University of St. Andrews: University bat expert scoops high flying UK award

A leading researcher at the University of St Andrews has become one of just nine scientists across the UK to be recognised in the prestigious 2022 Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists.

Dr Sonja Vernes (pictured above), who leads the Neurogenetics of Vocal Communication Research Group at the University’s School of Biology, will receive a £30,000 prize from the Blavatnik Family Foundation and the New York Academy of Scientists for her world-leading research on the evolution and underlying biology of speech and language. Using bats as a model, Dr Vernes’ ground-breaking research is part of her seven-year UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Fellowship.

Speaking about the prestigious award, Dr Vernes said: “I am so pleased to be named a 2022 Honouree of the Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists in the United Kingdom and to have my work on bat vocal learning recognised by this prestigious prize. I am grateful to the members of my lab and my colleagues that made this possible, and excited for the boost this prize will give to our future research.”

Congratulating Dr Vernes on her award, University of St Andrews’ Vice-Principal (Research and Innovation) Professor Tom Brown said: “This is a fantastic endorsement of research at St Andrews and highlights to the world the importance of the work Sonja and her colleagues are doing. I am also delighted to see St Andrews recognised for the first time by the prestigious Blavatnik Awards.”

Now in its fifth year, the Awards are the largest unrestricted prize available to UK scientists aged 42 or younger. Three Laureates will each receive £100,000 for their work across Life Sciences, Physical Sciences & Engineering, and Chemistry while six finalists, including Dr Vernes, are set to receive £30,000 each. The Awards attracted 94 nominations from 47 academic and research institutions across the UK. Dr Vernes was one of just three candidates in the UK to be recognised for their work in Life Sciences.

The Blavatnik Young Scientists in the UK are fast becoming internationally recognised among the scientific community as instrumental in expanding the engagement and recognition of young scientists and providing a strong foundation on which science can prosper.

Sir Leonard Blavatnik, Founder and Chair of Access Industries and head of the Blavatnik Family Foundation, said: “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.”

Professor Nicholas B Dirks, President and CEO of the New York Academy of Sciences and Chair of the Awards’ Scientific Advisory Council, added: “Society cannot surmount world crises like the Covid pandemic without science. It is critical that we continue to invest in science and these young, trailblazing scientists who have the energy, optimism and brilliance to continue developing scientific solutions benefitting millions, even billions, of people. On behalf of the Academy, we are honoured to administer the Blavatnik Awards in the UK in its fifth year, and we are thrilled to see a growing list of UK institutions submitting nominations since the programme was established. We are also excited to honour six women in 2022.”

Subject to Covid restrictions, the 2022 Blavatnik Awards in the UK Laureates and Fellows will be honoured at a black-tie gala dinner in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London on Monday 28 February.

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