Young Scientists of the Year

Professor Fiona Powrie inspires Oxfordshire's finest young scientists

To celebrate the county’s next generation of researchers, Science Oxford held the 2013 Oxfordshire Young Scientists of the Year event at the Sheldonian Theatre on the 16th of October.


The evening played host to over 200 students and their families, with 31 participating Oxfordshire secondary schools (including state and independent schools) invited to nominate their top students in physics, chemistry and biology for an award. Sponsored by the Nuffield Department of Medicine, the Society for the Chemical Industry, and the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, the event celebrated Oxfordshire’s most promising Year 13 physicists, chemists and biologists, with a canapé reception followed by an inspiring lineup of industry speakers, including Professor Fiona Powrie from NDM.

Following an enthusiastic introduction from Science Oxford’s Brian Macken, two physicists from the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Elin McCormack and engineering apprentice Joshua Preston, spoke candidly about their exciting careers as young engineers. A presentation from the Society of Chemical Industry’s Martin Elliot encouraged young chemistry students to think about the huge role they will play in meeting the global challenges of the future.


Science Oxford’s Brian Macken then introduced Professor Fiona Powrie as the evenings keynote speaker, after proudly reading out testimonials from teachers praising the dedication and achievements of their students.

Professor Powrie addressed the crowd of budding young scientists and their families with the alarming statement, “You are not alone. Every person in this room has more bacteria in their bodies than they do cells.” She continued on to explain that the gastrointestinal tract is home to trillions of bacteria, making it one of the most challenging sites for the immune system. 

“While a healthy immune system is capable of distinguishing between harmful and harmless, or salmon from salmonella, an overactive intestinal immune system will attack both the good and bad bacteria in our gut, causing severe inflammation,” she said. “This can lead to a number of devastating inflammatory diseases, such as Crohn’s Disease or even bowel cancer.”

Following her discovery that regulatory T cells (a specialised population of immune cells) control the immune responses in the gut, Professor Powrie explained that her research is now leading to new forms of therapy including: regulatory T cell therapy, probiotics and (to the great delight of the students) fecal transplants.


Concluding her inspiring speech about career progression in science and the impact researchers can ultimately have on the clinic, Professor Powrie offered some words of wisdom, “Having a successful career in science is all about making the right choices, taking opportunities, and believing in yourself,” she said.

“I’d like to congratulate you all on your awards, and I hope you all have as much fun with science as I have had.” 

Read the full story on the Oxford Mail website.


Photos provided by Science Oxford