2019 - All Press Releases

Researcher behind forward-thinking work to foster understanding of vision wins inaugural Nature Research Awards for Driving Global Impact

UK neuroscientist Tom Baden also recognised for his efforts to democratize access to instruments that are highly specialized and often expensive.

Beijing, 3 November 2019

Tom Baden, a professor of neuroscience at University of Sussex, UK, and elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology, UK has become the first winner of the Nature Research Awards for Driving Global Impact, as announced today at a ceremony in Beijing. 

Baden’s research on zebrafish and mice showed that eyes have vastly greater computational powers than people previously thought, rather than being faithful recorders of the real world. His research demonstrates that the retina is not a passive recording device: the signals it sends to the brain are in fact highly processed with the 'ganglion cells', found in the retina, transmitting the image presented to it in a highly interpreted form. With information packaged into simpler representations before being sent to the brain, the transmission of information is highly efficient.

Established in partnership with Tencent, the Awards for Driving Global Impact aim to recognise early career researchers whose work has made, or has the potential to make, a positive impact on society. The 2019 awards focus on brain science. 

Baden developed new fluorescence-based imaging techniques, thereby showing for the first time there were twice as many different ganglion cell types as previously thought. His team also went further to describe the enormous diversity in so-called 'bipolar cells' within the retina itself. These findings were published in Nature and are likely to have a significant influence on ophthalmological research, on both the diagnostic and therapeutic fronts, and make a decisive impact on development of retinal prosthetics and even models of artificial vision.

Commenting, Magdalena Skipper, Editor-in-Chief of Nature, said: “Professor Baden is a paragon for early career scientists, with a strong dedication to science and a broad vision and courage to drive science forward by addressing challenges facing the science community. His research has already changed the state of human knowledge enough to require a fundamental rewrite of neuroscience and medical physiology textbooks. What’s equally impressive is his open-source approach that could transform the access to lab instruments and has gone beyond his own field of neuroscience.”

Professor Baden designed and manufactured his own lab equipment using techniques such as 3D printing. He also published his designs — for microscopes, pipettes, micromanipulators and other instruments used widely throughout the life sciences — under open source licenses so that they are available for anyone to use. This equipment costs a fraction of that which is available commercially, making it possible for researchers to access tools they otherwise could not afford — a particularly valuable service for scientists in emerging regions.

“To drive cutting-edge technological and scientific development, input from universities and corporates, as well as collaboration from other countries, is essential.” said Edward Cheng, Vice President of Tencent. “We believe that when the spirit of science is nurtured, it allows us to connect the power of science – when generations come together, we can create a steady momentum for scientific development. We hope to work with Nature Research and our partners to inspire more people to care about science, be passionate about science, and join science.”  

Winner of the Nature Research Award for Driving Global Impact, Tom Baden said: “I am humbled by this award, which recognizes the long standing dedication and commitment of a large number of people, including my many neuroscientist colleagues, the TReND in Africa team as well as countless members of the global open hardware community.”

The Nature Research Awards for Driving Global Impact encourage early career researchers to think critically about, and to plan for, the potential impacts of their work.  Nature Research will continue to work together with Tencent to make them the premier awards for early career scientists globally.

About the winner

Tom Baden is a professor of neuroscience at University of Sussex, UK, and elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology, UK. Tom obtained his PhD in lab of Berthold Hedwig, University of Cambridge, UK. He has progressed from completion of his PhD to a full Professorship in 10 years, which is unusual in the UK. Tom has received several other awards for his research excellence including the Lister Prize, one of the world’s most prestigious research funding prizes for outstanding early career scientists.

About the awards

The Nature Research Awards for Driving Global Impact invites applications from researchers who have established an independent research group within the past five years. Those encouraged to apply will have made an exceptional contribution to scientific discovery in the field of brain sciences. Researchers should be able to demonstrate the application, or potential application, of their research to make a positive impact on society, defined as an effect on, the economy, society, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life.

The judging panel, chaired by Nature Editor-in-Chief Magdalena Skipper, includes relevant Nature Research editors, and independent experts. The judging process consists of three main phases, with scoring criteria covering scientific achievements, the potential scientific and societal impact of research, etc. The awards will offer a prize of USD30,000 to one winner. Further details about the awards, including guidelines for applicants, are available at: nature.com/impactawards

About Nature Research

Nature Research is a portfolio of high-quality products and services across the life, physical, chemical and applied sciences – including journals, databases and researcher services – dedicated to serving the scientific community.

Nature (founded in 1869) is the leading, international weekly journal of science. Nature Research also publishes a range of Nature branded subscription journals, the leading open access multidisciplinary journal Nature Communications, other open access journals including Scientific Reports, and a range of Nature Partner Journals published in partnership with institutions and societies. Together, these journals publish some of the world's most significant scientific discoveries.

Online, nature.com provides over nine million unique visitors per month with Nature Research content, including news and comment from Nature, and the leading scientific jobs board, Nature Careers. Nature Research also offers a range of researcher services, including online and in-person training and expert language and editing services. For more information, please visit nature.com and follow @nresearchnews. Nature Research is part of Springer Nature.

About Tencent

Tencent uses technology to enrich the lives of Internet users. Our social products Weixin and QQ link our users to a rich digital content catalogue including games, video, music and books. Our proprietary targeting technology helps advertisers reach out to hundreds of millions of consumers in China. Our infrastructure services including payment, security, cloud and artificial intelligence create differentiated offerings and support our partners’ business growth. Tencent invests heavily in people and innovation, enabling us to evolve with the Internet.

Tencent was founded in Shenzhen, China, in 1998. Shares of Tencent (00700.HK) are traded on the Main Board of the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong

About Springer Nature

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Thea Sherer | Springer Nature | Communications
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