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EMBL Alumni Awards 2021

Committee recognises outstanding contributions of EMBL alumni

From right to left, Ilaria Piazza and Ken Holmes’ portraits are side by side in circles on a greenish background
John Kendrew Award winner Ilaria Piazza (right) and Lennart Philipson Award winner Ken Holmes. Credit: Ilaria Piazza by David Ausserhofer

By Tom Furnival-Adams, Alumni Relations Officer

The winners of the 2021 EMBL Alumni Awards have been selected and will receive their awards as part of the celebrations for EMBL World Alumni Day, which will be held at EMBL Heidelberg and online on 16 July.

Ilaria Piazza is the winner of the John Kendrew Award, in recognition of the excellence of her research. Ilaria performed groundbreaking work as a postdoc at ETH Zürich, including the development of a method to analyse protein–metabolite interactions in their native environment at a global level. This is a widely enabling technology in both fundamental and translational research.

Ilaria is now a group leader at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in Berlin. She is supported by grants from the European Research Council and Germany’s Helmholtz Association, and is a member of the Early Career Research Committee at the international Human Proteome Organization. She was a PhD student at EMBL Heidelberg from 2009–2014.

“I am incredibly honoured to receive the John Kendrew Award,” says Ilaria. “I can convincingly say that I would not have made scientific research a profession without having been a PhD student at EMBL. I met so many people who deeply changed my perspective in this network, thus I am and will always be proud to be in the EMBL alumni network!”

Ken Holmes is the winner of the Lennart Philipson Award, in recognition of his pioneering work in the use of synchrotron radiation for X-ray diffraction. In 1971, Ken published work that served as a starting point for the construction and use of beamlines, and for entire synchrotrons dedicated to X-ray diffraction studies. Access to synchrotron facilities is now an essential part of structural biology research for scientists around the world.

Together with EMBL’s first Director General, Sir John Kendrew, Ken helped to establish EMBL’s site in Hamburg, which he headed from 1974–1976. Beyond his contributions to our understanding of muscle structure and function, people who worked with Ken have gone on to become leaders in the world of beamline design, carrying forward the transformative work that he began.

Reflecting on his early work in Hamburg, Ken recalls: “We needed a stronger X-ray source that could record a muscle contracting. I had read Julius Schwinger’s work on the theory of synchrotron radiation. DESY in Hamburg was setting up such an electron ring. Gerd Rosenbaum and I carried out an experiment at DESY using synchrotron radiation to get diffraction from a muscle specimen. This worked, and we were delighted when Sir John Kendrew and EMBL decided to support the project. DESY encouraged us to set up a bunker for X-ray experiments on biological samples. This was the beginning of what would become EMBL Hamburg. It is a great honour to have been presented with the Lennart Philipson award for the work that was carried out by Gerd Rosenbaum and myself 50 years ago in Hamburg.”

Register for EMBL World Alumni Day.

The John Kendrew Award recognises excellence in science or science communication. It is open to all former EMBL PhD students and postdocs, between two and seven years after leaving EMBL. The award was launched in 2007 as an initiative from the EMBL Pensioners’ Association to honour EMBL’s first Director General, Sir John Kendrew (1917–1997), and to support scientists in the early stages of their careers. It has been sponsored by philanthropist Roland Specker since 2011.

The Lennart Philipson Award recognises outstanding and validated contributions in translational research in human health or technology innovation in the life sciences. It is open to all EMBL alumni, irrespective of leaving date. It was created to honour EMBL’s second Director General, Lennart Philipson (1929–2011), and was inaugurated in 2015. It is sponsored by EMBL’s technology transfer arm, EMBLEM.

Each award consists of a gold-plated medal and a prize of €10,000. The awards are presented to recipients as part of the annual EMBL World Alumni Day celebrations, held this year on 16 July.



Tags: alumni award, award, beamline, event, hamburg, heidelberg, john kendrew award, lennart philipson award, muscle, protein, structural biology, synchrotron

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