisations or end-users, laying the foundations for future impactful research in the social or commercial impact category;
- Public Engagement with Research Impact: Recognising researchers at any career stage who have achieved significant impact, since 1 August 2017, through high-quality public engagement with research activities.
Chair of the MPLS Impact Awards judging panel, Professor Dermot O’Hare, said: ‘One of the privileges of my role as MPLS Associate Head for Industrial Liaison and Innovation is chairing our annual Impact Awards judging panel. It has been a great pleasure to recognise the exceptional efforts and achievements of divisional colleagues that have ensured their research benefits society and the economy.
‘The MPLS Impact Awards panel met to review nominations across several impact categories: early career, public engagement with research, social, and commercial, as well as the fifth impact category – tackling COVID-19. Nominations have been of a high quality, and the panel agreed on category winners and a commendation that, together, recognise the achievements of our students, researchers and academics. I continue to be impressed and find it tremendously reassuring to see how our colleagues’ efforts and research continue to bring benefits to the world.’
Head of MPLS Division, Professor Sam Howison, commented: ‘It is wonderful to see these awards for the various ways in which our work has impact outside academia. They show that the notion of an ivory tower is far from true. What we do as academic research can and does change lives in the world around us. Some of the cases here may even end up being submitted to the next REF (where impact will surely be at least as prominent as it is now) and thereby feed back to support our departments. Warm congratulations to all our winners.’
MPLS Commercial Impact Award: Thomas Melham (Department of Computer Science)
New commercial formal verification product, integrating software symbolic simulation
In November 2021, Cadence Design Systems announced a major new product, the C2RTL App. This tightly integrated advanced technologies for C/C++ software symbolic simulation, based on Professor Tom Melham’s research (which built on past work by Professor Daniel Kroening), into Cadence’s fully-featured Jasper Formal Verification Platform.
The resulting tool enables equivalence checking of digital circuit models against almost arbitrary C-reference model code – with full access to the proof engines, verification control, and debugging tools of this leading verification environment.
This paved the way for an innovative and rapidly-emerging Cadence product, aimed at the global market, which has already been used by several chip design companies, as new customers, in the last few months.
Commenting on the commercial impact of the research behind the Cadence product, Professor Leslie Ann Goldberg, Head of Department for Computer Science, said: ‘This is a highly successful outcome of the EPSRC-funded Impact Acceleration Account (IAA), and demonstrates the value in nurturing long-term collaborations between research and industry. It will be exciting to see the impact of this work develop further as C2RTL is taken up across the semiconductor industry.’
MPLS Commercial Impact Award: Jeroen Bergmann, Rita Hendricusdottir (Department of Engineering Science)
Regulatory technology to support medical device innovators
All medical devices that are used by healthcare professionals (a $455.1 billion market) are subject to regulations, and companies or innovators that do not have the resources available to correctly interpret these complex legal frameworks are disproportionally disadvantaged, as small, incorrect decisions early on can have significant long-term consequences. Unfortunately, this means that some innovative clinical technologies can be delayed or discontinued, purely due to preventable regulatory issues.
Jeroen Bergmann, Associate Professor of Engineering Science and Director of Oxford Healthtech Labs, and Rita Hendricusdottir, Program Manager for Regulatory Navigation in the Natural Interaction Lab in Engineering Science, have developed an intuitive, data-driven platform that can help with understanding the regulatory journey better. This platform is already supporting innovators, companies and academics across the world with starting and streamlining their own regulatory strategies.
Professor Ron Roy, Head of Department for Engineering Science, said: ‘Professor Jeroen Bergmann and Dr Rita Hendricusdottir have developed a considerable track-record in this emerging field, while supporting and educating many professionals both within and outside of the University. The elegant digital solution they have created is scalable to the whole MedTech community, and has been actively promoted by leading industries associated within health technologies.
‘Jeroen and Rita have been invited to other Universities to introduce the platform to their local ecosystem. Their platform is also being used directly by tech transfer offices, incubators and accelerators around Europe, including at University College London and here at Oxford.’
‘It is exciting to see how this research has solved a pressing need for those developing new medical devices (including software). There has been a great deal of interest in recent years with respect to leveraging Natural Language Processing, Machine Learning and related topics to various aspects of law and regulation, and in many ways, Oxford has been at the forefront of such activity and the impact this work has had further underpins that reputation.’
MPLS Social Impact Award (COVID-19): Yarin Gal, Jan Brauner, Sören Mindermann and Mrinank Sharma (Department of Computer Science)
Understanding the effectiveness of interventions against COVID-19, using Bayesian models
Yarin Gal is Associate Professor of Machine Learning and head of the Oxford Applied and Theoretical Machine Learning Group (OATML). During the pandemic, as part of a wider collaboration with other universities including Imperial College London, his research group worked on an evaluation of the effectiveness of non-pharmaceutical interventions at reducing the transmission of COVID-19. Utilising a Bayesian hierarchical model, they linked intervention implementation dates to national case and death counts. This provided vital insights to governmental policies, at a crucial time. The group’s work was used to advise the German Bundestag, UK Cabinet Office and the Dutch House of Representatives, for example, amongst others, and findings were published in Nature Communications and Science and shared in the media.
