The winner of the 2023 Peter Troughton Research Staff Prize is Dr Jack Binysh, Research Associate in the Department of Physics.

Living materials, from cells to plants and animals, are animate: they sense and respond to their environment, like a layer of cells changing shape to heal a wound, or the intricate patterns seen in a flock of starlings. Jack’s research focuses on ‘animate matter’ which is the recreation of the animate properties of living matter in synthetic materials.

Jack’s recent work, published in Science Advances, envisioned designing shape-shifting matter by bonding an actively growing surface with a soft elastic material. The resulting material would switch shape on command, for example flipping from a sphere to a cylinder, to a triangle. This work was featured in over 77 news outlets, including the New York Post, and won first place in the Physics department’s Research Highlights colloquium series here at Bath.

Collaborators have used this idea to design shape-shifting nanoparticles, which could tailor the shape and size of microscopic drug delivery capsules. The exact shape of these tiny capsules dramatically affects their interaction with the body, so having precise control over this shape opens the door to designing nanoparticles tailored for specific medical functions.

Professor Sarah Hainsworth, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research) and Chair of the Prize Committee, said “The talks this year were all outstanding and it was really difficult to choose a winner from all the presentations. However, the panel were all impressed by Jack’s passion for his work, the way in which he was able to communicate the complexity of the research and the great use of visuals in the talk. We again thank Peter Troughton for his generosity in terms of sponsoring the prize and the recognition that the prize gives to our early career researchers whose work contributes so much to the vibrant research community and culture at Bath.”

After receiving the award, Jack said “Pushing this research direction has been a highlight of my time at Bath, and I can’t wait to see where it goes next. This prize challenged me to communicate my work to a broad audience, and it has been an extremely valuable process. I’d like to thank my collaborators for their support, as well as Peter Troughton and the committee for this award.”

The Peter Troughton Research Staff Prize is awarded on behalf of Senate by the Peter Troughton Research Staff Prize Committee to a postdoctoral member of research staff for outstanding performance in their duties. Sponsor of the award, Peter Troughton, said, “Jack Binysh’s lucid explanation of his complex research project won the competition against a very strong list of candidates. No murmuration of starlings will ever look the same to me again!”