Young researchers presenting on the global stage (Part 1)

In the first part of our researcher series, five budding scientists competing for Sparrho’s Early Career Researcher Prize tell us how their research could change the world.

James Banal — MIT, USA

James Banal, PhD

Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Centre of Excitonics at MIT.

#renewableenergy #excitons #DNAassembly

James will be attending DNA23 in Austin, Texas in September 2017.

How would you describe your research to your grandmother ? The energy in 1 second of sunlight is equivalent to 5 Big Macs for every person on Earth - harnessing this energy is a clear must.

Plants are really good at harnessing ​light energy from sunlight ​by arranging light absorbing stuff in an organized way and ​converting sunlight to food. I am using DNA to create shapes in different ways so I can also arrange light absorbing ‘stuff’ to convert light from the sun to something useful.

“The energy in 1 second of sunlight is equivalent to 5 Big Macs for every person on Earth — harnessing this energy is a clear must.”

How could your research change the world? My research aims to provide ​​a fundamental understanding of how we can control excitons, which are energy mediators formed in organic materials upon light excitation. Nanoscale control over the distance and path by which excitons move is of paramount interest for developing the next generation of materials that will supersede current traditional electronics.

Combining the pliable and robust assembly of DNA with excitonic materials is an exciting research direction to develop programmable light-harvesting assemblies that may provide insight towards controlling nanoscale exciton transport and creating efficient excitonic devices.

What’s the best part of academic conferences, in your opinion? Academic conferences provide a rare opportunity for postdoc and graduate students to shape their ideas beyond the typical supervisor-supervisee interactions. I believe that critical ​feedback from your peers in the scientific community is invaluable in training the next generation of researchers.

Read more about James’ research here.


Ella Tyuryumina — Moscow, Russia

Ella Tyuryumina

Research assistant at the International Laboratory for Intelligent Systems and Structural Analysis (HSE), in Moscow.

#cancerresearch #breastcancer

Ella will be presenting at Digital Health 2017 in London in July 2017.

How would you describe your research to your grandmother ? I work on predictive oncology, specifically breast cancer. The growth process of breast cancer is two-fold: primary tumour growth and secondary distant metastases. In my research we are investigating the two processes as one and using this to help us to understand the relation between growth process of primary tumour and manifestation of secondary distant metastasis. The results showed that the earlier metastasis is detected, the lower mortality risk is obtained by a patient.

How could your research change the world? My research is one of the important steps on the way to fight cancer. Firstly, we can try to detect secondary distant metastasis as early as it possible. And, who knows, maybe, secondly, we will beat cancer.

“Conferences bring researches together to share experience and find new scientific friends.”

What’s the best part of academic conferences, in your opinion? The first and the most important is that I can meet people with the same aims and people who understand me and my ideas. Conferences bring researches together to share experience and find new scientific friends. It is a very obvious statement. Yet, it reflects quite well the real goal of each conference.

More about Ella’s research area here.


Ofir Press — Tel-Aviv, Israel

Ofir Press

Masters student in the Machine Learning Lab at Tel-Aviv University, Israel.

#machinetranslation #machinelearning

Ofir will be presenting at the International Conference on Machine Learning, Sydney, Australia in August 2017.

How would you describe your research to your grandmother ? I work on machine translation, a field where we try to teach a computer how to translate a sentence from one language to another. We do this by showing it pairs of sentences which have roughly the same meaning, but one is in the first language and the second is in the other language.

“I work on machine translation, a field where we try to teach a computer how to translate a sentence from one language to another.”

How could your research change the world? The goal is to one day have a system that can translate well between any two languages. This would be immensely valuable, both to businesses and to society at large. We will all have the ability to communicate with each other, without any language barriers.

What’s the best part of attending academic conferences, in your opinion? Meeting other people that work on the same problems that I’m working on is great. It leads to collaboration and an exchange of ideas and knowledge that move the field forward.

Read more about Ofir’s research here.


Sofia Bartlett — New South Wales, Australia

Sofia Bartlett

PhD student at the University of New South Wales, Australia.

#infectiousdisease #HIVAIDS

Sofia will be speaking at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections, Boston, USA, in March 2018.

How would you describe your research to your grandmother? I study the patterns of how diseases like HIV/AIDS and viral hepatitis are transmitted through populations of people. By understanding the population level patterns in transmission of these diseases, we can better design and implement public health interventions to reduce transmission and prevent people from being infected.

How could your research change the world? My research has the ability to revolutionise the way that we carry out surveillance of infectious diseases, as it is allowing us to develop new systems that are able to predict who will get sick- before it happens! In the long term, this will result in being able to prevent people from getting sick, rather than treating them after they get sick. And as Benjamin Franklin said, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!”

“My research has the ability to revolutionise the way that we carry out surveillance of infectious diseases, as it is allowing us to develop new systems that are able to predict who will get sick- before it happens!”

What’s the best part of academic conferences, in your opinion? For me, the best part of attending academic conferences is getting to go really in depth in to the areas of research that I’m working in and coming up with new research ideas and proposals with my collaborators. Some times I’m not able to get feedback on particular things I’m working on day to day because I’m the only one working on this in my team, but when I go to a conference, there are world leaders in these fields there, and I they can see my work and ask me questions that I hadn’t thought of before or help me solve problems.

Read more about Sofia’s research here.


Austin Jarl Boyd — Copenhagen, Denmark

Austin Jarl Boyd

PhD student at the University of Copenhagen.

#geochemistry #naturalhistory

Presenting at Goldschmidt 2017 in Paris in August.

How would you describe your research to your grandmother? One of the oldest slices of ocean floor rocks on Earth is preserved in Western Greenland. Studying the composition of rocks from this place can tell us about what Earth was like 3.8 billion years ago. Among other things, geologists are unsure about how continental rocks were formed and whether plate tectonics was operating at this time.

How could your research change the world? My research provides pieces to the puzzle of how a planet transitions from a hot body of molten rock to a place where life can proliferate. As such, it provides very basic information about how our Earth works and how we can manage the interaction between human and environment on Earth and other planets. Furthermore, it provides basic information about something that most people are curious about, namely our origins.

“My research provides pieces to the puzzle of how a planet transitions from a hot body of molten rock to a place where life can proliferate.”

What’s the best part of attending academic conferences, in your opinion? Feeling inspired by the breadth of angles at which you can approach studying the Earth and learning about how other sub-fields of geology can contribute to what I am interested in.

Read more about Austin’s research here.


The above applicants are finalists in Sparrho’s Early Career Researcher Prize that awards £500 to early career scientists who is presenting their work at an academic conference. To apply, follow this link to the 5-minute application form and use the Sparrho platform to share your research. The first round closes 30 June 2017, and applications after that date will be reviewed on a rolling, monthly basis.

Sparrho Early Career Researcher Prize now accepting entries for 2017–2018