SEB Prague 2010 Presidents Medallists
The President's Medals are awarded annually to young researchers of outstanding merit, and a presentation of medals to winners by the Society's President takes place at the Annual Main Meeting. The winners in 2010 are listed below:
Jim Usherwood (Royal Veterinary College, University of London)
Jim was lucky to be introduced to biomechanics by Henry Bennet-Clark during his zoology degree at Oxford. After that, Roland Ennos (during a Masters in Research at Manchester) showed Jim the value of simple geometric models for understanding how structures (feathers, leaves, trees) work. Their study of buttercups demonstrated that the stem at the base of water crowfoot are relatively weak, and may act as a ‘mechanical fuse’, protecting the roots from being torn out of the river bed during spate conditions.
Jim’s PhD under Charlie Ellington at Cambridge followed on from his group’s work showing the presence – and contribution to lift – of ‘leading-edge vortices’ in insect flight. Charlie’s inspired reduction of flapping flight to simple revolving model wings on a propeller led Jim to determine that many of the peculiarities of animal flight – and, for that matter, the aerodynamics of falling maple seeds – might be dominated by three-dimensional effects rather than the ‘unsteady’ aerodynamics that had previously been assumed. High lift is achievable with steadily revolving wings at high angles of attack. However, they come at the cost of exceedingly high drags – and powers – which is presumably why the aeronautical industry was not already familiar with such aerodynamic phenomena.
Jim’s introduction to terrestrial mechanics came during a post-doc with John Bertram, then at Florida State University. In particular, John’s enthusiasm for collision mechanics applied to animals led them to approach such questions as: Why do gibbons have long arms? Not so that they can swing faster, but perhaps to allow them to choose safer ballistic paths between handholds while ameliorating the energy losses due to the associated collisions – safe paths cannot perfectly match ballistic and swinging phases.
His next post-doc, with Andy Biewener at Harvard’s Concord Field Station, gave Jim the chance to develop techniques for attaching pressure sensors through bird feathers in order to gain a novel (though definitely imperfect) measure of the aerodynamic forces and powers required for flapping. It appears that, like insects, slow flight in birds requires far more power than would be expected from similar sized helicopters – slow animal flight is (aerodynamically) ‘inefficient’.
Jim then returned to the UK to join Alan Wilson’s Structure and Motion lab at The Royal Veterinary College. He started as a post-doc on terrestrial locomotion, demonstrating: reduction in bend-running performance in humans is consistent with limb force limits; that greyhounds do not appear to be similarly constrained; and that humans can walk relatively faster than ducks because they drive their limbs relatively quickly.
He is now coming to the end of a Wellcome Research Career Development Fellowship, principally looking at the powers of bird flight (which can be remarkably high, and therefore of basic interest to both athletic and geriatric performance) again using the pressure sensor techniques. Jim has just started a BBSRC project investigating walking mechanics in bipeds ranging from pheasants to toddlers; and is now starting an EPSRC-funded project with Alan, ‘Cooperative Aerodynamics and Radio-based Dynamic Animal Localisation’, that will see pigeons and geese flying with ever more complex and informative instrumentation… why is flying in a ‘V’-formation so uncommon?
Marcel Janson (Wageningen University)
After his PhD in biophysics, Marcel spent three years working as a postdoc in the laboratory of Phong Tran at the University of Pennsylvania. Here he picked up work on microtubule organization in fission yeast, which is a great model system to investigate some of the more physical aspects of cell biology. At Upenn and later at the free university in Amsterdam, Marcel studied how polar microtubules become oriented within networks using genetic tools and advanced fluorescence light microscopy. For the work, he was awarded the Howard Holtzer prize of the department of cell and developmental biology at Upenn.
Meanwhile, at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Germany, François Nédélec and his team worked on the problem using computer simulations. Together with Marcel they analyzed the one-to-one interactions between microtubules in detail. Using a systems biological approach, we verified that a simple two-component system of molecular motors and passive microtubule bundling proteins could setup controlled bipolarity in linear microtubule bundles (the work was published in Cell and reviewed in, amongst others, molecular systems biology; Carazo-Salas and Nurse 2007). They clearly demonstrated that microtubule bundling proteins play a profound and hitherto underappreciated role in the sorting of microtubule networks and underlined the necessity for more detailed knowledge on the molecular mechanisms by which these proteins operate. In collaboration with the group at the free university, Marcel subsequently investigated the microtubule bundler ase1 using single molecule fluorescence techniques developed in the group. This revealed a physical mechanism in which oligomer formation of bundling proteins is catalyzed by the microtubule lattice. In their model, protein localization to overlapping microtubules is controlled by the geometry of microtubule binding sites, suggesting novel ways in which bundling can be regulated biochemically during the cell cycle (Kapitein et al. Current Biology 2008).
At Wageningen University Marcel further continues his work on microtubule organization and the coordination between motors and bundling proteins.
