21 Oct 2022
Professor Harrison Steel awarded Leverhulme prize for work on engineering new biotechnologies
The prizes, only 30 of which are awarded throughout the UK each year, recognise and celebrate the achievement of exceptional researchers whose future careers are exceptionally promising
Professor Harrison Steel has been awarded a £100,000 Philip Leverhulme prize for work on engineering new biotechnologies that combine the strengths of synthetic biology, robotics, control engineering, and artificial intelligence. The prizes, only 30 of which are awarded throughout the UK each year, recognise and celebrate the achievement of exceptional researchers whose work has already attracted international recognition and whose future careers are exceptionally promising.
Professor Steel says, “I am enormously grateful to have been selected for the Philip Leverhulme Prize. It is encouraging to see this recognition of what has really been a long-term group effort - bringing together many collaborators and my research team at Oxford - to tackle interdisciplinary challenges in biotechnology. This prize will open new opportunities for our research, and help us to magnify its impact on the international stage.”
The Engineered Biotechnology Research Group works to apply robotic tools and control algorithms to outstanding challenges in biotechnology. This is a very interdisciplinary area, requiring the team to invent new hardware and instruments alongside directly engineering biological systems, such as bacteria. Technologies they have created in past years are widely available as open-source projects, and are now being used by other academic groups and start-up companies to accelerate their work. Professor Steel adds, “This has led to many exciting collaborations for our team in the development of future technologies in fields ranging from carbon capture to cellular agriculture to environmentally-friendly bio-manufacturing.”
The Leverhulme prize funds will enable Professor Steel’s team to continue their work developing new biological and robotic systems which could open new possibilities for the future of Engineered Biotechnologies: “The Philip Leverhulme Prize will provide critical support in this process, allowing us to scale up these technologies and apply them to outstanding challenges (such as climate change) which require interdisciplinary solutions” he says. “Similarly, the prize will be instrumental in allowing us to broaden our impact on an international scale, for example by getting open-source technologies we develop into the hands of researchers and innovators across the world.”
Head of Department Professor Ronald A. Roy says, "On behalf of both the Department and the College, I am delighted to be able to congratulate Professor Steel on this impressive achievement. His work at the interface of controls engineering, robotics, and engineered biotechnology is exceedingly innovative and has the potential to be game changing. We look forward to helping him advance this important work."