Predictive software pioneer wins premier UK Young Scientist award

Imperial’s Dr Kim Jelfs has been named a laureate in the 2022 Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists in the UK, winning an unrestricted £100,000.

The Awards, conferred by the Blavatnik Family Foundation and the New York Academy of Sciences, come with the largest unrestricted prizes for young scientists and engineers in the UK under the age of 42.

The remarkable scientific talent and research in the UK grows stronger every year Sir Leonard Blavatnik

Dr Kim Jelfs, from the Department of Chemistry, was announced as the winner (Laureate) in the Chemistry category, receiving £100,000. She is cited for developing revolutionary computational approaches that enables the accelerated discovery of new materials. Her group’s software enables the prediction of not only the structure of materials before they are created, but also their unique properties and functions.

Most materials are made up of molecules and atoms that assemble in an orderly fashion. Materials that are composed of molecular units held together by weak bonds are often referred to as supramolecular assemblies.

Though these assemblies can have unique properties and functions, their characteristics are difficult to predict without actually synthesising them in a laboratory – a process that is time-consuming and often gives unpredictable results.

Dr Jelfs and her group developed open-source software capable of predicting the properties and functions of advanced supramolecular materials. Her development has led to collaborative work with synthetic laboratories all over the world and subsequently the creation of new molecules and materials that would not have been possible without her predictive software.

Some examples of where her software has been applied include predicting the properties of molecular cages that mimic enzymes and can be used in sensing, catalysis, and drug delivery, and designing membranes that could cut emissions in oil refining and improve water purification and energy storage.

Extending the boundaries of scientific knowledge

Dr Jelfs said: “I’d like to thank my group and my network of collaborators, including many at Imperial, who make it possible (and fun!) to develop computational methods to accelerate the discovery of materials.”

“The remarkable scientific talent and research in the UK grows stronger every year,” commented Sir Leonard Blavatnik, Founder and Chairman of Access Industries and head of the Blavatnik Family Foundation.

“The brilliant, innovative work for which this year’s Laureates and Finalists are recognised and honoured improves our world for the better and further extends the boundaries of scientific knowledge and understanding.”

Laureates and Finalists in the 2022 Blavatnik Awards in the UK will be honoured, as COVID-19 restrictions allow, at a black-tie gala dinner and ceremony at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in February.

The following day, on 1st March 2022 from 11:00 to 18:00 GMT, the honourees will present their research with a series of short, interactive lectures at a free public symposium also to be held at the V&A. More details about the symposium will be posted soon on the website of the New York Academy of Sciences.

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