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Five researchers from the Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences Division (MPLS) have been recognised for their outstanding research impact at the annual MPLS Impact Awards.

MPLS Impact Awards winners and commendations for 2024

The awards celebrate the work of MPLS researchers who have made significant contributions to the economy or wider society at large, through their research.

This year's winners were selected from nominations representing MPLS researchers at all career stages. The winners will each receive a £1,000 prize in recognition of their achievements.

In addition to the five winning projects, the judging panel made a further two commendations.

Chair of the MPLS Impact Awards judging panel, Professor Dermot O’Hare, said:

‘It has been a great pleasure to recognise the exceptional efforts and achievements of departmental colleagues that have ensured their research benefits society and the economy. As MPLS Associate Head for Industrial Liaison and Innovation I chair our annual Impact Awards judging panel. Each year, I and the panel look forward to finding out what our colleagues have achieved outside of academia. While reading about our colleagues’ achievements is quite rewarding, we do have to make difficult decisions, and pick a winner from a very talented field. Once again, the impact of our early career researchers has been impressive, and I am delighted we have two winners and two commendations from this group.

‘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 policy. Nominations have been of high quality, and the panel agreed on multiple category winners and commendations, to recognise the achievements of our researchers, and academics. I continue to be impressed and pleased to see how our colleagues continue to bring benefits to the world.’ 

Professor Jim Naismith, Head of the Mathematical, Physical and Life Science Division, said:

‘Scientific research has always aimed to be impactful, put simply help change lives for the better. We almost never know in advance when or how this will happen; this is why funding so-called blue-sky research ideas is important. Our annual awards recognise and celebrate MPLS researchers whose work has made an outstanding impact already; congratulations to all of them. These are an inspiration for us all and help the division prepare for the Research Excellence Framework 2029 (REF 2029).’ 

Winners

MPLS SOCIAL IMPACT AWARD: PETER NELLIST (DEPARTMENT OF MATERIALS)

NWSN engagement with school and college studentsNWSN engagement with school and college studentsThe North-West Science Network

The North-West Science Network (NWSN) is an Oxford-led initiative that engages with school and college students, which makes use of research-level scientific resources to equip students to make informed choices in relation to higher education, and to support them in their application and entry into university. The activity is led by Professor Pete Nellist and is administered by a partnership between Corpus Christi College, Oxford and three regional hub colleges: Cheshire College South and West (Crewe), Xavarian Sixth-Form College (central Manchester) and Blackburn College (Lancashire). Events build throughout the academic year both in the region and in Oxford to give sustained contact with students, and selection for place-limited events, such as the summer school, are based on widening participation considerations and not academic track record.

Professor Hazel Assender, Head of the Department of Materials, said: ‘This work is an excellent example of taking leading edge and engaging research into the community targeting a key demographic for impact in engagement with science and research that not only may impact their immediate study choices, would also impact participant’s, and the local community’s aspiration and engagement with science. The Department is proud of what Peter has accomplished and pleased to see the ‘impact’ of his work recognised by the Division.’


MPLS POLICY IMPACT AWARD: CHRIS GROVENOR (DEPARTMENT OF MATERIALS)

National Nuclear User Facility (Phase 2)

Professor Grovenor has been directly responsible for delivering an ambitious vision to support the UK nuclear sector, securing £80m of government investment for the second phase of the National Nuclear User Facility (NNUF). This initiative has led to 25 new laboratories or major pieces of equipment being installed between 2019 and 2021 in 18 universities or national laboratories. Almost 300 unique users, including 144 ECRs, have benefitted from access to facilities not available at their home institutions, to report advanced insights related to radiation damage in fusion materials to robotic deployments to reduce human interventions in decommissioning studies at Dounreay.

Professor Hazel Assender, Head of the Department of Materials said: ‘Chris’ leadership of, and contributions to this activity have made an impactful contribution not only on the research community but on the prospects for the nuclear energy industry going forwards, particularly noting the importance of developing and maintaining expertise by the development of ECR capability in the sector, that will be crucial for the UKs capability in the sector.’

Participants from 35 organisations at the NNUF End of Project SymposiumParticipants from 35 organisations at the NNUF End of Project Symposium


MPLS EARLY-CAREER RESEARCH IMPACT AWARD: SOPHUS ZU ERMGASSEN (DEPARTMENT OF BIOLOGY)

Contributing to BNG policy awarenessContributing to BNG policy awarenessShaping the design and implementation of England’s new Biodiversity Net Gain policy

Dr Sophus Zu Ermgassen’s research and engagement efforts have catalysed greatly increased public awareness regarding England’s new Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) policy and provided input into policy design and implementation, leading to better environmental outcomes resulting from new development across the country.

The wider team’s work has contributed to some real policy changes, with the work referenced to justify more ambitious environmental policy in documents supporting various local authorities’ Local Plans, and also contributed to government increasing funding for the implementation of the policy to address gaps the research identified.

Professor Tim Coulson, Head of the Department of Biology, said: ‘Sophus and the team at Biology have ensured their research has had some impact, and that has been documented. Without their efforts, data to guide decision-making would not exist, and we welcome Sophus’s recognition with a MPLS Impact Award.’


