UCL Mathematical & Physical Sciences


UCL academic named Blavatnik Awards finalist

9 December 2020

Professor Matthew Powner (UCL Chemistry) is one of nine UK recipients of the 2021 Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists in recognition of his work on one of the world’s greatest mysteries – the origin of life.

Professor Matthew Powner

The awards, issued by the Blavatnik Family Foundation and the New York Academy of Sciences, are open to scientists aged 42 or younger. They aim to recognise research that is already transforming technology and our understanding of the world.

Professor Powner, one of three young scientists honoured in the Chemistry category, was recognised for developing a “systems chemistry” approach to the origin of life – that is, studying properties that emerge in networks of molecules and cannot be attributed to individual molecules in isolation. This has led to a better picture of how chemical reactions could underpin the formation of life on the early Earth.

He said: “The advent of life marks the most profoundly important transition in the history of our planet, and understanding that transition is one of the greatest challenges in modern science. I feel privileged to work on this fascinating, multifaceted problem with a fantastic team of co-workers, colleagues and collaborators, and it is an honour to be selected as a 2021 Blavatnik Awards Finalist in recognition of our work.”

A jury of leading scientists across the UK selects a Laureate and two finalists in each of three categories - Life Sciences, Physical Sciences & Engineering, and Chemistry. Finalists receive a cash prize of $30,000 (£22,500).

The Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists were first established in the United States in 2007 by the Blavatnik Family Foundation and are administered by the New York Academy of Sciences. The Foundation now funds awards in the US, UK and Israel, all of which support exceptional early career scientists.

“The UK has always been recognized and admired for its scientific excellence,” said Sir Leonard Blavatnik, head of the Blavatnik Family Foundation and member of the President’s Council of the New York Academy of Sciences. “Each of this year’s Blavatnik Award honourees is a rising star in their respective fields and it is a great pleasure to give them the global recognition they so richly deserve.”

The UK recipients of the 2021 Blavatnik Awards will be honoured, as pandemic restrictions allow, at a gala dinner and ceremony at Banqueting House in London, currently scheduled for 8 June 2021. The following day, the honourees will present their research with a series of short, interactive lectures at a free public symposium, “Innovating for a Better Future: 9 Young Scientists Transforming our World”, also at Banqueting House.



  • Professor Matthew Powner

Media contact

Mark Greaves

Email: m.greaves [at] ucl.ac.uk