John Innes Foundation Prizes for PhD students
The Trustees of the John Innes Foundation sponsor the annual award of a number of prizes for outstanding achievements by PhD students at the John Innes Centre and The Sainsbury Laboratory. The Prizes aqre awarded for Excellence in Scientific Research and Excellence in Science Communication.
The 2012 prizes were awarded by Mr Frank Oldfield, Chairman of the John Innes Foundation trustees, at the Annual Science Meeting.
The 2012 JIF Prize for Excellence in Science Communication was awarded to Philippa Borrill
Philippa joined the JIC/TSL Rotation PhD programme in October 2010 and is now a member of Cristobal Uauy’s laboratory. Her nomination for a JIF Prize for Excellence in Science Communication impressed the Award Panel in its breadth of achievement, communicating science both to the research community and to the lay public.
At the UK Plant Sciences Federation meeting at JIC in April 2012 Philippa’s abstract was one of a handful selected for an oral presentation. She presented her work in the first session alongside established speakers which included the plenary by the Government Chief Scientist Sir John Beddington.
JIC Director Dale Sanders who was also present complimented Philppa saying: “It was really great that you managed to enthuse the audience about your work. (As a consequence) the Government Chief Scientist, John Beddington, left with thoughts that JIC science is hypothesis-driven and significant, and that we can present those concepts crisply. Well done and Thank you.”
At the Monogram meeting in Aberystwyth (the annual gathering of the small grain cereal and grass research community) Philippa presented her work through a poster. She worked independently on the poster and did a great job during the different coffee breaks to show her work to the attendees. This led to several very positive comments afterwards from colleagues.
At the 2012 Showcase of Young Science at IFR Philippa delivered a very eloquent talk to the lay audience and did an outstanding job in presenting complex biological topics in a very simple and meaningful manner.
Last year Philippa volunteered to help with the JIC Undergraduate Summer School and chaired a session on climate change and implications in science, once again showing a commitment to discuss the “larger picture” of science and its direct link to society.
Philippa was the Managing Director of Hortisense, the JIC team that won their regional heat for the Biotechnology YES competition and represented the region in the finals in London. This highlights Philippa’s engagement with industry and her ability to communicate a wide range of science as the project was unrelated to her research.
While doing all of this and having successfully initiated her research project, Philippa has also found the energy to be Chair of the JIC Student Voice Committee. This has enabled her to engage with the wider JIC science and management community and will undoubtedly be a very valuable experience for her.
The 2012 JIF Prize for Excellence in Scientific Research was awarded to Tung Le
Tung Le joined the JIC/TSL Rotation PhD programme in October 2007 having gained a first class degree from the University of Birmingham. Following his Rotation year he joined Mark Buttner’s lab in 2008 to work on the molecular basis of resistance to the antibiotic simocyclinone in the producing organism Streptomyces antibioticus.
In the following three years he published four excellent 1st-author papers (in Molecular Microbiology, Journal of Molecular Biology, Nucleic Acids Research and Acta Crystallographica) and was also a minor author on a fifth paper (in Science). The first of his 1st-author papers was submitted only seven months after he started in the lab.
In nominating Tung for this prize his supervisor stressed that “Tung was almost entirely responsible, both intellectually and technically, for the direction of his work, and that his four first-author papers should be seen as the product of his own vision and efforts.”
To execute the work covered in his thesis, Tung had to master molecular genetics, biochemistry, and a great deal of structural biology. In order to address one of the key questions in his research, namely the role of the N-terminal region of the regulatory protein SimR, Tung wrote and won both an EMBO Short-Term Travel Fellowship and a Korner Travel Fellowship to fund a 10-week trip to the lab’s of Prof. Dick Brennan and Prof. Maria Schumacher (Houston, USA), who are internationally acknowledged experts in the crystallography of DNA-protein complexes. Through this trip, Tung crystallised and solved the structure of the SimR-DNA complex, and discovered that the N-terminal extension of SimR binds in the minor groove adjacent to the major groove occupied by the classical HTH motif.
Following the viva, Tung’s external examiner described his work as “a technical tour de force” showing “outstanding levels of achievement throughout the thesis”. This was echoed by the internal examiner who concluded that “Tung has a great future ahead of him”.
Tung is now a post-doc in Prof. Mike Laub’s lab at MIT and in a recent email to Mark Buttner Prof Laub wrote “I am forever indebted to you for sending Tung my way. What a gem. He’s already off and running with some fantastic data and he’s only been here a few months. He’s a force of nature!”
In summary, the Award Panel concluded that Tung has shown himself to be an exceptional student, both intellectually and technically, and that he richly deserves to be awarded a John Innes Foundation Prize for Excellence in Scientific Research.