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An international collaboration of scientists at institutions including Technische Universität München, Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg and Centro de Fisica de Materiales have been named the winner of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s new Materials Chemistry Division Horizon Prize: Stephanie L Kwolek Award.

The team receives the prize for stabilisation of fluorescent proteins in polymer coatings and their use in bio-based lighting technology. They become one of the first winners of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s new Horizon Prizes, introduced after the organisation carried out a wholesale review of its recognition portfolio to better reflect modern science and its impacts in making the world a better place.

The Horizon Prizes celebrate the most exciting, contemporary chemical science at the cutting edge of research and innovation. These prizes are for teams or collaborations who are opening up new directions and possibilities in their field, through ground-breaking scientific developments.

The team receive a trophy and a professionally produced multimedia pack showcasing the prize-winning work and its importance.

After receiving the prize, Professor Rubén D. Costa of the protein-based lighting team, said:

Portrait Prof. Dr. Rubén Costa

Prof. Dr. Rubén Costa Lehrstuhl für Biogene Funktionswerkstoffe TUMCS

“The 2021 Horizon Prize nicely highlights our efforts towards shaping a new concept in artificial illumination. Safety, efficiency, and stability have driven our technological society. Sustainability is our next big step.”

The team have created sustainable, stable and highly performing light-emitting diodes (LEDs), using fluorescent proteins as colour filters. In biology, there are fluorescent proteins that exhibit excellent photoluminescence – however, these proteins are not stable when outside of the cell. The team developed a method whereby the proteins are stabilised in dry polymer films, and they retain their photoluminescent properties for years. The properties of the polymer protecting the proteins also means that they can be used in diverse applications.

These fluorescent proteins can be used to make LEDs that are higher performing, more efficient and sustainable than most current LEDs. Typical LED lighting uses cerium or cadmium compounds that are environmentally hazardous, costly to make and rely on trace elements, without any efficient recycling methods. The replacement of these LEDs with ones made with fluorescent proteins would therefore be more sustainable.

The international team have created a bridge between biology and optoelectronics, which has opened opportunities for other researchers to investigate fluorescent protein-based energy devices, as well as new stabilisation techniques. In addition to applications in lighting, these bio-LEDs have potential for use in medical diagnosis and industrial reaction catalysis.

Dr Helen Pain, Chief Executive of the Royal Society of Chemistry, said:

“Scientific discovery opens fascinating new frontiers, and we are proud to recognise those whose discoveries push the boundaries of knowledge and its application, and motivate others to follow in their footsteps.

“The astonishing achievements of the protein-based lighting team are simply inspirational, and it is our pleasure and honour to recognise this by presenting this much deserved prize.

“In an era defined by the pandemic, where the contribution of chemical scientists has never been more clear, this achievement is truly a cause for celebration.”

The Royal Society of Chemistry’s prizes have recognised excellence in the chemical sciences for more than 150 years. In 2019, the organisation announced the biggest overhaul of this portfolio in its history, designed to better reflect modern science.

Of those to have won a Royal Society of Chemistry Prize, over 50 have gone on to win Nobel Prizes for their pioneering work, including 2019 Nobel laureate John B. Goodenough.

For more information about the RSC’s modern Prizes portfolio, visit

About the Royal Society of Chemistry

We are an international organisation connecting chemical scientists with each other, with other scientists, and with society as a whole. Founded in 1841 and based in London, UK, we have an international membership of over 50,000. We use the surplus from our global publishing and knowledge business to give thousands of chemical scientists the support and resources required to make vital advances in chemical knowledge. We develop, recognise and celebrate professional capabilities, and we bring people together to spark new ideas and new partnerships. We support teachers to inspire future generations of scientists, and we speak up to influence the people making decisions that affect us all. We are a catalyst for the chemistry that enriches our world.