Education and Public Affairs
John Bothwell (Queens’ University Belfast)
John graduated from Oxford in 1995 (BA Biochemistry) and stayed on in Oxford to do his postgraduate research, using NMR spectroscopy to study mammalian brain metabolism in Prof. Sir George Radda's group. John juggled research with rugby for five years, playing in the annual Oxford/Cambridge Varsity Match in 1996, coaching the Oxford Women's team to the UK Championship in 1999 and being awarded his DPhil in 2000 for a thesis which looked at how membrane transport processes contribute to brain volume regulation during hypo-osmotic shock.
After his DPhil, John married, moved from animals to plants and joined Dr. Julia Davies's group at the Department of Plant Sciences in Cambridge, where he attended his first SEB-sponsored meetings - Prof. Philip White's Calcium meetings at HRI Wellesbourne. Working on Arabidopsis, John studied the way in which membrane transporters direct polarised root hair growth and, in 2001, moved this work to Professor Colin Brownlee's lab at the Marine Biological Association in Plymouth. At the same time, John began playing rugby for Plymouth Albion RFC, appearing in the County Championship and taking a year away from research in 2003 to concentrate on playing rugby while all his joints still worked. He played prop, which explains the current shape of his nose.
Returning to a second postdoctoral position at the MBA in 2004, John continued his work on cell polarity determination, but switched model systems from flowering plants to the brown seaweed Fucus serratus, and has worked on algal development and evolution ever since. John's first son was born in 2005, so he took a year away from science when his postdoctoral position ended. During that year off, John began looking for advice for out-of-work postdocs and, not finding a great deal and with encouragement from the SEB's Sarah Blackford, used the SEB 2006 Canterbury meeting to gauge interest in a national postdoctoral network. Building on this, John obtained funding from RCUK to bring together postdocs from around the UK to discuss postdoctoral career progression at a meeting in UCL. This rapidly snowballed and John was invited to help write the RCUK Concordat for the Career Development of Researchers; RCUK's current roadmap for academic career development in the UK. As part of this, John wrote articles to journals, spoke at conferences, gave presentations to Governmental advisory boards about the value of the UK postdoctoral community, and now sits on the External Advisory Board of Vitae (ex-UK GRAD).
Scientifically, John was awarded a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship at the end of 2007 to look at the genetic mechanisms of sex determination in the brown seaweeds. This work was carried out between the MBA in Plymouth and the Station Biologique in Roscoff, complementing John's contribution to the first genome sequencing effort for the brown seaweeds. Following the birth of his second son in 2008, John was appointed to a Lectureship in Marine Biology at Queen's University Belfast, where his group looks at the developmental biology and evolution of the brown seaweeds.
Kerry Franklin (University of Bristol)
Kerry graduated in Biology from the University of Bristol in 1997. This was followed by an MRes. in Advanced Plant Science at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth. She then moved to Horticulture Research International (Wellesbourne) and later, the University of Southampton, during a BBSRC-CASE- funded PhD studentship supervised by Brian Thomas, Steve Jackson and Matthew Terry. Here, she investigated light-regulation of the tetrapyrrole biosynthetic pathway in tobacco and obtained her PhD in 2001.
Pursuing an interest in plant photobiology, Kerry moved to the University of Leicester in 2002 where she worked for 4 years under the mentorship of Garry Whitelam. This was interspersed by a short stint in the lab of Peter Quail (Plant Gene Expression Center, CA, USA), funded by a fellowship from the Human Frontier Science Program. Her early postdoctoral research involved investigating the regulatory functions of the Arabidopsis phytochrome family of plant photoreceptors, a project which provided the first characterisation of a mutant deficient in phytochrome C. Later postdoctoral work involved analyses of ‘the shade avoidance syndrome’, a suite of plant developmental responses initiated following perception of the threat of vegetational shade. Here, she demonstrated that shade avoidance responses are gated by the circadian clock and dramatically modified by ambient growth temperature.
In 2006, Kerry was awarded a Royal Society Research Fellowship and Lectureship at the University of Leicester. She has since continued her research on light and temperature signal integration and shown that the ‘CBF regulon’ of cold acclimation genes are regulated by light quality in a circadian- gated and ambient temperature-dependent manner. More recently, Kerry’s lab have identified epigenetic modifications involved in shade avoidance signalling and shown that the transcription factor PHYTOCHROME INTERACTING FACTOR 4 (PIF4) acts as a master regulator of high temperature-mediated elongation growth. Current work focuses on understanding the signalling processes controlling plant architectural adaptations to light and temperature stimuli and investigating the adaptive significance of different developmental strategies. Kerry has recently returned to the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Bristol where she is currently rebuilding her research group.
Kerry would like to thank all former supervisors, colleagues, lab members and research funding bodies for their input and support. In particular, she would like to acknowledge Garry Whitelam who provided many years of inspirational mentorship, (mostly) constructive criticism and invaluable career advice.