MPLS EARLY CAREER SOCIAL IMPACT AWARD: ULRIK LYNGS (DEPARTMENT OF COMPUTER SCIENCE)

Ulrik Lyngs leading a workshop at WarwickUlrik Lyngs leading a workshop at WarwickThe Reduce Digital Distraction Workshop: Helping University Students and Staff Regain Control over Digital Device Use

In today’s world, people can constantly be distracted by notifications, endless content feeds, or compulsive urges to check their smart phones and computers. This can severely harm well-being and productivity, due to disrupted sleep, weakened social connections, and lost focus. To address this problem, the ‘Reduce Digital Distraction’ (ReDD) Workshop prototype was created to provide practical and effective intervention strategies for managing digital interruptions. The format allows participants to identify concerns about their device use and apply digital focus tools from a curated selection relevant to their context. Since its creation, the workshop has helped over 1200 students and staff at eight universities, and recent peer-reviewed research has demonstrated a large, positive effect on participants’ ability to regain control over their digital device use as well as improve overall wellbeing.

Professor Leslie Ann Goldberg, Head of the Department of Computer Science, said: ‘Ulrik Lyngs has developed and conducted workshops with potential impact on the important problem of helping individuals to control device distraction. His early study on 280 participants gives evidence that the workshops are effective.'


MPLS PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT WITH RESEARCH AWARD: MUHAMMAD HAMZA WASEEM (DEPARTMENT OF PHYSICS)

Hamza Waseem's innovative approach to QP employs diagrams to simplify quantum theoryHamza Waseem's innovative approach to QP employs diagrams to simplify quantum theory

Quantum Picturalism: Learning Quantum Theory in High School and Beyond

The Quantum Picturalism (QP) project introduces an innovative approach to teaching quantum science, tailored for high school students. Unlike traditional methods reliant on complex maths, QP employs diagrams to simplify quantum theory, making it more understandable. The core impact of this project lies in potential transformation of high school quantum education through the implementation of QP.

In 2023, Hamza Waseem brought the QP approach to an eight week-long pilot study, took 54 students, aged 15-17, through two-hour online classes weekly, followed by assessments using Oxford postgraduate quantum physics exam questions. Over 80% of students passed, with about half earning a distinction, outperforming the average results of Oxford University postgraduates on the same exam.

Professor Ian Shipsey, Head of the Department of Physics said: ‘The Quantum Picturalism project represents an outstanding example of public engagement with research impact. Not only is Hamza’s work demonstrably impactful in the context of the communities it serves – namely, young people with an interest in quantum physics – it also has profound and broad-reaching implications for science education.

'Hamza played a significant role as a co-lead tutor, he brought an innovative approach to teaching quantum physics to school children and I am sure that Hamza will continue to make meaningful contributions to quantum engagement in the future.’

 

COMMENDATIONS

MPLS EARLY CAREER IMPACT (COMMENDED): CLAIRE TANNER (DEPARTMENT OF BIOLOGY)

Research engagement with the UK fishing industryResearch engagement with the UK fishing industryResearch Engagement with stakeholders in UK fishing industry: Seal-Fishery-Conflict

The nomination addressed issues on human wildlife conflicts, particularly the interactions between seals and fisheries in the UK and the perception of fishers to seals. Claire engaged with key stakeholders across the UK fishing industry: fishers, the Marine Management Organisation (MMO), Fishing Production Organisations and Wildlife Trusts. Data on damage (and resultant economic loss) caused to catch and gear by seals, and fishers’ perceptions of seals were collected. Following the successful engagement, Claire collaborated with the MMO and obtained an OPEN Fellowship to investigate potential policy changes to alleviate the human-wildlife-conflict between fishers and seals.

Professor Tim Coulson, Head of the Department of Biology, said: 'Claire’s work provided feedback to fishers, and engaged with relevant stakeholders. While the impact is yet to arise, quantifying the problem should serve to put mitigation measures in place to reduce the human-wildlife-conflict. Her work is innovative, and very relevant, and she thoroughly deserves this commendation.'


MPLS EARLY CAREER PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT WITH RESEARCH (COMMENDED): SOFIA CASTELLÓ Y TICKELL (DEPARTMENT OF BIOLOGY)

Wild Things on stage. Credit: Harry BuntingWild Things Show – uniting comedy and conservationWild Things: Uniting comedy and conservation

Conservation science and comedy collided in the development, performance and evaluation of Wild Things, an hour-long improvised play about endangered species which the team had performed to over 300 people across Oxford, London and Edinburgh. The play incorporates key concepts in conservation science such as flagship species, ecosystem services, stakeholder conflict/cooperation and conservation measures including protected areas and alternative livelihoods.

During a performance run at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2023, the team conducted research to measure changes in audience perceptions of conservation.

Professor Tim Coulson, Head of the Department of Biology, said: ‘This is great fun and the team showed that audiences at the Wild Things events were more engaged with conservation immediately after the show than before, it will be of interest to see if the change persists over a longer period.'

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