Science charity celebrates the achievements of the next generation of scientists

September 2022

Thursday 29th September — The Institute for Research in Schools (IRIS) hosted their first awards ceremony, where they celebrated the talented and hard-working students and teachers who innovate in the classroom every day in their national programme.


IRIS is a charity that develops opportunities for secondary students and post-16s from all backgrounds to participate in authentic research in school and make valuable, recognised contributions to the scientific community.


Research has found that students who take part in IRIS programmes are found to be more engaged in Science Technology Engineering and Maths (STEM) and more likely to pursue a career in science.  What is more, the experience strengthens self-confidence, builds communication skills, and fosters collaboration with like-minded individuals.


On the night, hosted at the Francis Crick Institute, awards were handed out by IRIS director Dr Jo Foster as well as scientist, writer and broadcaster Dr Adam Rutherford and scientist and author Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock MBE.


Winners included students from Tapton School, who used their expertise learned through the DNA Origami project to design a nanoscale Tesla valve made from DNA.  Liverpool Life Sciences UTC was recognised for its research culture and programmes which allow students to experience what it is like to be a research scientist.  Students from Ladies’ College Guernsey were celebrated for their work to reduce carbon emissions on the island. Student Researcher of the Year, Surayyah Aziz has just submitted her first paper to a peer reviewed journal for publication on Unravelling the mystery of ultra-high energy rays.


Erin Rhead, Year 13 student at Liverpool UTC, who won Research Team of the Year said: 

“It feels a little unreal to win, I didn’t expect it. As part of our project, we built a basic veterinary lab in the school. This is something I could add to the school and help students have a step forward in university.


“I plan to go into research, genetics, and conservation of animals. I originally wanted to vet sciences at the start, but this project widened my horizons.”


Surayyah Aziz, winner of Best Student Researcher, said:

“My research experience with IRIS has shown me that science is a work in progress, a subject where it is okay to make mistakes, and learn from the past to make necessary improvements, with the right support in place. Likewise, I believe STEM has the potential to learn from mistakes of the past and continue pushing the drive for more women and people of colour to represent the field.


Contrary to common portrayal, science is a magical and wonderful world which enables us to free our imaginations and think outside the box, and IRIS has been crucial in allowing me to experience this for myself through my astrophysics project.”


Connie Gray, Year 10 student at Liverpool UTC, this year’s Big Bang’s Young Scientist of the Year who won Research Team of the Year said:


“It feels so good to win. I was involved in two projects, one setting up a veterinary laboratory in school to help pupils who might want to pursue it in the future as a career.


“My project was with the scanning electron microscope – adaptive variation among avian species, how they evolve from and how climate change can affect them in the future.


“I like the possibilities of finding how things work and making new discoveries. You can read and write literature, but you aren’t really learning anything, just repeating.”


Nick Harris, Science teacher at Tapton School, which won Best Research Project, said: 

“I’ve worked with IRIS since its infancy; we started on a project looking at cardiovascular disease and Genome decoding, and then we were invited to do DNA Origami.

“We try to run our science department like a university, and we work hard for them to read journals. It’s essential that they get a rich diet of science, and we expose them to many different aspects. They are not just learning A level science, they are reading journals and getting involved in research.

“IRIS programmes allow students to open their horizons beyond the curriculum and they are able to craft beautiful UCAS applications and get themselves to a successful destination.


David Fairclough, science teacher at St John Fisher Catholic Voluntary Academy and winner of Outstanding Teacher Award, said:


“With ever growing pressure on teachers, IRIS is a breath of fresh air that has supported students and staff in our school to conduct research that would never be possible without their help.”


Dr Jo Foster, Director of IRIS said:

“It was fantastic to host the first ever IRIS awards and I am delighted to have been able to share the success of some of our students.


“We set out to provide authentic research projects in schools that give young people meaningful experience of science and what it means to be a scientist. The response from the science community, teachers and students has been amazing.


“A career in STEM is a great career and we want any school, no matter where it is in the country, to have the tools to give students an opportunity. The passion and excitement for science is there – we just need to unlock it. There are many routes into rewarding STEM careers, including routes directly into industry and careers, such as apprenticeships, and through the university route.


“The problems that society face today are plentiful and to overcome them we need an army of young scientists. Over the next year I look forward to working with more and more passionate young scientists so we can build science capital in the UK.”


Our plan to help schools capture the imagination and talent of the next generation of scientists. 




IRIS projects support students and teachers, wherever they are on their research journey.


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