Outstanding Welsh research talent celebrated

The AGM dinner on the 17th May saw the medals of the Learned Society of Wales awarded at a ceremony in at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff.

The recognition of merit is a significant aspect of the work of the national academy of Wales.  Celebrating achievement is important for all the individuals honoured, for the academic sector from universities to schools, and for the Wales.

This year and for the first time the Learned Society of Wales awarded six medals in four different categories, all named in honour of significant figures from Wales distinguished history.

The 6 medals were created to inspire and recognise excellence, while also celebrating exceptional individual researchers . In this, the ‘year of legends’, the medals highlight the work of today’s Welsh researchers, which in turn will inspire those in the future.

The Frances Hoggan medal recognises the contribution of outstanding female researchers in STEMM, with a connection to Wales.

This year the medal was awarded to Professor Anita Thapar CBE, of Cardiff University, for her research in child and adolescent psychiatry. “It is an immense honour to receive this award” Professor Thapar said. “My scientific work has benefited enormously over the years from jointly working with excellent colleagues. Many of these have been young female scientists – so I hope this award serves as inspiration for them.”

The Menelaus medal is awarded for excellence in any field of engineering and technology to a researcher with a connection to Wales; previous recipients have included Sir Terry Matthews, Sir John Cadogan and Sir John Meurig Thomas.

This year’s recipient was Professor Graham Hutchings, Regius Professor of Physical Chemistry at Cardiff University. “It is a great honour to be awarded the LSW Menelaus Medal” he commented. “My work in the field of catalysis has been largely aimed at designing new technologies in collaboration with industry. Recently our work enabled gold to be used a new catalyst to replace a highly polluting mercury catalyst in vinyl chloride manufacture which I hope will really see benefits for society as a whole”.

The Hugh Owen Medal, funded by the Welsh government, was awarded to Professor Chris Taylor of Cardiff University, in recognition of his outstanding contribution to educational research – research which is not only methodologically ground-breaking but which has also informed the development of key education policies in Wales.

Professor Taylor said “I am very honoured to have been awarded the first Hugh Owen Medal by the Learned Society for Wales. It is important we recognise the importance of research in the Welsh education system. Without this we cannot be confident that our education policies and practices address the right issues or will deliver effective results”.

On awarding the medal, Sir Emyr Jones Parry, President of the Society commented “Education should offer everyone the opportunity to develop their talents, to learn and be exposed to ideas. We all need to do better, and excellent practical research can help shape more effective policies”.

Unique amongst awards offered by other national academies of the UK, the Dillwyn medals are awarded in recognition of outstanding early career research in three different academic fields:

  • STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine);
  • Social Sciences, Education and Business;
  • and the Creative Arts and Humanities

The Dillwyn medal for STEMM was awarded to Dr Rachel Evans, a lecturer at the Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy at the University of Cambridge. The new photoactive materials designed in her laboratory are used to improve the efficiency of solar cells, to develop smart sensing platforms for bio-diagnostics and to ensure food security, and to develop responsive membranes to improve water quality and remove pollutants, delivering positive benefits to society through technological advances.

Dr Rhiannon Evans, Senior Lecturer at the DECIPHer Research Centre, School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University was awarded the Dillwyn Medal for Social Sciences, Education and Business. Her research interests include the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people, including self-harm and suicide prevention.

The recipient of the Dillwyn Medal for the Creative Arts and Humanities was Dr Amanda Rogers, Senior Lecturer in Human Geography at Swansea University, researching the performing arts, particularly theatre. Her work to date has examined issues of diversity and equality, and analysed the international migration of performers. Her current research focuses on the revival of Cambodian arts after the Khmer Rouge genocide.

Sir Emyr Jones Parry, President of the Society commented “Isn’t it good to see such Welsh talent? Let’s welcome its recognition, and congratulate the winners. It is wonderful to see female early career researchers recognised by our inaugural Dillwyn Medals, particularly fitting given the pioneering innovations of Mary, Thereza and Amy Dillwyn.”