Life could have turned out very differently for Shankar Balasubramanian. The University of Cambridge chemist has carved out a prestigious career in the academy and was recently named the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council Innovator of the Year for his work on Solexa sequencing, a high-speed genome-sequencing technology. But despite his success, he said that his scientific career almost stalled before it began. "I wasn't 100 per cent sure about doing my PhD," he said. "I was going to go to the US with a friend to set up a chain of wine bars. I changed my mind at the last minute." The decision proved to be a good one, not only for Professor Balasubramanian, but also for his would-be business partner, who is now a professor at Princeton University. It was at Cambridge, where he studied as an undergraduate and doctoral student, that Professor Balasubramanian became immersed in the study of DNA. "Cambridge is a place where you can't help but think of DNA," he said. After a spell at Pennsylvania State University, he moved back to Cambridge and began work with David Klenerman, a colleague in the chemistry department, who he said was introduced as "a man with a lot of lasers". Professor Balasubramanian said that the "light-bulb moment" in the research that led to the development of Solexa came "on a sunny August afternoon in the pub. Usually with ideas that come about that way, you either forget them or realise what terrible ideas they were, but on this occasion it was still a great idea the next morning." Solexa Ltd was set up in 1998 and following fundraising and the launch of its core product, a "genome analyser", the company was sold to Illumina for $600 million (£395 million) in 2007.
A university lecturer who helps teachers exploit the latest information communication technology has been recognised at a British Council awards ceremony. Russell Stannard, principal lecturer at the University of Westminster's School of Electronics and Computer Science, won the Times Higher Education Award for Outstanding ICT Initiative of the Year in 2008. His latest success came in the British Council's ELTons Awards 2010, in which his website, teachertrainingvideos.com, won the UK Award for Innovation. Mr Stannard began his teaching career in Greece before moving to Spain, where he taught English as a foreign language for nine years. He described how publishing books on ICT sparked his interest in the topic: "The publishers said to me: 'The future is in user technology in language teaching,' so I thought that doing a master's in the subject would put me in a good position." He studied for the degree at Westminster and the university asked him to stay on. He described his first few years in the subject as "frustrating". "I was reading about what ICT could do for learning but nothing happened. Then Web 2.0 came along, and now there's the opposite: we're swamped with products," he said.
The designer of a chair credited with transforming the lives of breastfeeding mothers has been made a Freeman of the City of London. Lynn Jones, leader of the MA in furniture design and technology at Bucks New University, was nominated by the Worshipful Company of Furniture Makers. She said that having worked in furniture design her entire career, the product she was most proud of was a breastfeeding chair named Best Product of the Year 2005 by the British Contract Furniture Association and Parenting Product of the Year 2006. The chair tied in with her PhD thesis on the decline of breastfeeding in the UK. During the research, she found that there was no furniture specifically designed to make mothers adopt the correct posture while breastfeeding. She said the process of designing the chair "has affected my attitude to furniture. I like designing furniture that people need, not just another nice coffee table." While she admitted that several of the perks of being a Freeman were "slightly out of date", she added that some were tempting: "I'd love to drive sheep over London Bridge."
A lecturer with a keen interest in the use of technology to help students study in non-traditional ways has won a national teaching award. Christina Leston-Bandeira, senior lecturer in politics at the University of Hull, won the main prize at the Political Studies Association Bernard Crick Awards for Outstanding Teaching. Hailing from Portugal, Dr Leston-Bandeira said that coming from a politically active family inspired her interest in the subject. She joined Hull's politics department as a full-time lecturer in 2002. Although she is an advocate of web technologies in teaching, she acknowledged that the high-tech approach "isn't for everyone". She explained: "The flexibility of online teaching lends itself to lifelong learning and part-time students who may have full-time jobs. It is no substitute for face-to-face teaching, but it extends the possibilities for those who don't follow the traditional academic route."
Other changes ...
Paul Webley, director and principal of the School of Oriental and African Studies, has been appointed deputy vice-chancellor of the University of London.
Angela Rippon, who became the BBC's first regular female newsreader in 1976, has been made visiting professor of consumer journalism at the University of Lincoln.
John Ellis has been appointed Clerk Maxwell professor of theoretical physics at King's College London. He joins from Cern, the European laboratory for particle physics.
Philip Powrie has been named dean of the Faculty of Arts and Human Sciences at the University of Surrey. He is currently visiting professor at the Central Academy of Film and Drama, Beijing.
Robert Gordon University has made four appointments to its board of governors. They are: Peter Nicholson, group head of human resources at John Wood Group; international postgraduate student Victor Meme; Susan Lawrie, course leader of the BA in management at Aberdeen Business School; and James Dunphy, Robert Gordon's quality enhancement development officer.
Harper Adams University has made three professorial appointments. Liam Sinclair, who leads research into ruminant nutrition, is now professor of animal science. Simon Edwards, who specialises in mycotoxin contamination in cereals, has been made professor of plant pathology. Peter Kettlewell, who joined Harper Adams as a lecturer in 1980, has been appointed professor of crop physiology, as well as research coordinator at the institution.
Jane Elliott is to take over as director of the Centre for Longitudinal Studies, based at the Institute of Education, University of London. She will succeed Heather Joshi, who is stepping down after seven years.