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Blavatnik Award won by key York lecturer

Dr Kirsty Penkman has won the prestigious Blavatnik Award for her groundbreaking work on fossil dating

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Image Credit: UNIVERSITY OF YORK

Dr Kirsty Penkman at the University of York has recently won
the Blavatnik Award for Young Scientists for her ground-breaking work on fossil
dating.

She has been named Chemistry Laureate of the year, receiving an award
of £75,000 for the improvements her work has made to the accuracy of dating
fossils from the last three million years which has led to new insights into
human evolution and climate change.

The award by the Blavatnik Family Foundation recognises the innovative
work of young academics under the age of 42. The Foundation aims to elevate scientists
to the international stage and to prepare them to become world class leaders in
their scientific fields, propelling the wheel of innovation and societal
progress.

Dr Penkman’s research focuses on analysing fossil
biomolecules, including “their pathways to degradation, methods for their detection,
and how these molecules can inform us of an organism’s life and death history.”  In an interview with Nouse,
Dr Penkman said that her research started nearly 20 years ago when she first
started her PhD. When looking back at the process, what Penkman found most
challenging was that the molecules she was interested in were incredibly low in
concentration and often very degraded, encompassing many other substances both
organic and inorganic.

Penkman’s initial reaction to the prestigious award was one
of astonishment. However, she felt that “it is rather awkward to get an individual
award when the very nature of my work means that without my amazing
collaborators, this fascinating science wouldn’t be possible, so as far as I am
concerned it is shared with all of them.”

The Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research at York has praised Dr Penkman’s
work, saying that “Dr Kirsty Penkman is an excellent scientist whose
ground-breaking work has brought new insight in to our understanding of how
ancient events impacts on the world today.” Currently, she has started to look
at fossil corals in order to date them, which has led to the discovery that
their skeletal proteins seem to change with changes in the environment, opening
up a whole new avenue of research when looking at coral’s response to changing
CO2 levels.

Dr Kirsty Penkman’s remarkable work shows that young scientists
have the ability to create societal change. In her advice to young scientists,
Penkman believes that “collaboration rather than competition that drives
science forward faster, and it is far more enjoyable!”

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