Fraser and Norma Stoddart PhD Prize 2023

Congratulations to Dr Weronika Gruszka, who has been recognised for her research accomplishments and contributions to the School community.

PhD graduate Weronika Gruszka has been named the winner of the 2023 Fraser and Norma Stoddart PhD Prize. This prestigious prize is awarded annually to PhD graduate who has shown not only excellence in research, but has also contributed to the life of students within the School.

Weronika recently completed her PhD research within the Garden group. She will return to the School of Chemistry in July to receive her prize and share her research with students and staff.

Research Summary

Weronika’s PhD research centred around catalyst development for the synthesis of degradable plastics. Plastics are ubiquitous in our everyday lives, however most are currently made from diminishing fossil resources and are associated with degradation issues. A promising class of degradable plastics are polyesters, such as poly(lactide) (PLA), poly(ε-caprolactone) (PCL) and poly(3-hydroxybutyrate) (PHB). PLA can be produced from biomass and is an attractive potential alternative for conventional plastics in packaging and fibre industries. However, the material properties of PLA limit its wider application, which can be expanded by combining PLA with other polyesters, such as PCL and PHB, to create materials called copolymers. The production of polyesters relies on the presence of a suitable catalyst. These often comprise metals that can interact with the starting materials. Most metal-based catalysts developed for the production of polyesters have only one metal per catalyst. Weronika’s research focused on the development of new catalysts which comprise multiple identical or different metal centres within the same structure to enhance the catalyst performance during polyester production.

Weronika portrait

I am absolutely honoured to receive this year's Sir Fraser and Norma Stoddart PhD prize. I am a proud alumna of the University of Edinburgh, having studied for both my undergraduate and PhD degrees at the School of Chemistry. I feel humbled that my name will be added to the Stoddart prize plaque, which I walked past everyday while being a student. This achievement would have not been possible without the support of my PhD supervisor, Dr Jennifer Garden, the Garden group and my family and friends. I am eternally grateful to you all for all your support during my PhD.

Since finishing the PhD, I moved down to England to start a position as a Research Scientist at Johnson Matthey, where I am continuing research in fields of catalysis and sustainable technologies. The research and transferable skills that I gained while studying at the Edinburgh School of Chemistry have proved instrumental in initially securing the position and now carrying out the job.


I am absolutely thrilled that Weronika has won the Sir Fraser and Norma Stoddart Prize! This is a huge achievement and testament to Weronika’s skills, determination and scientific knowledge. Weronika was the first Masters student to work with me when I took up the inaugural Christina Miller Fellowship at the University of Edinburgh, and she has had a hugely positive impact on the development of our research and our team. It is fantastic to see her efforts and abilities reflected with this award!


The Fraser and Norma Stoddart PhD Prize

The annual Fraser and Norma Stoddart PhD Prize was established in 2013 by internationally renowned chemist Professor Sir Fraser Stoddart, who studied Chemistry with his wife Norma in Edinburgh in the 1960s. Sir Fraser Stoddart went on to share the Nobel Prize in Chemistry together with Ben Feringa and Jean-Pierre Sauvage in 2016 for the design and synthesis of molecular machines. This prestigious prize honours PhD students who best remind us of the outstanding science, service and humanity that Fraser and Norma have brought to science.

Candidates are expected not only to have demonstrated superior research accomplishments throughout their time at Edinburgh but they should also have contributed to the life of students within the School of Chemistry and beyond.