2021 RMS Medal Series winners revealed!

Leading researchers across the international microscopy community to be honoured by RMS

The RMS is delighted to announce the six winners of the Society’s 2021 Medal Series – awards given by each of its Science Sections covering different forms of microscopy.

This year the winners were selected from a particularly strong field of nominations, including many of the leading figures in international microscopy research. Five of the six winners will be invited to mmc2021 to present a talk, and to receive their medal.  The sixth medal winner (Flow Cytometry) will be invited to give a talk at the FlowCytometryUK Meeting in the Autumn of 2021.

RMS President Professor Grace Burke said: “My warmest congratulations go to each of the winners chosen by our six Science Sections. I wish them continuing success in all they are doing to advance scientific understanding through the diverse applications of microscopy in both the life sciences and physical sciences.”

The winners are as follows:

  • Medal for Light Microscopy – Professor Philipp Kukura
  • Alan Agar Medal for Electron Microscopy - Dr Alexandra Pacureanu
  • Medal for Life Sciences – Dr Yanlan Mao
  • Medal for Innovation in Applied Microscopy for Engineering and Physical Sciences - Dr Wing Chung Tsoi
  • Medal for AFM and Scanning Probe Microscopies – Dr Laura Fumagalli
  • Medal for Flow Cytometry – Gert Van Isterdael


Professor Philipp Kukura – Medal for Light Microscopy 

Philipp is a Professor of Chemistry at the University of Oxford. Throughout his career to date, he has demonstrated remarkable ingenuity, productivity and a boldness to push the limits of what the biophysics community generally believes can bedone with optical techniques. His work is opening up entirely new possibilities in the way we use light microscopy in the life sciences. After breakthroughs in spectroscopy and nano-optics, before he began his current role as a group leader, Philipp has now developed a completely new way of measuring mass using a light microscope - mass photometry.

Philipp’s group was the first to show in 2014 that iSCAT can be sensitive enough to detect and image single proteins without requiring any labels or other signal enhancement strategies. At the same time, the group realised that the resulting signal strengths are roughly proportional to biomolecules’ mass, in principle providing a means towards mass measurement, although it was completely unclear to which degree one could ever achieve sufficient signal-to-noise ratios, or - even if those were achievable - whether the resulting measurements would be sufficiently quantitative.

Nonetheless, by 2018, the group had managed to increase the sensitivity by orders of magnitude, and this ultimately led to mass photometry. Mass photometry is truly groundbreaking. It represents only the third approach to measuring mass. It is also the first demonstration of a single-molecule optical method that is both universal and specific - in that no labelling is required and the information obtained provides direct information on the identity and structure of the biomolecule. Moreover, measuring single molecules removes ensemble averaging so that heterogeneity can be directly assessed.

Since the original publication in April 2018, the group has now demonstrated the immense applicability of mass photometry for assessing sample purity for structural biology and in vitro science in general, and expanded it to nucleic acids and membrane proteins, as well as demonstrating a new way of quantifying protein-protein interactions. These studies, together with the fundamental concepts behind mass photometry, will likely make this discovery a truly outstanding one in the context of light microscopy.

Philipp has achieved these conceptual breakthroughs while also maximising the impact of his discoveries by making the instrumentation available to the broader research community through commercialisation. Only two months after the original publication, Philipp founded Refeyn Ltd., which, in less than two years, has grown to more than 30 employees, with more than 30 mass photometers installed worldwide, in both academic and pharmaceutical laboratories. This demonstrates both the value of the underlying technology and a commitment to ensuring its wide dissemination and impact.

Chair of the RMS Light Microscopy Section, Professor Gail McConnell said: “It is with great pleasure that we award this medal to Philipp, whose many achievements make him uniquely suitable for the award.

“He has brought forward a completely new application of light microscopy well beyond what we imagined possible only five years ago, with immense future potential in life science research and diagnostics in the future.”


