2019 National Science Centre Award presented!

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Dr. hab. Dawid Pinkowicz, Dr. Roman Szczęsny, and Dr. hab. Michał Wierzchoń each received a prestigious award from the National Science Centre for exceptional scientific achievements in the field of basic research. The laureates will receive financial awards of PLN 50 thousand.

The idea behind the NCN Award is to support the most remarkable scientists conducting basic research in Polish research centres. The distinction, which was first introduced in 2013, is awarded to researchers below the age of 40 in three research areas: Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences; Life Sciences; and Physical Sciences and Engineering.

“I am overjoyed that this highly prestigious National Science Centre Award has been handed out today for what is now the seventh time” said Jarosław Gowin, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Science and Higher Education, who was present at the National Science Centre award ceremony. “Congratulations to the young researchers, who are here with us, for their prominent scientific achievements. It is worth highlighting that the NCN award links the worlds of business and science. Every year the National Science Centre invites companies involved in social and research activities to cooperate and take on the role of award sponsors” added the Deputy Prime Minister, Jarosław Gowin.

This year's financial awards were sponsored by Adamed Pharma S.A., Fundacja KGHM Polska Miedź and ASTOR. The award ceremony is traditionally held in the Gallery of 19th-Century Polish Art at Sukiennice. The award in Life Sciences was presented to Dr. Roman Szczęsny from the Institute of Biochemistry and Biophysics of the Polish Academy of Sciences. He was recognized for the discovery of the mechanism of mitochondrial RNA degradation in human cells, indicating the role of mitochondria in regulation of innate immune response. Dr. Szczęsny is scientifically interested in the mechanisms controlling the quality, quantity and processing of RNA produced as a result of transcription of the human mitochondrial and nuclear genome. The ground-breaking research that he was distinguished for widens the range – as known so far – of the influence of mitochondria on the functioning and fate of the cell.

“The National Science Centre Award is an exceptional distinction for me. I see it as an expression of appreciation for my research work as well as all the people who have influenced my growth” says Dr. Szczęsny. “Arriving at this point in my research career would not have been possible, had it not been for the understanding and support of my loved ones. I believe further research in the metabolism of RNA in human mitochondria could lead to numerous other interesting discoveries,” he adds.

The award in Physical Sciences and Engineering was presented to Dr. hab. Dawid Pinkowicz from the Faculty of Chemistry at the Jagiellonian University, who was distinguished for designing an innovative multifunctional molecular magnet and quantum nanomagnets. Dr. Pinkowicz designed and examined an array of complexes of transition metals with strong magnetic coupling between the metal ions and offered a strategy for obtaining systems showing high magnetic anisotropy and spin bistability. The research made it possible to obtain knowledge about the dependencies between magnetic structure and long-range magnetic order as well as resulted in the emergence of new quantum nanomagnets.

“I believe I am dealing with what's best about chemistry – the design and construction of new particles and supramolecular systems. I like to think that I am an architect of the molecular world” says Dr. hab. Pinkowicz. “I am not limited by the traditional distinctions between chemistry and physics, organic or inorganic chemistry. I hope that such an approach will allow me to 'harness' the nano world that is governed by the laws of quantum mechanics and will perhaps lead to a small scientific revolution.”

The laureate in the field of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences is Dr. hab. Michał Wierzchoń from the Faculty of Philosophy at the Jagiellonian University. He was distinguished by the Jury of the NCN Award for interdisciplinary research in consciousness, which has been under way for many years and creatively combines approaches derived from philosophy, cognitive psychology, cognitive science and neuroscience. He proposed an original author's theoretical model of consciousness and within its framework he believes that access to consciousness is gradable and the subjective character of information results from the integration of perceptual and non-perceptual information. Dr. hab. Wierzchoń’s research is concerned with measurement of consciousness as well as the role of attention in gaining conscious experiences, implicit memory, sensory substitution and body consciousness. Over a short period of time, the Consciousness Research Laboratory (c-lab), which he established and runs, has become one of the leading research centres of this type in Europe, and Dr. Wierzchoń himself has been cooperating with prominent consciousness researchers from all over the world.

“Research into consciousness allows us to gain a better understanding of how we experience the world. Among numerous theories, there are those that advocate that previous experience, a personal story, is crucial for consciousness. In my work, I generally try to demonstrate that it is not the most important thing for consciousness”, Dr. hab. Wierzchoń explains. “However, today when I look back on my research career, I find this theory to be well-suited to describe the experience of being awarded. I feel honoured but I also reflect upon my research career and remember the people I have encountered on the way. I think about my masters and co-workers that I have been conducting research with, yet I also argue, discussing the nature of consciousness. Such discussions help me better understand what we are researching. They also make me realize that there are further fascinating challenges ahead of us. This is our shared award,” the researcher adds.

The NCN Award candidates are nominated by researchers: among others, former NCN Council members; former chairpersons of NCN Expert Teams; Award laureates from previous years as well as other prominent representatives of the world of science indicated by the NCN Council and Director. In this edition, 530 people were authorized to nominate candidates. There were 51 researchers nominated for the Award and six finalists were singled out in the second stage – two in each of the three research areas. The ultimate selection of the laureates was based on the decision of the Jury of the NCN composed of the representatives of the Centre and sponsors of the Award.