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Group photo winners Unilever Research Prizes 2021

Unilever Research Prizes 2021 event takes place

Nurturing up and coming scientists to ensure a sustainable future

Thirteen talented young scientists in the Netherlands have become the latest recipients of the Unilever Research Prizes award. Each of the students received their prize yesterday (November 25th, 2021) during a virtual ceremony at Hive.

Covid-19 restrictions meant the celebrations had to take place virtually again this year. However, it didn’t stop each of the students getting the recognition they most certainly deserved. As Chief R&D officer Richard Slater said during his opening address: “The quality of work produced by the young scientists in these awards is always incredible and this year is no exception. It’s a real honour to be able to celebrate the excellent young talent that we have here today. If there’s one thing for certain it’s that the world needs more scientists.”

Yesterday marked the 65th year of the annual Unilever Research Prizes. It’s a very special event that allows Unilever to maintain strong bonds with the Dutch academic world.

Each of the 13 Master of Science students are nominated by their respective universities in the Netherlands for their exceptional research work.

Manfred Aben, VP Science & Technology Foods & Refreshment and Site Leader for Hive, hosted the awards. Carla Hilhorst, EVP R&D Foods and Refreshment, was also virtually present. They presented each of the students with their Unilever research prize and described their chosen thesis topic.

Importantly, these topics must make a positive impact on advancing one or more of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Interesting research topics chosen by the students

This year, we heard about research theses that make an important contribution to curing blindness; helping to find a more effective treatment for Mycobacterium tuberculosis or Mtb, which is the cause of 1.5m deaths every year; and using working time control to prevent depression.

Future food systems modelling and the incorporation of climate change impacts on food security was also examined.

Another student developed a very impressive desktop application that accurately calculates the life of a rolling bearing – an important component in many production applications.

Several students focused their work on the advancement of clean energy, including the exploration of the direct catalytic conversion of atmosphere CO2 to value-added chemicals such as carbon monoxide and methane, using transition metal catalysts; and gaining a fundamental understanding of heat transfer at the atomic scale.

Other students looked at finding affordable and clean ways to store renewable energy. One thesis has helped to improve the conversion efficiency of solar cells by successfully combining two materials in a stack.

Employee wellbeing, understanding the psychology of greed in consumers and addressing the needs of millennials in the labour market to stem the “leaking pipeline effect” were also explored.

Unilever illustration writing girl

A bright future ahead

Two guest speakers also took part in the awards ceremony yesterday. Ken Giller, Professor of Plant Production Systems at Wageningen university spoke about the future of farming, posing the key question: who will produce our food?

Dr Donny Merkx, a flavour chemistry scientist at Hive gave a talk on novel analytical methods to drive natural and sustainable food innovation.

Each student received a cheque for €2,500 and a special artwork bowl, which symbolises the collaboration that is needed between industry and science to face global challenges together.

Manfred Aben commended each of the students for their simply outstanding work and said they should feel very proud of their achievements . “Seeing the kind of talent coming through yet again this year inspires hope for a bright future. You have the ability to make a very real difference in the world as we strive to overcome the many global challenges we face. That is very special.

“We know breakthroughs and advances in science and technology are the only way we can tackle these issues. That’s why it’s so important to nurture young talent like you. That’s what today is all about. Congratulations to you all,” he added.