Birthday honours for pioneering female scientists

Wednesday, 01 June 2022

Two pioneering female scientists from the University of Nottingham are among those being honoured in the 2022 Birthday Honours List to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations.

Rachel Gomes, Professor of Water and Resource Processing, in the university’s Faculty of Engineering, is being recognised with an MBE for her services to research and education. Professor Liz Sockett is a world-class scientist and a pioneer of research into ‘living antibiotics’ which has the potential to transform the global fight against antibiotic-resistant superbugs and has been awarded a CBE.

I am delighted to be recognised and very grateful to those who nominated me - this has come as a huge surprise! I am very fortunate to work with colleagues from many disciplines and communities, and together we seek to deliver impact in research and education at the local, national and international scale. Thank you to the University of Nottingham and Papplewick Pumping Station, as well as organisations in the UK, India, Mexico and Ghana.
Rachel Gomes, Professor of Water and Resource Processing, Faculty of Engineering

Professor Gomes is a passionate, global leader in the development of new solutions to ensure water security for all. Her research is on wastewater treatment and reuse in the urban water cycle, with a focus on pollutants, water quality and converting spent (waste) resources into useful products including chemicals and energy (waste to wealth). Her expertise is particularly significant for the future resource sustainability of UK by understanding how water, chemical, energy resources including mismanaged (waste) resources that are consumed in our society can be more intelligently sourced and used, without depreciating the process environments from which they are derived

Vice-Chancellor of the University of Nottingham, Professor Shearer West, said: "I am delighted that Rachel's achievements and commitment to her research and support of good causes have been recognised in the Queen's Birthday Honours, particularly in this very special year of Her Majesty's Platinum Jubilee. I offer her my congratulations, which I know will be echoed by all of those friends and colleagues who have the pleasure of working with her at the university.

"Rachel's research focus on water, one of the world's most precious resources, is driving forward knowledge and innovation that will have a direct impact on global sustainability, while her volunteering with science outreach and heritage projects demonstrates her passion and dedication to using her skills to make a huge contribution to her local community."

Professor Gomes leads a 140-strong team of from across the university’s campuses in the UK, Malaysia and China in its Water Works collaboration, which brings researchers together from across a wide range of disciplines to provide solutions to global water challenges by addressing complex industrial, environmental and societal issues associated with the management of water processes.

Together, Water Works colleagues have driven the water resilience agenda with local organisations in Nottinghamshire, nationally and beyond. As a result, nature-based solutions recommended by Water Works are now cited in the Nottingham City Council’s Carbon Neutral 2028 action plan – a blueprint to make Nottingham the UK’s first carbon-neutral city.

Professor Gomes has represented the UK on the recovery of materials from wastewater as part of symposium with China, Germany, Japan, UK and USA delegates on water-related challenges and solutions in a changing world. This led to a 2016 White Paper on wastewater, pollution, and resource recovery that identified future water research directions and policy needs.

From 2019, she was an invited expert on the United Nations Environment Programme Advisory Group to address the UN Environment Assembly’s adopted resolution on Plastic Litter and Microplastics including recommending indicators to harmonise monitoring, assessment, and inform on global policies. The resulting technical report “From pollution to solution” in late 2021 was recently used to inform discussions at the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA 5.2) in March 2022, where countries came together to decide a way forward for global cooperation.

In 2014 she was selected as one of the Analytical Scientist’s ‘Top 40 under 40 Power List’ and also became one of 20 on the EPSRC Early Career Forum in Manufacturing Research (to 2019). As a role model for women in the STEM subjects, she was recognised in 2020 as one of the Top 50 Women in Engineering for Sustainability by the Women’s Engineering Society. Her contributions to research and education were also recognised through the University Vice Chancellor and Lord Dearing Awards in 2020 and 2017 respectively.

For more than 12 years, Professor Gomes has been an ambassador for the educational charity, STEM Network, sharing her love for water reuse as well as her career experiences at school talks, and research knowledge at outreach events such as the annual Nottingham Pint of Science Festival.

