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Six researchers awarded prize for best doctoral research theses 2019-20

26 November 2020

From remembering the Holocaust to creating an evolutionary timescale of life on earth, six Bristol postgraduates have been awarded the university’s Doctoral Dissertation Prize for the outstanding quality of their research degree theses. Internal and external examiners were invited to nominate suitable theses and one winner was selected from each faculty by members of the Research Degrees Exam Board.

Arts: Dr Chad David McDonald  

Dissertation: Memory Protagonists and the Construction of Holocaust Remembrance in London, 1948–2001. Supervisors: Professor Tim Cole and Professor Tony Kushner 

Chad’s research examines how individual memory agents played key roles in developing remembrance of the Holocaust in postwar Britain from the late 1940s through to the early 2000s. He offers a model for wider memory studies, which moves between the nation state and the individual to consider the dynamic relationship between these scales. 

Engineering: Dr Davide Moltisanti 

Dissertation: Temporal Labelling for Action Recognition in Videos. Supervisors: Dr Dima Damen, Professor Walterio Mayol-Cuevas and Professor Elisabeth Oswald 

Davide's research exposed a fundamental bias in temporal labelling for action understanding in video and proposes a more consistent way inspired by event perception. His thesis also discards such subjective boundary choices and proposes a model that learns from rough single timestamps. The approach was used to label the large-scale dataset EPIC-KITCHENS to which Davide contributed during his PhD. 

Health Sciences: Dr Simon Haworth 

Dissertation: The use of genetic data in dental epidemiology to explore the causes and consequences of caries and periodontitis. Supervisors: Professor Nic Timpson and Professor Steve Thomas 

Simon’s research looked at the impact of genetics on dental diseases. He collaborated with the Swedish leads of the Gene-Lifestyle Interactions and Dental Endpoints (GLIDE) Consortium to lead a series of research projects which used large collections of data on child and adult tooth decay. The findings may help understand the molecular basis of dental diseases. 

Life Sciences: Dr Anna Sales 

Dissertation: Theoretical, Electrophysiological and Optogenetic Interrogation of Locus Coeruleus Contributions to Cognition. Supervisors: Professor Tony Pickering, Professor Matt Jones and Dr Rosalyn Moran 

Anna’s research encompassed a diverse set of projects including a theoretical exploration of the role of noradrenaline in cognitive flexibility, and the experimental characterization of noradrenergic neurons deep in the brainstem. She also collaborated with an academic anaesthetist, helping to develop open-source recording methods in human peripheral nerves, and worked with a visiting Japanese urologist who was making recordings from brainstem neurons that control the bladder – contributing analysis and modelling which enabled the team to propose a new model for the control of voiding. 

Science: Dr Holly Catriona Betts 

Dissertation: Estimating a time scale for the Tree of Life using integrated fossil and genomic methods. Supervisors: Professor Davide Pisani and Professor Phillip Donoghue 

Holly’s research focused on combining genomic and fossil data to recover an evolutionary timescale of cellular life on Earth. Her work included dating LUCA (the last universal common ancestor of cellular life), as well as the origin of the two prokaryotic lineages (Archaea and Bacteria) of life, and the origin of the Eukaryotes: the organisms with complex compartmentalised cells to which, for example, animals plants and Fungi belong.  As part of her studies Holly used genomic information to estimate when in the history of life, this key evolutionary transition happened and provide the first complete, evolutionary timescale of life on Earth.   

Social Sciences & Law: Dr Ciara Anne Merrick 

Dissertation: Breathing Shared World: Northern Ireland, Territory, and Peace. Supervisors: Dr Mark Jackson and Dr Maria Fannin  

Ciara’s thesis, empirically grounded in ostensibly post-conflict Northern Ireland, argues against the normative political assumption that peace is engineered by brokered agreements ending hostilities between fixed identities. Peace, she argues, is not built by absence but is an active transformation respiring in small, brave acts of ordinary relation and everyday processes of extant care within conditions of shared reciprocity.  

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