Materials for Industry - Derek Birchall Award

The Materials for Industry - Derek Birchall Award rewards an individual for creativity and excellence in the application of materials chemistry in industry.

2017 Winner

General information

  • Runs biennially - OPEN for 2019 nominations 
  • The winner receives a cash prize of 2000
  • The winner will be chosen by the Materials Chemistry Division Awards Committee 

Guidelines for Nominators

  • Nominations open on 01 October and close on 15 January 
  • Both RSC members and non-members can nominate for this award 
  • Nominees may NOT nominate themselves
  • The award is open to nominees based in the UK and internationally 
  • Individuals based in chemical sciences industry or academia can be nominated


To make a nomination please use our online awards nominations system. Please make sure you have your RSC membership number to hand before accessing the online system.

During the application process you will be asked to provide:

  • A supporting statement (up to 4500 characters, not including spaces) addressing the selection criteria below.
  • One page CV for the nominee, which should include a summary of education and career, total numbers of publications and patents. 

Selection of the winner will be based solely on the CV and supporting statement provided. These should provide sufficient information to assess the nominee's individual contributions to their research and commercial activities and give a clear description of the impact of the nominee's industrial activity.    

When nominating previous RSC prize or award winners, please remember that a person cannot be awarded twice for substantially the same body of work

Our selection committees base their evaluations primarily on the overall quality of relevant contributions made by nominees and not simply on quantitative measures.    

Materials Chemistry Division Awards Committee

  • Mark Weller (Chair), University of Bath
  • Martin Heeney, Imperial College London
  • Rachel O'Reilly, University of Warwick
  • Fiona Meldrum, University of Leeds
  • David Amabilino, University of Nottingham
  • Eddie Cussen, University of Strathclyde      

Previous Winners

Materials for Industry - Derek Birchall Award 2015 Winner

Professor Tobin Marks, Northwestern University

Materials for Industry - Derek Birchall Award 2013 Winner

Professor John W Goodby, University of York

Materials for Industry - Derek Birchall Award 2009 winner

Patrick McGrail, University of Sheffield

History of the Award

Derek Birchall OBE
Established in 2008 the RSC Materials for Industry - Derek Birchall Award celebrates the work of a prolific British inventor.

Derek Birchall OBE FRS was one of very few Fellows of the Royal Society who did not have a degree.  Instead he started work as an industrial laboratory assistant at the age of 14 where he progressed to carry out chemical analysis.  His fascination with the phenomena of fire and his work on activated carbon and flame at the age of 17 led him naturally to employment at John Kerr & co., manufacturers of the first gas-fired porcelain furnaces. During this time he attended night school to gain a HNC in Chemistry and gained recognition as the best student in his year. 

At the age of 19 he applied for his first patent, 'a physical improvement to fire extinguishers'.  He applied for his last, 'a cold sore remedy', in 1994 shortly before his untimely death at the age of 65 in 1995. There were more than 100 patents in between including; for Monnex, a fire-extinguishing powder; for Saffil, a high strength, highly thermal resistant alumina fibre (this won the Queens Award for Technological Achievement in 1978 and was used in the heat resistant tiles on the Space Shuttle); and those pertaining to many new inorganic materials such as 'smart' cements and ceramics.

Derek Birchall also believed in fundamental science and published more than 100 papers in leading academic journals. Latterly he helped to found the discipline now known as bioinorganic chemistry and in particular he demonstrated how we could learn from nature to develop both new materials and novel applications for existing materials. 

In addition to being a polymath one of his great strengths, which this award celebrates, was to successfully translate academic research into materials with myriad industrial applications many of which remain widely used to this day.

Contact and Further Information

Royal Society of Chemistry, Thomas Graham House, Cambridge Science Park, Milton Road, Cambridge, CB4 0WF
Tel: +44 (0)1223 420066