Recognising Excellence in the School of Biological Sciences

The annual Recognising Excellence awards in the School of Biological Sciences were presented by Head of School Professor David Gray at a special reception on Monday 14 December 2015. 

This year awards were presented in three categories - Public Engagement, Knowledge Exchange and Commercialisation, and a new award this year for Openess in Animal Research.  Once again the School was delighted with the number and variety of nominations that were received for the Awards.  It was a difficult job to decide on the winners of each category when there was clearly so much effort and achievement being made throughout the year by so many people across the School.

Public Engagement winners

  • Student:  BioPOD team – School of Biological Sciences
  • Staff:  Michael Capeness – Institute of Quantitative Biology, Biochemistry and Biotechnology
  • PI:  Louise Horsfall – Institute of Quantitative Biology, Biochemistry and Biotechnology

Knowledge Exchange and Commercialisation winners

  • Student:  Innovation Forum team
  • Staff:  Jana McCaskill – Institute of Immunology & Infection
  • PI:  Sander Granneman – Institute of Quantitative Biology, Biochemistry and Biotechnology

Openness in Animal Research winner

  • Staff:  Professor Judi Allen – Institute of Immunology and Infection Research

Public Engagement


Student winner - BioPOD team

The four members of the BioPOD team (Matthew Barnbrook, Stevie-Ann Bain, Rucha Tillu and Didi He) were recruited in October of 2014.  Since then they have produce three very high quality podcasts, describing work carried out in the School of Biological which have been listened to around the world.  They have also run strong social media campaigns which have meant that they are now reaching a wider audience than ever before – including re-tweets from the BBSRC and Nature Climate Change!  After initial training and guidance they took complete ownership of the project and essentially now run it independently. They have also recruited several new members in the last month ensuring that the project will run robustly on into the future.

Staff winner - Michael Capeness (Institute of Quantitative Biology, Biochemistry and Biotechnology)

Michael Capeness has been highly active in engaging the general public with his research throughout this year.  Amongst his activities, he developed an exhibition for the Edinburgh International Science Festival earlier this year, fully engaging both young and old alike, with all visitors leaving with a new appreciation for the role of science in society.  He was also heavily involved in the organisation of an exhibit for the “Bang Goes the Borders” – again his ability to explain scientific terms in an easily relatable way made him a very big hit with all the visitors.  One of the people who nominated him said, “His great dedication to research, his passion and zeal to engage with members of the public means that I cannot think of a more deserving winner of this award”.

PI winner - Louise Horsfall (Institute of Quantitative Biology, Biochemistry and Biotechnology)

Louise has been prolific in her involvement with many different aspects of public engagement this year.  To name just a few, she has led a very successful art-science collaboration that has been exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London; she has been a constant presence at scientific panels including debating ‘Synthetic Life: How far could it go? How far should it go?’ at the Royal Institution.  As well as this Louise has given a TEDx Edinburgh talk and had her research that was featured in much of the Scottish press; and her research was used as an example by the Scottish Scientific Advisory Committee of how synthetic biology might benefit Scotland.  She is also a STEM Ambassador, visiting schools to talk about science and synthetic biology, and encourages her lab to do the same.


Knowledge Exchange and Commercialisation


Student winner – Innovation Forum Team (School of Biological Sciences)

Innovation Forum Edinburgh chapter was established by Harsh Vaidya, a PhD student in the Institute for Stem Cell Research, to engage young academic researchers in biotech entrepreneurship and industry engagement.  It has now grown to a team of 13 members – Alba Abad, Tarek Abbas, Thomas Bray, Thane Campbell, Samuel Casasola Zamora, Joanna Koszela, Mantas Matjusaitis, Asimina Pantazi, Sana Sarvi, Natalia Siaz-Ros, Ifigeneia Stavrou, Harsh Vaidya and Yujie Yang – who have delivered a series of events aimed at stimulating junior researchers to engage in the impact agenda.

Staff winner – Dr Jana McCaskill (Institute of Immunology and Infection Research)

Jana has played a key role in a major Scottish Enterprise Proof of Concept grant led by Dr Amy Buck. The project had both scientific and commercial milestones in place with the end goal to spin out a company from the University. She has displayed a strong drive to participate in, and facilitate the commercialisation of University research having presented in meetings with six of the top ten global pharmaceutical companies as well as venture capitalists to promote the commercialisation of a potential therapy.

PI winner – Dr Sander Granneman (Institute of Quantitative Biology, Biochemistry and Biotechnology)

Sander is being recognised for his efforts in supporting the generation of impact from his research. He developed a new UV-crosslinking approach called the “CRAC” method, a major improvement on previous methods which has been adopted by a number of labs. Sander then went on to write the pyCRAC software suite to enable other researchers with more limited programming skills to extract their CRAC data. To improve on the available hardware for his UV-crosslinking technique, Sander designed a new type of UV-crosslinking apparatus and developed the prototypes for this instrument in collaboration with a local company, UVO3. This instrument has proved to be very popular and more than 30 units of this type have now been sold. Sander is currently working on a new prototype that will allow us to enter a new era in understanding the dynamics of RNA metabolism.


Openness in Animal Research


Winner – Professor Judi Allen (Institute of Immunology and Infection Research)

Judi's award is to acknowledge for her directness and openness on animal research. She successfully petitioned for the University of Edinburgh to become a signatory to the Concordat on Openness on Animal Research alongside the UK Research Councils and other Universities.

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