2020 Winners

Dr Nidhi Simmons

School of Electronics, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

(Research excellence prize)

"I am delighted to write this nomination for the PDC Postdoc Prize for Dr Nidhi Simmons from the Centre for Wireless Innovation (CWI) at the ECIT GRI. Since starting as a postdoc, one and a half years ago, Nidhi has performed exceptionally. Not only has she delivered on the project that she was hired to work on, but she single-handedly devised a new framework for realising Ultra-Reliable Low-Latency Communications (URLLC) in future wireless networks such as 6G. To help physically implement the framework, she has demonstrated strong leadership skills and independently developed links with world leading authorities in the area including Prof. Osvaldo Simeone and Prof. Mischa Dohler at King’s College London and Prof. Petar Popovski from Aalborg University, Denmark. These are all new research links for CWI and the ECIT GRI. To secure funding for the research and build her own lab, she recently attracted a five-year research fellowship from the Royal Academy of Engineering (£500k, due to start in September 2020) which is awarded to outstanding early-career researchers without a permanent academic position. She has also solicited support from local industry (Sensata Technologies and AnyVision Ltd.) to help realise the economic benefits that will stem from the research."

Dr Piotr Chudzinski

School of Mathematics and Physics

(Exceptional support prize)

"It is a pleasure to nominate Dr Piotr Chudzinski for the Exceptional Support Prize, in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the work and life of the Atomistic Simulation Centre and the School of Mathematics and Physics. Piotr’s contributions extend over all aspects of the academic and social life of the Atomistic Simulation Centre. He is always on hand to share his deep knowledge of critical phenomena, phase transitions, and quantum many-body problems with PhD students, colleagues and collaborators, and his inexhaustible ideas in physics and beyond generate invaluable results and research funding. Four key areas where Piotr’s support has been crucial this year are co-organisation and chairmanship of the group’s seminar series, the voluntary delivery of a set of graduate lectures on many-body theory, the co-supervision of an MSci project and the co-supervision of a PhD project. The PhD project has produced a paper recently submitted to Physical Review Letters, while the MSci project led to a research manuscript presently under development. Piotr’s dedication to the Centre goes hand in hand with matching excellence in his own research, with six papers published in 2019-2020. We wish him from the heart every success in the future."

Dr Lynn Farrell

School of Psychology

(Outstanding engagement prize)

"Since joining our EPSRC Inclusion Matters project team, Dr Farrell has initiated and led a number of engagement activities. She has engaged in significant public outreach and science communication, such as taking the lead on our Faculty’s flagship EPSRC Inclusion Matters twitter (particularly the innovative #InclusionMattersResearch Twitter poster series), writing invited blogs and delivering invited talks, and organising our sold-out NI Science Festival 2020 event.  Through her active research recruitment for the EPSRC Inclusion Matters, she has also maintained outstanding communication and engagement with partner institutions such as University of Glasgow and University of Warwick. She shows great initiative and leadership in these endeavours, excellent scientific communication skills and is an excellent representative for our research project, demonstrating QUB’s core values throughout. Dr Farrell’s commitment to promoting gender equality work is reflected in all her engagement activities including invited blogs, invited talks, and research dissemination. Taken together, this clearly shows her leadership and enthusiasm for science communication and engagement."

Dr Neha Mehta

School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

(Postdoc citizenship prize)

"Dr Neha Mehta is a strong advocate for postdoctoral researchers in the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences. She is a member of the EPS Postdoc Society Committee and has presented at society events. As a member of the UK Circular Plastics Network, Neha went above and beyond and partook in an event on ‘The Plastic Waste Solution’ in the NI Science Festival. She pro-actively developed links with policymakers, e.g. Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), Belfast City Council, and the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA). This was a necessary step towards co-creating solutions for increased circularity in the plastics economy in Northern Ireland. 

Over the past year, Neha has emerged as a multi-disciplinary champion by leading a successful application with the School of Psychology for ESRC Internal Business Boost Funding. She has collaborated with academics from the School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering and the Centre for Public Health, and is an excellent co-supervisor to undergraduate MEng and PGT students from the School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and the School of Natural and Built Environment. She has been able to do this while achieving the milestones of the ACCEPT Transitions project and publishing journal papers."

