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Four world-class researchers at Queen’s University have been recognised for the positive impact of their work at the Vice-Chancellor’s Research Prizes 2017.

In total, twelve academics were shortlisted across four categories: Research Impact; Research Innovation; Early Career Researcher; and Post-Doctoral Researcher. A record number of applications were received this year from across the disciplines.

Researchers who successfully made the prestigious shortlist attended a lunch in the Great Hall last Monday, 4 December. The event, which was hosted by the BBC's Mark Simpson, was attended by the Acting President and Vice-Chancellor Professor James McElnay, the shortlisted candidates, the judging panel for the awards, as well as research colleagues and guests.

The winners were: Dr Sophie Tyrrell, School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering; Dr Leonie Hannan, School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics; Dr Denise Fitzgerald, School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences; and Dr Paul Stapleton, School of Arts, English and Languages.

Postdoctoral Research Prize winner:
Dr Sophie Tyrrell (School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering)

Dr Sophie Tyrrell completed her PhD in Materials Chemistry in January 2015. On completion, she began working full time as a Postdoctoral Researcher for the Queen's spin-out company Green Lizard Technologies (or GLT), where she has been focusing on translating basic research into industrial development projects.

Sophie's energy, focus and leadership in leveraging funds for GLT and Queen's in their development activities have resulted in GLT's first Innovate UK grant. More recently, she has coordinated and written a successful International Energy Research Centre grant proposal which has resulted in €1.2m coming directly into the University (for a major international consortium on energy storage).

Additionally, Sophie presented at the recent Royal Society of Chemistry Enterprise awards, winning the £10,000 prize for GLT. Sophie's skillset, stretching from laboratory research to business development and industrial application, demonstrates her excellence.

Early Career Research Prize winner:
Dr Leonie Hannan (School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics)

Dr Hannan is an outstanding example of an Early Career Researcher who has demonstrated excellence across research, teaching and engagement with the non-academic community. Not many Early Career Researchers have published five books within two years of starting at Queen's!

Leonie has been a driving force behind the establishment of major Queen's ventures such as The Heritage Project and the Centre for Public History, playing a very significant role in collaboration with other colleagues in ensuring engagement between the University and the wider world. Interdisciplinary collaboration is a core feature of Leonie's work, as evidenced by successful grant application engagement with colleagues across Schools and Faculties. Leonie's ground-breaking work on pedagogy was recognised with a Higher Education Academy Senior Fellowship.

A testament of Leonie's standing in the profession is her election this year as a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. Leonie shows how excellence in a discipline, in this case history, can contribute not only to that discipline but also to the general public, to students and to academics in other disciplines.

Research Innovation Prize winner:
Dr Denise Fitzgerald (School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences) – 'Harnessing the immune system to repair the brain'

Dr Fitzgerald joined the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences in 2009. Since then she has successfully established a cutting-edge research programme in Neuroimmunology. In 2016 Denise secured Northern Ireland's first Wellcome Trust Investigator Award.

She has established new experimental models, trained postdoctoral fellows, graduate and undergraduate students and published seminal papers as senior author. Denise recently published a four-year research study identifying a new role for immune cells in supporting brain repair in Nature Neuroscience. This landmark work has opened new frontiers in the fields of neuroscience, immunology and regenerative medicine and delivered a unified, multi-disciplinary and completely novel research programme here at Queen's.

Research Impact Prize winner:
Dr Paul Stapleton (School of Arts, English and Languages) – 'Reassembled, Slightly Askew'

Dr Stapleton's highly innovative, audio-based artwork, 'Reassembled, Slightly Askew', pushes the boundaries of existing methodologies for immersive audio-based storytelling. It invites the listener, lying down, with eye mask and headphones on, to start to understand a little of what it is like to have a brain injury. Dr Stapleton's expertise in the artistic use of binaural microphone technology and spatial sound design techniques is pivotal in allowing audiences to enter into the mind of a patient who has experienced brain injury.

In the Guardian's review of the work, it was hailed as “uplifting and empathetic … The result feels as if we are experiencing the world from underwater, or via a patchy radio signal”. Crossing the boundaries between, and having an impact across the worlds of art and medicine, creativity and technology, 'Reassembled, Slightly Askew' is a seminal example of how cutting-edge art work can speak in remarkably poignant, as well as practical, ways to the traumatic, life-changing experiences of brain-injury patients and those close to them.

The judging panel was chaired by the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, Professor Adrienne Scullion, and included:

  • Faculty Deans of Research – Professor Paul Connelly, Professor Aaron Maule and Professor Su Taylor

  • Previous Vice Chancellor's Prize winners Professor Lorraine Martin, Dr Michael Pierse and Dr Trung Duong

  • Dr Nicola Armstrong, Programme Manager, HSC R&D Division, Public Health Agency

  • William Blair, Director of Collections at National Museums Northern Ireland

  • Richard Kirk, Regional Director of the Institution of Civil Engineers

The Queen's VC Research Prizes have been running since 2012 and have a growing number of applications each year.