Professor Leslie Ann Goldberg, Head of Department for Computer Science, said: ‘Yarin’s work on Bayesian models and Bayesian deep learning has led to methods and tools that are used in a highly diverse range of application fields.
‘This line of research on COVID-19 mitigations has resulted in widely cited papers and helped to inform national policy in multiple countries, making an important contribution to our understanding of transmission during the global pandemic.’
MPLS Early-career Research Impact Award: Elliot Bentine (Department of Physics)
Novel device for diagnosing and monitoring cardiovascular diseases
Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are the number-one killer globally, responsible for about one-third of all deaths and severely decreased quality of life (through heart attack, stroke, or vascular dementia, for example). Treatment is cheaper and more effective when diagnoses are made early in the disease progression – but this requires appropriate methodology to enable early-stage detection, for instance by imaging blood vessels to infer a patient’s cardiovascular health. Unfortunately, current methods tend to be expensive and thus unsuitable for use in routine screening.
To address this challenge, Elliot Bentine, a Senior Postdoctoral Research Assistant who works in the Ultracold Quantum Matter Lab led by Professor Chris Foot, in the Department of Physics, teamed up with Dr Winok Lapidaire at the Radcliffe Department of Medicine to create a new low-cost, portable and easy-to-use device for imaging blood vessels.
Professor Ian Shipsey, Head of Department for Physics, said: ‘Elliot Bentine’s development of low-cost, high-resolution apparatus for diagnostic imaging of changes in blood vessels is a wonderful example of the application of skills and technology derived from pure physics research to a practical application in medicine.
‘Elliot is harnessing microscopy, optics and laser techniques to address the challenge of diagnosing cardiovascular disease, one of the leading causes of death globally. His development of the idea with Dr Lapidaire, from prototype to the early stages of spin-out and preparation for clinical trial, demonstrates remarkable drive and aptitude for innovation.’
MPLS Impact Award (COVID-19): Seth Flaxman (DEPARTMENT OF COMPUTER SCIENCE)
Computational methods underpinning the Global Reference Group on Children Affected by COVID-19
Millions of people have died from COVID -19 in the first two or so years of the pandemic. Often overlooked are the millions of children who have lost a parent or grandparent caregiver to COVID-19. Associate Professor in Computer Science Seth Flaxman was part of a team that compiled the first global and country-level minimum estimates of the number of children experiencing pandemic-associated orphanhood. These estimates were simultaneously released as a peer-reviewed paper, policy report, and regularly updated online tool.
Professor Leslie Ann Goldberg, Head of Department for Computer Science, commented: ‘This research has helped to highlight an important impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and produced the evidence and tools needed for policymakers to make informed decisions in dealing with it.
‘Seth’s tracker has already been cited in many important venues, and will be of continued benefit to researchers, practitioners, and policymakers responding to the ‘hidden pandemic’ of COVID-19-associated orphanhood across the world.’
Professor Flaxman’s estimates of the extent of COVID-19 related orphanhood have been cited by The Vatican and in an Executive Order made by US President Joe Biden on 5 April 2022.
MPLS Public Engagement with Research Award: Dr Thomas Hird (Department of Physics)
Raising awareness of quantum technologies and enabling collaborative research
Quantum technologies will soon shape all our lives and it is important that scientists help to raise awareness of their importance and relevance as they develop, to ensure that people are well informed.
Nominating Postdoctoral Research Assistant Dr Thomas Hird (pictured second from left) for this award, Dr Siân Tedaldi, Outreach Programmes Manager for Physics said: ‘Tom has consistently worked to improve understanding around quantum, and he excels at integrating meaningful engagement in many areas of his research, engaging tens of thousands of people.
‘Tom’s leadership in bringing the core skills of scientific coding into the Department’s central PER programme is also helping to change the culture around collaborative engagement.’
Head of Department for Physics, Professor Ian Shipsey, added: ‘Tom’s enthusiastic use of cutting-edge quantum technology research to reach out to schools is exemplary. His engagement with schools to create genuine and challenging research projects, through the atom interferometer and computing projects based on open-source data from CERN, is imaginative and particularly well targeted for developing the skills and interest of pupils with potential to study STEM subjects at degree level and beyond.’
MPLS Social Impact Award (commended): Dr Atılım Güneş Baydin (department of computer science)
Artificial Intelligence launched into space to detect floods
Atılım Güneş Baydin is commended for developing an automated system for the detection of floods, using artificial intelligence (AI) techniques deployed on low-cost satellites in Earth’s orbit. This new technology was demonstrated for the first time on a spacecraft launched on 30 June 2021 by SpaceX, from Cape Canaveral in the USA.
Atılım Gunes’s research has major humanitarian implications for bringing down the cost of flood detection, globally, and hence improving access for lower-income countries to inform their natural disaster responses. The international team involved includes three members from Oxford, and the project has received support from the European Space Agency and UNICEF.
Professor Leslie Ann Goldberg, Head of Department for Computer Science, said: ‘This team has produced proof of concept for a very useful technology for flood detection, and it is a great achievement to have demonstrated this successfully in space. Deployed at scale, this technology has the potential for wide-reaching impact on improving our ability to respond to natural disaster at a global level.’