2020 Other nominees

Dr Ahmed Osman

School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering

(Outstanding engagement prize)

"Ahmed’s greatest contribution to engagement comes from his social media channels, where he has developed strong links with the community and which I myself have appeared as a guest.

On Facebook, his scientific channel has more than one million followers. Furthermore, on YouTube the total numbers of views have almost reached exceeded 1,000,000 . Ahmed’s scientific channel last year was ranked first in the most engaging scientific channel on Facebook in the Middle East region. The broadcasts have covered a broad spectrum of topics, offering opinions and insights on key themes while also seeking the opinions of experts in the respective fields. During the current COVID-19 pandemic, Ahmed has broadcast episodes which have sought to inform on this complex scientific issue, helping viewers to better understand the topic and addressing misleading information. These COVID-19 episodes alone have amassed more than 6 million views.

Through his channel he is disseminating knowledge, and indeed extensive aspects of wider current scientific affairs. As such, Ahmed is making science much more accessible to those in his native Egypt and right across the Middle East. Given the number of interactions on a weekly basis with the broadcasts, it is clear that Ahmed has outstanding engagement."

Dr Andrew Newton

School of Natural and Built Environment

(Research excellence prize)

"Andrew’s current position is from a £353k Industrial Innovation Fellowship grant he was awarded. He has built an outstanding research profile at QUB with six publications (leading journals like Nature Geoscience and Science Advances), six papers in review, and four papers about to be submitted – in just 2.5 years – with more in the pipeline. His publication list is rapidly expanding far beyond that for someone only three years post PhD. His work has gathered media coverage, invited expert commentary, BBC interviews, university and conference invites, and several knowledge exchange invitations from major industry partners. This work has also seeded a number of small grants for priming a larger fellowship. Andrew is a proponent on a recently approved multi-million pound ocean drilling proposal. He has organised sessions and workshops and is lead editor of an upcoming Geological Society of London Special Publication. Andrew has developed an international network of collaborators from a range of global institutions and his growing profile was confirmed recently with the award of the Geological Society of London's prestigious Wollaston Fund for 2020. This rewards "early career geoscientists who have made excellent contributions to geoscience in the UK and internationally"; a significant endorsement of his abilities."

Dr Estelle Lowry

School of Natural and Built Environment

(Research excellence prize)

"Estelle has demonstrated research excellence in a number of ways over the last year including publication of five journal articles in respected journals in the field of epidemiology and health inequalities. In January 2020, she organised and hosted a very successful data symposium at Belfast City Hall bringing together data users and providers including academics, governmental departments, local councils, and third sector organisations. Almost 100 participants joined in fruitful discussions on the future of data in NI, and the event produced new collaborations between academic and non-academic organisations. She also successfully project managed the design, development and launch of a new project website in line with our public engagement and impact strategy, liaising with user groups and other stakeholders to incorporate feedback. Furthermore, she was successful co-applicant in a recent ESRC grant for c£1million for further work on the Northern Ireland Longitudinal Study."

Dr Kristina Holsgrove

School of Mathematics and Physics

(Exceptional support prize)

"I enthusiastically nominate Dr Kristina Holsgrove for the Exceptional Support prize. Kristina is my right hand, a vital member of my research group and of the Center of Nanostructured Media. She is bright and always happy to help, frequently exceeding everything I ask of her. She is regularly tasked with training PGR students and supervising MSci projects. In our group meetings she always contributes to the experimental design and discussion of literature. Kristina has trained and supported many PhD students, academics and one technician with her electron microscopy skills and insight. She has helped shape the focused ion beam and transmission electron microscopy labs (part of a £1.8M EPSRC grant) by suggesting add-on equipment and on-going training; she is even in the website photographs! More recently, while I was on maternity leave, she brilliantly guided and supervised the group on the daily activities and troubleshooting/lab issues; took my place in PGR interview panels and an international user meeting for a newly acquired equipment (worth £150K) in which her networking has been pivotal for developing future projects. Kristina is currently a leading contributor to 3 projects. She is also a member of the School’s Athena Swan SAT and covers Maths tutorials."

