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Strathclyde students win Gold and Silver awards at Westminster conference

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Two University of Strathclyde Chemistry PhD students, who are part of a collaborative industrial PhD programme with global healthcare company GSK, have secured success at a UK-wide conference and awards ceremony, held at the House of Commons.

Joanna Sadler won the gold medal in the Chemistry category of the SET for Britain awards poster competition at Westminster, while Joshua Barham received the silver medal in the same category.

They presented their research to politicians and a panel of expert judges in the competition, run by the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee. The awards are presented annually to encourage, support, and promote the UK's early-stage and early-career research scientists, engineers, technologists, and mathematicians.

Joanna won the gold medal after presenting her research into the use of enzymes as catalysts.

She said: "Presenting my work to MPs was a fantastic experience. Not only was it a great opportunity to raise awareness of early career researchers' work, it was also an interesting challenge to present a technical piece of work to an audience of non-scientists. This made me look at my research from a new perspective.

"The motivation behind my research is to drive a more sustainable future for synthetic organic chemistry, particularly in the pharmaceutical industry. In the Synthetic Biochemistry team at GSK, our approach is to use enzymes in place of traditional chemical catalysis.

"My particular interest is in enzymes known as methyltransferases, which speed up carbon-to-carbon bond forming reactions. Nature provides many enzymes capable of doing this and my PhD is focused on one in particular, called NovO.

"In order to turn NovO into a useful biocatalyst for synthetic chemistry, we discovered its structure, mechanism, and scope for reactions. This foundation has given us an excellent platform on which to evolve the enzyme rationally towards non-natural but more synthetically useful compounds.

I've had invaluable support in my research from my colleagues at GSK and the Strathclyde Chemistry community. In particular my two supervisors, Dr Luke Humphreys at GSK and Dr Glenn Burley at Strathclyde, have been instrumental in supporting and guiding me throughout the programme.

Joshua received the silver medal for his research into pioneering visible light as a clean, efficient, and safe energy source for the sustainable manufacture of pharmaceuticals.

He said: "The SET for Britain event was a great networking opportunity. To be shortlisted was an achievement in itself, and I was thrilled to be awarded the silver medal.

"Visible light is one of the most abundant energy sources in the solar system. Just as the wider population aims to harness visible light as a sustainable source of power, so does the organic chemist in the synthesis of pharmaceuticals.

"In GSK's Research & Development team, visible light photocatalysis is being investigated for more efficient, safe, and sustainable routes to medicines.

"My research would not have been possible without the supportive and collaborative nature of GSK and the University of Strathclyde. As well as chemists at GSK and Professor John Murphy's Chemistry group at Strathclyde, I have received support from Professor David Birch's Physics group at Strathclyde, which has helped with an essential component of my research."

Joanna and Joshua's success marks the fourth time in five years that Strathclyde has had a winner at SET For Britain. They follow Natalie Theodoulou, winner of the Chemistry silver in 2015, Graham Robertson, winner of the Biology gold in 2014, and Jeannette Heiligers, winner of the Engineering gold in 2012.

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