Nature Research Awards for Driving Global Impact

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Championing researchers who address global challenges.

Meet our 2021 winner and runners up

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This information is subject to change due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and any resulting restrictions.


2021 winner, runners up and judges special commendation

We are pleased to announce the 2021 shortlist

Muhammad Afzal is working as a principal scientist at National Institute for Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering, Pakistan, where he leads the Wastewater Treatment and Phytoremediation Group and heads the Environmental Monitoring Laboratory. He has extensive research experience in devising low-cost, self-sustaining, and environment-friendly technologies for the remediation of polluted soil and wastewater and pioneered the introduction of “Floating Treatment Wetlands” technology in Pakistan at a field scale for the treatment of sewage and industrial wastewater. Indigenous wetland plants were selected to develop floating treatment wetlands (FTWs) and a buoyant mat locally designed and fabricated, which was 500 times less expensive than the mat available in the international market. Several national and international research grants support the development of this technology for Pakistani communities. Muhammad was recently awarded a Gold Medal by the Pakistan Academy of Sciences.

Zuzana Burivalova is the principal investigator of the Sound Forest Lab. She is a tropical forest ecologist and conservation scientist, based in the department of Forest & Wildlife Ecology and The Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she is an assistant professor. She and her team look for ways to protect biodiversity in tropical forests, both forests that are used by humans, for logging, and forests set aside for conservation, from national parks to small community protected areas. Her work is aimed at answering tricky questions in tropical forest ecology using new technologies, such as through recording and analyzing soundscapes, where traditional field methods fall short. She also leads the platform, which she co-funded together with the environmental news platform, to understand and communicate which conservation strategies succeed and fail in tropical forests.

James Hassell is assistant professor adjunct of epidemiology at Yale School of Public Health and a wildlife veterinarian, epidemiologist and Keller Family Skorton Scholar for the Smithsonian’s Global Health Program. He leads and advances the program's work in Kenya, which combines research, clinical work and training to improve the health of co-existing wildlife populations, human communities and their livestock.His research interests focus on disease transmission between wildlife, livestock and humans primarily in urban (but also rangeland) settings, using technological advances to determine how transfer of pathogens between species is determined by the ecosystems they inhabit. Through the research and training he delivers for scientists and veterinarians in Kenya and the US, he aims to promote the conservation of species and their ecosystems, while protecting human and wildlife health. James is undertaking a zoological medicine residency with a focus on wildlife population health through the University of Liverpool.

Xu Hou has been a professor at Xiamen University since 2016, a leading scientist of National Key Research and Development Program of China for Desalination Project and a winner of the National Scientific Innovation and Advancement Award and National Science Fund for Distinguished Young Scholars. His first independent NSFC started in 2017, and his scientific interests focus on membrane science and technology for water treatment. In 2020, his leading research "liquid gating technology" was selected as 2020 Top Ten Emerging Technologies in Chemistry announced by International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, IUPAC (also includes artificial intelligence, RNA vaccines, etc.), and IUPAC pointed out that “liquid gates could accelerate the progress towards United Nations’ sustainable-development-goal 6, which looks to ensure access to clean water and sanitation for all” (cited from Chemistry International 2020, 42, 5). He won 2020 International Water Association-Beijing Capital "Mercury Gold Prize" of Scientific Innovation for his water treatment project and was selected as 2014 SciFinder Future Leader in Chemistry, USA. Xu obtained B.E. from Sichuan University in 2006, and PhD at National Center for Nanoscience and Technology in 2011. He conducted his postdoctoral research in Prof. Joanna Aizenberg’s group at Harvard University from 2012 to 2015.

Brenda Parker is an associate professor in sustainable bioprocess design at the Department of Biochemical Engineering, UCL and is co-director of the Bio-ID Lab. Her research and teaching are highly interdisciplinary, bringing together the fields of environmental biotechnology, sustainability and design to address and mitigate pollution. In 2014 Brenda was awarded a Churchill Fellowship to investigate the role of design for bioremediation, and subsequently she has developed a research platform to pioneer this field. In partnership with the Bartlett School of Architecture, she has developed a new postgraduate programme in Bio-Integrated Design. Brenda holds an MEng Biochemical Engineering from UCL and conducted her Masters research year at the California Institute of Technology. Following this she conducted an industrial PhD with Dowpharma, applying directed evolution techniques for green chemistry. Her postdoctoral research was conducted as part of the Algal Biotechnology Consortium at the University of Cambridge, investigating biomimetic process design methods for the manufacture of algal biofuels. Since then, Brenda has worked on biomanufacturing with photosynthetic organisms for over ten years. Before joining UCL, Brenda led on applied phycology work with industry as part of the EU-funded Energetic Algae project.

Sant-Rayn Pasricha is head of the Population Health and Immunity Division and Group Leader at Australia’s Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical ResearchI; and consultant haematologist at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and Royal Melbourne Hospital. His specialty lies in global health nutrition, focusing on understanding and controlling the global burden of anaemia through a combination of approaches, including: innovative field trials to develop evidence which can be used for public health policies;translational studies which apply cutting edge methods to samples to make new insights; and experimental laboratory projects to uncover fundamental processes in iron metabolism. His laboratory studies how the master controller of systemic iron homoestasis, hepcidin, is regulated and uses novel epigenetic approaches to characterise new pathways which may regulate hepcidin gene expression. In the field, Sant-Rayn's team is  undertaking large randomised controlled trials of iron interventions in rural Bangladesh (infants) and Malawi (pregnant women) tol provide evidence to inform global health anaemia control policies. He also provides assistance and advice to international and national organisations with research and policy development. In 2020, he established the WHO Collaborating Centre for Anaemia Detection and Control.

Helen Petousis-Harris is an associate professor at the University of Auckland. Awarded the Dean’s Fellowship in 2018 she is Director of the Vaccine Datalink and Research Group and Co-Director of the Global Vaccine Data Network. She has been involved in vaccine and immunisation-related research for over 20 years, the last 10 years of her work have been focussed on vaccine safety and vaccine effectiveness. In 2015-16 she led a team that made the seminal discovery that a group B meningococcal vaccine offered protection against gonorrhoea demonstrating gonorrhoea is vaccine preventable. In 2019, along with Professor Steve Black, she launched the Global Vaccine Data Network which is a 17-country consortium of distributed networks able to collaborate on multi-country vaccine safety and effectiveness studies that include a population of around 300 million. The Network has been awarded three years of funding from the US CDC to assess the safety of COVID-19 vaccines. Helen has served on many international advisory groups including IDSMBs and Expert Advisory Boards. She is an elected member of the Brighton Collaboration Science Board and was previously Chair of the WHO Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety. Helen has a BSc in biological Science, PGDipSc Distinction, and PhD in Vaccinology (UoA, 2012).

Xu Wang is a tenure-track full professor of urban water Systems engineering at the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Harbin Institute of Technology (Shenzhen), China. Xu’s research focuses on water resource recovery and broad areas linked to the food-energy-water nexus. His main aim is to design, develop and evaluate novel technologies and data-driven management approaches and their combination to promote resource efficiency and enhanced sustainability in wastewater management. He earned his PhD in Environmental Engineering from the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences in China and went on to be  elected Excellent Young Scientist of the National Natural Science of Foundation of China in just five years. He has received several fellowship awards for his research excellence including 2016 Royal Society Newton International Fellowship, UK, one of the world’s most prestigious research funding awards for outstanding early career scientists. Xu was also a recipient of 2017 MIT Technology Review Innovators Under 35 China Award,.He is currently a Steering Committee Member of the International Water Association (IWA) Cities of the Future Program.