Since 2014, she has been a trustee of the Papplewick Pumping Station, an award winning museum and Britain’s finest Victorian waterworks. In addition to supporting the conservation of the site, Professor Gomes has contributed to educational resources that cover the history of - as well as the social, scientific, geographical and engineering aspects of – water, providing an immersive educational experience. In 2018, she was instrumental in setting up Papplewick’s Water Education Trust (WET) Scholarships which each year offers early career researchers working on water issues at the University of Nottingham to attend a conference, present a paper and to feature in the Papplewick Pumping Stations’ annual public lecture. .

Watch Professor Rachel Louise Gomes' mini-lecture on 'wastewater treatment and beyond - the road to sustainability and the circular economy'.

Read more about one of Rachel’s recent projects on water reuse for irrigation, where working with colleagues from the UK and Mexico they use meta-analysis and machine learning to identify recommendations to increase the environmental relevance of pharmaceutical sorption studies from wastewater applied to agriculture.

Professor Liz Sockett - CBE

Professor Sockett is a pioneer of research into ‘living antibiotic’ predatory bacteria, knowledge of which has the potential to help the global fight against antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

Leading a team of researchers in the School of Life Sciences at the University, her work into Bdellovibrio bacteriovorus, tiny predatory bacterium that naturally invades and destroys pathogenic superbugs such as Klebsiella, E. coli, and Salmonella that cause increasingly hard to treat infections. Her team’s work has helped to rejuvenate the field of predatory bacterial research, putting these predators back on the world microbiology research stage.

In the course of her career, Liz has authored or co-authored more than 60 research publications in major academic journals, revealing the complex nature of predatory cell biology processes, and how predation evolved, using molecular-genetics, transcriptional analyses and microscopy. Through multi-disciplinary studies and research collaborations, especially with Professor Andy Lovering, at University of Birmingham; the research team that she leads has been at the forefront of discoveries that tackle the biological complexity of how bacteria kill each other.

In 2019, her outstanding contribution to science was honoured when she was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. This accolade followed her 2017 election as a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology.

Despite the pressures of her research, during her 30 years at the University, Professor Sockett has remained committed to student teaching. She has taught on five undergraduate courses and inspired students, many of whom go on to become PhD students and researchers in their own right, further strengthening the global community of scientists. In 2014, she was named one of "100 Heroes of the Students Union" for their Centenary celebrations. In 2011 and 2013 she received Student “Oscars” as All Round Tutor of the Year and as Research Supervisor of the Year.

This is a huge and lovely surprise. It is testament to all the kindness, enthusiasm and support I’ve received from my husband, lab members, colleagues, collaborators, friends and students throughout my career as a microbiologist. My late mum and dad would be so pleased that “their Elizabeth” is receiving this award at Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee. She has always inspired me as a resilient, hard-working woman with a strong sense of duty.
Professor Liz Sockett, School of Life Sciences

Professor Dame Jessica Corner, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research and Knowledge Exchange at the University, said: “Over the course of the 30 years she has been at Nottingham, Liz has been a genuine pioneer in her field of research. Her work is driving forward our knowledge in the area of natural treatments to fight infection, in particular the potential role predatory bacteria may have as living antibiotics at a time when there is an urgent need for alternatives to those currently in use and to which resistant strains of bacteria are developing. The scientific questions that her research seeks to answer are both novel and highly original. She is an extraordinary female scientist who also dedicates herself to developing and support colleagues. I cannot think of anyone more deserving of this honour, and we are immensely proud of everything she has achieved.”

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About the University of Nottingham

Ranked 32 in Europe and 16th in the UK by the QS World University Rankings: Europe 2024, the University of Nottingham is a founding member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience, and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our students. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement.

Nottingham was crowned Sports University of the Year by The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2024 – the third time it has been given the honour since 2018 – and by the Daily Mail University Guide 2024.

The university is among the best universities in the UK for the strength of our research, positioned seventh for research power in the UK according to REF 2021. The birthplace of discoveries such as MRI and ibuprofen, our innovations transform lives and tackle global problems such as sustainable food supplies, ending modern slavery, developing greener transport, and reducing reliance on fossil fuels.

The university is a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally - and our graduates are the second most targeted by the UK's top employers, according to The Graduate Market in 2022 report by High Fliers Research.

We lead the Universities for Nottingham initiative, in partnership with Nottingham Trent University, a pioneering collaboration between the city’s two world-class institutions to improve levels of prosperity, opportunity, sustainability, health and wellbeing for residents in the city and region we are proud to call home.

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