Scientists win prestigious Royal Society of Chemistry Prizes

Tomislav FriĘcic
Tomislav FriĘcic

University of Birmingham researchers have been awarded three of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s prestigious annual awards.

Professor Tomislav Frišcic has been named winner of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Corday-Morgan Prize, while Dr Joshua Makepeace has been named winner of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Environment, Sustainability and Energy Early Career Prize.

The third prize has been awarded to ChemBAM , an outreach programme that aims to showcase the exciting world of chemistry. ChemBAM has been named the winner of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s (RSC) Inclusion and Diversity Prize, which celebrates those working to improve accessibility and diversity within the chemical science community.

This year’s winners join a prestigious list of past winners in the RSC’s prize portfolio , 60 of whom have gone on to win Nobel Prizes for their work, including 2022 Nobel laureate Carolyn Bertozzi and 2019 Nobel laureate John B Goodenough.

Professor Tomislav Frišcic, Corday-Morgan Prize

Professor Frišcic won the prize for transformative contributions to the design, fundamental understanding and applications of solid-state materials, and of their mechanochemical and photochemical reactivity. Professor Frišcic also receives £5,000 and a medal.

After receiving the prize, Professor Frišcic said: "I am extremely honoured and humbled by the Corday-Morgan Prize - it is an outstanding recognition of the efforts, enthusiasm, and ingenuity of all the members of my research group, and it is also a major encouragement for us to keep developing new, cleaner and sustainable chemical processes, and pushing the boundaries of chemical synthesis and materials science."

Professor Frišcic’s team are developing a safer, cleaner approach to chemical reactions and manufacturing: they call this ’Chemistry 2.0’. It relies on the use of solids, instead of commonly used toxic solvents, as a means to perform chemistry. In order to avoid the use of solvents, they are inventing new ways to activate solids through mechanical forces (mechanochemistry) or light (photochemistry). Their ultimate goal is to provide researchers and industries with the tools and understanding they need to replace and transform existing chemical processes with cleaner, safer, and more sustainable alternatives.

Dr Joshua Makepeace, Energy Early Career Prize

Dr Makepeace was recognized for his work advancing ammonia-based fuels and hydrogen storage through the use of metal amide and imide materials, ammonia synthesis and decomposition catalysts. Dr Makepeace also receives £3,000 and a medal.

Dr Makepeace said: "It’s a real honour to have been selected for this prize, though I’m sure I’m but one of many who would be very worthy recipients. I appreciate the work of the RSC in recognising scientists who are at the early stages of their careers, a time that can include lots of feelings of self-doubt. I’m really indebted to all the researchers I’ve worked alongside, as none of the work I’ve been recognised for would have happened without a lot of collaboration and support."

Dr Makepeace’s research group are developing chemistry to store renewable electricity in a form that is available when and where it is needed. For example, this could be the design of new batteries that are safer and store more energy, or making catalysts which use hydrogen or ammonia as sustainable fuels. The group works with solid materials to understand how their composition and structure governs the way they operate. Everything they do is motivated by the transition to a sustainable energy system.

ChemBAM, Inclusion & Diversity Prize

Pupils with vision impairment are often excluded from practical chemistry activities because the existing curriculum relies heavily on visual observations. ChemBAM, working in collaboration with Bolton Sensory Support Service, has produced a range of experiments, resources, and interactive activities that are accessible to people with a vision impairment, helping to make science a more equitable place.

Through the provision of these resources, ChemBAM hopes that more people with vision impairment will be able to bring their unique perspectives and abilities to the field, following in the footsteps of successful blind scientists such as Dr Mona Minkara, Assistant Professor of Bioengineering at Northeastern University, Charlie Leir, retired 3M chemist, and former RSC Inclusion and Diversity Prize winner, Henry Wedler.

This year’s winners join a prestigious list of past winners in the RSC’s prize portfolio, 60 of whom have gone on to win Nobel Prizes for their work, including 2022 laureate Carolyn Bertozzi and 2019 laureate John B Goodenough. The ChemBAM team also receive £5,000 and a medal to celebrate the work.

Dr Zoe Schnepp, Senior Lecturer, University of Birmingham and Founder of ChemBAM, said: "It’s a real honour to receive this award. Our team is thrilled to be recognised and we hope we can continue our work to make chemistry more accessible for everyone.

"Making science accessible to people with a vision impairment isn’t just about helping future scientists. Everyday skills like measuring volume are learned in school science practicals, meaning pupils with vision impairment often miss out. As part of this work, ChemBAM has designed tactile syringes which allow pupils with vision impairment to measure volume in a science lesson so that they too can gain essential skills for life."

The Molecular Ratcheteers

Also winners in this year’s RSC Awards were University of Manchester team, the Molecular Ratcheteers. The team included Dr Stephen Fielden , now a member of the University of Birmingham’s School of Chemistry. The Molecular Ratcheteers were recognised for their work in nanotechnology, advancing the building blocks for everything from medicine delivery to information processing.

Microporous Membranes Team

Finally, Linjiang Chen , now also in the University of Birmingham’s School of Chemistry, was part of the team awarded the RSC’s Materials Chemistry Horizon Prize. The work, carried out while Dr Chen was a research fellow at the University of Liverpool, involved the development of ion-conducting polymers of intrinsic microporosity for use in grid-scale energy storage technologies.

Dr Helen Pain, Chief Executive of the Royal Society of Chemistry, said: "The chemical sciences are at the forefront of tackling a range of challenges facing our world. From fundamental chemistry to cutting-edge innovations, the work that chemical scientists do has an important role to play in building our future.

"The RSC’s prizes programme enables us to reflect on and celebrate the incredible individuals and teams whose brilliance enriches our knowledge, advances our understanding, and brings new ideas and technologies that benefit society as a whole. We’re very proud to recognise the contributions of our winners today."

The Royal Society of Chemistry’s prizes have recognised excellence in the chemical sciences for more than 150 years. In 2019, the organisation announced the biggest overhaul of this portfolio in its history, designed to better reflect modern scientific work and culture.

The Research and Innovation Prizes celebrate brilliant individuals across industry and academia. They include prizes for those at different career stages in general chemistry and for those working in specific fields, as well as interdisciplinary prizes and prizes for those in specific roles.

The University of Birmingham is ranked amongst the world’s top 100 institutions. Its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers, teachers and more than 6,500 international students from over 150 countries.

Rewarding Excellence and Gaining Recognition The Royal Society of Chemistry’s Prizes portfolio is one of the oldest and most prestigious in the world, recognising achievements by individuals, teams and organisations in advancing the chemical sciences. We reward those undertaking excellent work in the chemical sciences from across the world.

About the Royal Society of Chemistry We are an international organisation connecting chemical scientists with each other, with other scientists, and with society as a whole. Founded in 1841 and based in London, UK, we have an international membership of over 50,000. We use the surplus from our global publishing and knowledge business to give thousands of chemical scientists the support and resources required to make vital advances in chemical knowledge. We develop, recognise and celebrate professional capabilities, and we bring people together to spark new ideas and new partnerships. We support teachers to inspire future generations of scientists, and we speak up to influence the people making decisions that affect us all. We are a catalyst for the chemistry that enriches our world.