Dr Wing Chung Tsoi – Medal for Innovation in Applied Microscopy for Engineering and Physical Sciences

Dr Wing Chung Tsoi is a Senior Lecturer at Swansea University. He started his independent research in late 2014, and within a few years, his group is now internationally leading the development of new and advanced Raman system-based techniques.

His most representative work “Variations of Infiltration and Electronic Contact in Mesoscopic Perovskite Solar Cells Revealed by High‐Resolution Multi‐Mapping Techniques” published in 2019, shows how to modify a commercial Raman system in a simple way to enable it to perform multiple types of mapping at the same sample location and simultaneously. This new capability advances understanding of how local morphology (e.g. local defects) relates to the local properties and function of devices (e.g. printable solar cells) and can help to improve the performance of the devices.

The technique already has excellent impacts. One of the mapping techniques (photocurrent) has helped Renishaw to develop a software for it, which is now commercially available. The technique has also helped to attract grant to support an EngD studentship from Armor, a leading organic solar cells company.

Another advanced development led by Dr Tsoi, is the demonstration of in-situ Raman spectroscopy to study stability of materials/devices (e.g. printable solar cells). This research – ‘Probing the degradation and homogeneity of embedded perovskite semiconducting layers in photovoltaic devices by Raman spectroscopy’ - was published at Phys. Chem. Chem. Phys. Here, the gas environment, temperature and humidity can be controlled in-situ to advance understanding on the effects of environmental factors to the stability of the films/devices (particularly “embedded” layers). The paper was selected as ‘Paper of the Month’ by Linkam Scientific.

Chair of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Committee Professor Roland Kröger said: “Dr Tsoi has become internationally renowned for his groundbreaking work in this field and thoroughly deserves this award. The easy integration of the multiple mapping technique with the in-situ measurements is a very powerful development in advancing research for materials/devices sciences.”


Dr Laura Fumagalli – Medal for AFM and Scanning Probe Microscopies

Dr Laura Fumagalli was appointed Lecturer at the University of Manchester in 2015 and is now a Reader. She is one of the world leaders in the development of atomic force microscopy to quantitatively measure the physical properties of materials at the nanoscale, in particular for the development of an AFM that can measure the dielectric properties of materials using electrostatic force microscopy with piconewton accuracy (L Fumagalli et at, Nature Materials, 2012, vol. 11, 808–816). She has an impressive list of publications, and has been the recipient of an ERC Consolidator grant entitled “Two-dimensional liquid-cell dielectric microscopy” since 2018.

Perhaps her most important piece of work is the demonstration that water layers at interfaces have an unusually low dielectric constant – work which exemplifies the power of AFM for understanding complex physical phenomena at the nanoscale.

It had been long suspected that the dielectric constant of water is lower at interfaces with other materials, but no one knew how much lower. Knowing the correct value of the dielectric constant of water at the nanoscale is important to a very wide range of problems, from electrochemistry to the development of new batteries, to understanding and modelling the function and structure of proteins, and DNA. The dielectric constant gives a measure of how well electric dipoles of molecules orient in an electric field. Water is a highly polar substance, so although the molecules can readily reorient in an electric field in the bulk, their alignment at surfaces can be inhibited, potentially diminishing the dielectric constant in interfacial water near surfaces compared with values found in bulk water. Establishing definite values for these effects had been out of reach of experiments.

Laura led an experiment to measure water confined in nanoscale channels. The channels were fabricated using a technology developed by Andre Geim, by combining atomically flat crystals of graphite and hexagonal boron nitride. The channels were as thin as one nanometre in size so that they only accommodated a few layers of water. The value of dielectric constant measured in that very confined water is just two, a surprisingly anomalously low value which is in stark contrast to the anomalously high dielectric constant of bulk water, which is around 80.

Section Chair Professor Sonia Contera said: “It is with great pleasure that we award this medal to Laura. She is truly one of the world’s leading figures in her field, and has done so much to advance the use of atomic force microscopy in measuring the physical properties of materials at the nanoscale.”