Dr Ricardo Puebla Antunes

School of Mathematics and Physics

(Exceptional support prize)

"For the demonstration of unrivalled scholarship, research creativity and intellectual quality. Dr. Puebla has led five projects since November 2019, dealing with some of the most intricate problems of modern quantum theory. His research resulted in the publications of articles in some of the premier journals in physics, including the prestigious Physical Review Letters, the steering of new research directions towards success, the leadership of international collaborations that went beyond the boundaries of the group in Belfast where he is currently working, and the mentoring of a postgraduate student. The time-window considered for this award saw the stepping up of Dr Puebla to research excellence above and beyond expectations and a fast-paced maturation to leadership. This nomination thus acknowledges the outstanding innovation, problem solving and excellent quality of his work. All that while he and his wife welcomed their first child under the COVID-19 lockdown in Belfast."

Dr Tommaso Scalici

School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

(Postdoc citizenship prize)

"The Advanced Composites Research Group (ACRG), within the School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, brings together a multidisciplinary team (9 Academic Staff, 7 PDRAs, 17 PhD students) focussing on the science and engineering of composite materials and structures. Dr Scalici, joined my team in January 2019 as Project Manager for the €4M H2020 MSCA ITN project ICONIC. Since that time he has performed beyond expectations, not only in his primary role, but in his tremendous assistance in the management and coordination of the ACRG and all of its activities. Moreover, he has remained highly research active and has published 9 ACRG-affiliated peer-reviewed papers. He has an excellent h-index of 16 (for comparison, higher than one Professorial staff member, in a not-to-dissimilar area, appointed to grade in 2016), and his work has attracted over 600 citations in the last two years. He has also been guest editor for the Q1 journal, Polymers.

He undertook all organisational aspects relating to the successful hosting of the inaugural European Conference on Crashworthiness of Composite Structures (ECCCS-1 - Belfast), a Summer school, and is an active member of the Local Organizing Committee of the largest and most prestigious international conference on composite material (ICCM23 – Belfast)."

Dr Yikai Xu

School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering

(Research excellence prize)

"Between Sept. 2019 and now Dr Xu has published 4 peer reviewed papers in leading journals, such as Angew Chem and ACS Nano, three of which he acted as the corresponding author. He currently has another 3 papers under review. It’s worth noting that two of these publications under review arose from collaborative research with other research groups in QUB or University of Lancaster that Dr Xu helped establish and manage. In March 2020, Dr Xu received the 2019 Kathleen Lonsdale Royal Irish Academy Chemistry Prize for the most outstanding PhD work in the general area of chemical science in Ireland and has been put forth to represent Ireland in the 2020 IUPAC-Solvay International Award for Young Chemists. In January 2020, Dr Xu was nominated to the community advisory board for a leading academic journal Nanoscale Horizons published by the Royal Society of Chemistry. In the past academic year, Dr Yikai Xu has also participated actively in applications for external funding, most notably he successfully secured a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship to start this September."

Dr Zachary Petzel

School of Psychology

(Research excellence prize)

"Zach has been a major force behind the progression of the Faculty’s flagship EPSRC Inclusion Matters project, even under difficult circumstances such as the Covid-19 crisis. Straddling Psychological and Computer sciences, Zach has set up experiments in the Virtual Reality laboratory and online, and recruited hundreds of EPS academics in order to understand how gender equality initiatives can be more effectively designed to increase engagement from our academics. Zach has also set up a full Biopac laboratory in the EPS Faculty, which allows for state-of-the-art collection of physiological data. He has also trained students and staff in using the equipment and analysing the data, thus opening new avenues for advancing research in the School. Zach has published six peer-reviewed papers in the last year and is currently preparing several other outputs from the EPSRC project, aimed at high impact interdisciplinary journals. Zach has made significant contributions to advancing our understanding of gender bias in STEM, both in the Faculty and beyond."

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