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Celebrating success at Bioscience for Growth event

5 April 2011

© Andrew Davies, JIC

BBSRC hosted a prestigious networking event in London on 24 March, where senior figures from business, industry, investment and policymaking had the opportunity to see how leading universities are maximising the impacts of their research in order to contribute to economic growth and social good.

Bioscience for Growth also marked the culmination of BBSRC's Excellence with Impact competition, which rewards university departments for harnessing the potential of their research, as well as the Innovator of the Year competition for individual researchers and teams.

Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts and BBCRC Chief Executive Douglas Kell. © Andrew Davies, JIC

Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts, who presented the prizes to the winners of both competitions, said, "Bioscience is a key growth sector, which is why we announced a £70 million investment in BBSRC research campuses in Norwich and Cambridge in the Budget. These awards recognise the impact of bioscience both on the economy and society, through driving innovation, training highly-skilled people, improving businesses and public services and attracting foreign investment."

Speaking about the Excellence with Impact competition, BBSRC Director of Innovation and Skills Dr Celia Caulcott said, "This has been a two year process and during that time we have seen not just some extraordinary work and outstanding innovation, but also a major shift in how the importance of the wider impact of research is appreciated by staff and students in the participating departments. We have also gained an invaluable insight into the types of activities that are being used across our community to help ensure the widest possible impacts from the research that BBSRC funds."

The 20 departments that took part in the Excellence with Impact competition have worked with BBSRC over two years, producing interim and final reports on their activities, achievements and successes. During this time BBSRC staff have visited each department to discuss the work they have been doing around impact, and to advise on the funding opportunities available from BBSRC to help scientists explore the potential for social and economic impact from their research.

Prizes were awarded to four university departments.

Innovator of the Year

Professor Jason Swedlow from the University of Dundee was awarded the title Innovator of the Year 2011, winning £10,000 in recognition of his work on the Open Microscopy Environment (OME) - a revolutionary venture into open source software.

Prof. Jason Swedlow, University of Dundee

Overall Winner and Social Innovator of the Year - Prof. Jason Swedlow, University of Dundee.
© Andrew Davies, JIC

The ethos of OME is 'share and share alike'. With this approach Professor Swedlow and colleagues are rapidly catalysing the path of discovery for all bioscience researchers who generate and use imaging technology as part of their work.

As an open source, community-led consortium, OME is now the leading provider of software solutions for biological image management. Central to their success has been the development and uptake of a standard image format that can be used across a range of different microscopy platforms and allows researchers to share data in an open image data repository.

The judges' view was that the impact of OME was of remarkably wide benefit due to the flexibility and openness of the approach. The business model is very clever and allows for open source software development - as in, for example, Linux, Java, OS X and Mozilla's internet browser, Firefox - and at the same time commercial opportunities are possible by licensing platforms based on the software. Two such platforms from OME are Bio-Formats and OMERO. In this way there are both economic and social impacts from the work.

Prof. Chris Lowe, University of Cambridge

Commercial Innovator of the Year - Prof. Chris Lowe, University of Cambridge.
© Andrew Davies, JIC

Professor Swedlow said, "It is a great honour to accept this award. The support we have received from BBSRC, as well as the Wellcome Trust, during the early stages of the research has been invaluable.

"Our vision has always been to create a global standard for imaging software and the community that has grown up around the open source development is extraordinary. In reality I am receiving this award on behalf of a large group of extremely talented people who share a common commitment to innovation through team work, collaboration and the process of creating something new and exciting as a community."

Professor Swedlow also won the category prize for Social Innovator of the Year.

Two other category prizes - Commercial Innovator and Most Promising Innovator - were won by Professor Chris Lowe from University of Cambridge and Professor Keith Waldron from the Institute of Food Research respectively, each receiving £5000 prize money.

Commercial Innovator of the Year - Prof. Chris Lowe, University of Cambridge

Prof. Keith Waldron, IFR

Most Promising Innovator of the Year - Prof. Keith Waldron, IFR. © Andrew Davies, JIC

Professor Lowe and colleagues have created 'smart' holograms by fabricating them in flexible gels that bear specific receptors so they swell or contract in response to specific physical, chemical and biological stimuli and respond with a change in colour, brightness or image. Lowe has a strong record in innovation; he holds more than 70 patents and has established eight other spin-out companies.

Most Promising Innovator of the Year - Prof. Keith Waldron, IFR

Professor Waldron has invented a new peat replacement generated from food chain wastes produced by a new composting process. Among many, it has two clear impacts: less pressure is applied to British (and Irish) peat bogs and waste material can be utilised effectively, and locally, too. This is doing very well commercially with significant take up in the UK.

Left to right: Sandra Knapp, Natural History Museum, Malcolm Skingle, GSK, Sir Tom Blundell, BBSRC Chairman, and Celia Caulcott, BBSRC Director of Innovation and Skills, discussing the importance of embedding impact into university departments. © Andrew Davies, JIC

Dr Celia Caulcott, Director of Innovation and Skills, BBSRC said

"Congratulations to all three winners. We are delighted to be able to recognise and reward them for their commitment and achievements. There is great potential in the UK for world-class research to lead to world-changing technologies, products and policies and these researchers are fantastic examples of what is possible when innovation is successfully pursued.

"Bioscience research can ensure future food security, find alternatives to fossils fuels and support health into old age, but only if the potential of the research is fully realised. Those individuals and organisations represented at the Bioscience for Growth event are leading the way in this respect and we can all take inspiration from the work they do."


Tracey Duncombe

tel: 01793 414695