Biological Sciences

Stephen Wallace wins prestigious Royal Society of Chemistry Prize

Dr Stephen Wallace, a UKRI Future Leaders Fellow and Senior Lecturer in Biotechnology, has been named winner of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Norman Heatley Award.

Dr Stephen Wallace

The Royal Society of Chemistry’s (RSC) prizes have recognised excellence in the chemical sciences for more than 150 years. 

This year’s winners join a prestigious list of past winners in the RSC’s prize portfolio, 60 of whom have gone on to win Nobel Prizes for their work.

Stephen won the Norman Heatley Award for the development of chemical tools and microbial biocatalysts for sustainable synthesis.  He also receives £3,000 and a medal. 

Sustainable Chemicals

Many valuable chemicals - including fuels, medicines, flavour and fragrances - are currently produced from oil, a non-renewable natural resource.

Relying on dwindling supplies of fossil fuels to produce chemicals by traditional synthetic processes requires lots of energy and is a key driver of industrial CO2 emissions worldwide. 

Stephen’s team are finding more sustainable ways of producing these chemicals by reprogramming living bacteria to transform waste into valuable industrial products.

Instead of using fossil fuels, the microorganisms are programmed to transform ‘waste’ including plastic, and renewable materials, such as sugar and CO2, into valuable chemicals via fermentation.

Synthetic Biology

This approach is part of the rapidly advancing field of synthetic biology, which applies engineering principles to biology.

By reprogramming living cells with new and useful functions researchers can, for example, turn bacteria into environmentally friendly living factories.

Stephen’s team take a multidisciplinary approach combining synthetic biology with powerful synthetic chemistry techniques.

This enables the production of industrial chemicals that cannot be made via synthetic biology alone and would otherwise remain reliant on fossil fuels.


It is an incredible honour to be awarded this year’s Norman Heatley Prize from the RSC. Exploring biology through the lens of a chemist has been a fascinating journey for me, and one that I’m excited to continue with my research group. And like biology, the chemistry-biology interface is always evolving. I cannot think of a more fascinating area of science right now, and a nicer community to be a part of. Thank you so much.

Dr Stephen WallaceUKRI Future Leaders Fellow, Senior Lecturer in Biotechnology, School of Biological Sciences


The chemical sciences are at the forefront of tackling a range of challenges facing our world. From fundamental chemistry to cutting-edge innovations, the work that chemical scientists do has an important role to play in building our future. The RSC’s prizes programme enables us to reflect on and celebrate the incredible individuals and teams whose brilliance enriches our knowledge, advances our understanding, and brings new ideas and technologies that benefit society as a whole. We’re very proud to recognise the contributions of our winners today.

Dr Helen PainChief Executive of the Royal Society of Chemistry

Related Links

Dr Stephen Wallace

Stephen’s TED talk - How Synthetic Biology Will Help Us Build a Sustainable Future 

Royal Society of Chemistry’s Prizes