University of Portsmouth wins Research Project of the Year

Professor John McGeehan working with lab equipment

The research team engineered an enzyme which can digest polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic - helping to solve the global plastic pollution problem

  • 29 November 2019
  • 2 min read

Our pioneering research on plastic-eating enzymes has won the 2019 Research Project of the Year (STEM) at the Times Higher Education (THE) Awards.

Professor John McGeehan presented the team's research, which engineered an enzyme capable of digesting polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic.

PET is used to make 20,000 single-use plastic bottles every second worldwide, and the discovery is paving the way for a more efficient method of recycling and helping solve the global plastic pollution problem.

Known as ‘the Oscars of higher education’, the annual awards recognise excellence in academia. Professor McGeehan, along with his PhD student, Harry Austin and research colleagues from Diamond Light Source in Oxford, was presented with the prize at the awards ceremony in London on Thursday 28 November.

Rosie Graham in CEI laboratory

Earlier this year, our Centre for Enzyme Innovation was awarded £5.8 million from Research England to push our plastic-eating enzyme research forward.

Professor McGeehan said: “One of the most powerful weapons we have to combat our ever-increasing plastic pollution problem is education. I am, therefore, particularly delighted to receive this award from Times Higher Education.

"Our aim is to translate our fundamental research on enzymes that breakdown a range of different plastics into real-world recycling solutions through innovation and international collaboration. It is fantastic to have this recognition and support as we continue to grow our team and disseminate our research.”

It was a thrill to see our research on plastic-eating enzymes winning the Times Higher Education Award for Research Project of the Year. I am so proud that the outside world is starting to recognise the important research that takes place at Portsmouth.

Professor Graham Galbraith, Vice-Chancellor

Professor McGeehan is the director of our recently-launched Centre for Enzyme Innovation, which was awarded £5.8 million from Research England to push this research forward, grow the international team, and potentially revolutionise the recycling process.

This work is at the centre of a wider strategy to transform our University into one of the world’s greenest, placing sustainable development at the centre of our curriculum and student experience, and building a world leading academic community focused on plastic and sustainability.

Professor Graham Galbraith, our Vice-Chancellor, said: “It was a thrill to see our research on plastic-eating enzymes winning the THE Award for Research Project of the Year. I am so proud that the outside world is starting to recognise the important research that takes place at Portsmouth.

“It is also significant that we were recognised above other shortlisted projects from research-intensive Russell Group universities like Exeter and Nottingham. If we want to realise our Vision for 2030 to become one of the world’s leading young universities, then research and innovation must be a focus.”

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