Gert Van Isterdael – Medal for Flow Cytometry 

Gert has made, and continues to make, an enormous contribution to the discipline of flow cytometry and imaging cytometry in terms of his academic output, professional affiliations and teaching activities.  As Flow Cytometry Manager at VIB, Gert runs an internationally renowned and state of the art research facility that develops and applies many cytometric applications to study various aspects of biology and is actively involved in research projects for allergy, asthma and cancer.  Gert has been working with the VIB to develop the role of Flow Manager and establish a business strategy for the facility to provide state of the art services for the long-term benefit of the VIB scientists.

Gert willingly and enthusiastically contributes to the flow cytometry community as an active member of ISAC, is currently on the Emerging Leaders program; and at meetings and conferences he chairs sessions, sits on forum panels and is an active participant in discussions.  Gert is specifically keen and actively involved in activities to develop the cytometry community’s skills in automated analysis technics.

Chair of the RMS Flow Cytometry Section, Mr Derek Davies said: “Gert has become a hugely important figure within the Flow community, not only running a world-renowned facility but contributing in so many ways through his academic output, teaching activities, and desire to develop the skills of others. It is our great pleasure to announce him as the recipient of this award.”


Dr Yanlan Mao – Medal for Life Sciences 

The RMS is delighted to announce Dr Yanlan Mao as the winner of the Society’s 2021  Medal for Life Sciences.

The award recognises Dr Mao’s important contribution to our understanding of how cells and tissues are shaped and organised during the developmental process.

Since establishing her research team at University College London (UCL) five years ago, Dr Mao’s work has employed the use of advanced microscopy and biophysical methods to elucidate the role of mechanical forces in controlling tissue growth and regeneration - as well as defining how these forces influence gene expression and signalling pathways.

Her pioneering use of imaging, coupled with analysis of mechanics, has provided new insight into the physical and mechanical properties of cells and tissues, and how this contributes to organ formation and shape in living organisms.

Chair of the RMS Life Sciences Section, Dr Theresa Ward said: said: “Dr Mao is an extremely worthy recipient of our Life Sciences medal and my warmest congratulations go to her. Her innovative approaches combine elegant microscopy with probing of the biophysical environment, and she has yielded new insights which have had an impact across a range of different research fields.”


Dr Alexandra Pacureanu – Alan Agar Medal for Electron Microscopy (Sponsored by Agar Scientific Ltd)

Dr Alexandra Pacureanu’s work has impacted on the biomedical research community in profound ways, altering the way we view the possibilities of high resolution imaging of soft biological tissues with synchrotron radiation.

She developed and applied X-ray holographic nano-tomography on the ID16A nano-imaging beamline at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF). The technique is unique in enabling imaging of (relatively) large intact tissue samples (mm scale) with similar contrast and structural resolution to electron microscopy (EM). Samples may be imaged at room or cryo temperatures, and are often stained with heavy metals and embedded in resin using the same methods as used in EM. Indeed, much of Alexandra’s work incorporates X-ray imaging into correlative light and EM workflows. 

During the recent long shutdown phase at ESRF, Alexandra quickly built her standing in the biomedical research community, at some of the most prestigious research institutes in Europe and the US. She focused her biological question on the brain, in the area of Connectomics, where light and electron microscopy struggle to combine the large fields of view required to follow individual neurons with the resolution required to image individual synapses.

Chair of the RMS Electron Microscopy Section Dr Lucy Collinson, and Chair of the X-Ray Focused Interest Group Dr Liz Duke, said: “Alexandra possesses that rare skill of being fully conversant in X-ray synchrotron optics and beamline and experiment design, whilst also contributing fundamental research at an international level in biology and particularly neuroscience. The technique she has pioneered looks set to replace both light and electron microscopy for a swathe of this critical scientific effort. It is a privilege and a delight to announce her as the recipient of this award.”




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