UCL Mathematical & Physical Sciences


UCL duo awarded Royal Society of Chemistry prizes

12 June 2024

Professor Claire Carmalt and Professor Matthew Powner (both UCL Chemistry) have been awarded Royal Society of Chemistry prizes in recognition of brilliance in research and innovation.

Professor Claire Carmalt and Professor Matthew Powner

Professor Claire Carmalt was named winner of the Tilden Prize, which recognises outstanding contributions to chemistry research made by established career scientists.

She was awarded the prize for her “contributions to the development of functional thin films as transparent conducting oxides, photocatalysts and heterojunction photoanodes for photoelectrochemical applications”.

Professor Carmalt’s research group focuses on the creation of innovative, industrially important inorganic materials and their deposition into thin films.

This has involved investigating superhydrophobic (super water repellent) materials – materials can demonstrate a physical self-cleaning capability, where water droplets can roll off the surface – and photocatalytic materials, which can exhibit self-cleaning capabilities, where dirt particles can break down into simple molecules through a chemical reaction involving light.

The group is investigating the development of a scalable synthetic route to these materials. The large-scale production of these materials could be used in commercial window coatings, water-splitting devices and other self-cleaning surfaces.

The team has also pioneered research in TCOs (transparent conducting oxides, materials that are transparent and able to conduct electricity), and photoelectrochemical materials for use in various applications.

After receiving the prize, Professor Carmalt said: “Receiving the RSC Tilden Prize is such an honour. Over the years, I have been fortunate to have brilliant researchers working in my group, and much credit goes to them for their hard work and enthusiasm. I have also enjoyed many fruitful collaborations with UCL colleagues and those from other institutions across the UK and overseas, as well as industry.”

Professor Matthew Powner, whose research is focused on the chemical origins of life, was named winner of the MSD Prize, which recognises outstanding contributions to any area of organic chemistry made by a mid-career scientist.

The prize was awarded for pioneering work on the prebiotic synthesis of essential biomolecules, including amino acids, peptides and co-factors – in other words, showing how key biological ingredients could be created at the origin of life.

Understanding life and its origins requires a multidisciplinary approach as it raises so many questions, ranging from planetary contexts to the advent of Darwinian evolution. But at the core of this subject, and every aspect of biology, is organic chemistry. Professor Powner’s team use organic chemistry to discover the chemical reactions that could have first developed into life on our planet four billion years ago.

After receiving the prize, Professor Powner said: “I am delighted and grateful for the RSC's recognition of our group’s ongoing research programme.”

Dr Helen Pain, Chief Executive of the Royal Society of Chemistry, said: “The chemical sciences cover a rich and diverse collection of disciplines, from fundamental understanding of materials and the living world to applications in medicine, sustainability, technology and more. By working together across borders and disciplines, chemists are finding solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges.

“Our prize winners come from a vast array of backgrounds, all contributing in different ways to our knowledge-base and bringing fresh ideas and innovations. We recognise chemical scientists from every career stage and every role type, including those who contribute to the RSC’s work as volunteers. We celebrate winners from both industry and academia, as well as individuals, teams, and the science itself.

“Their passion, dedication and brilliance are an inspiration. I extend my warmest congratulations to them all.”

The Royal Society of Chemistry’s prizes have recognised excellence in the chemical sciences for more than 150 years. This year’s winners join a prestigious list of past winners in the RSC’s prize portfolio, 60 of whom have gone on to win Nobel Prizes for their work, including 2022 Nobel laureate Carolyn Bertozzi and 2019 Nobel laureate John B Goodenough.