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2023 Jocelyn Bell Burnell Medal and Prize

Raquel Lopez-Rios de Castro for exceptional contributions to improving the inclusivity and diversity within postgraduate research programmes in the UK while developing multidisciplinary techniques for the design of next-generation anti-cancer therapeutics

Raquel Lopez-Rios de Castro award winner

Raquel Lopez-Rios de Castro is a PhD student in theoretical biophysics at King’s College London (KCL) who has long led and managed initiatives to start conversations between students and academic institutions. She has contributed to identifying students' unmet needs, making research degrees more accessible to students from minority backgrounds, minimizing unconscious biases in PhD programme applications, and making academia, specifically PhD programmes, a more inclusive and diverse environment.

López-Ríos de Castro has been involved in activities to highlight the importance of women in physics since her undergraduate degree. During this time, as part of the Women in Physics (WIP) student organization, she organised academic talks to increase the visibility of female academics (highlighting those from minority backgrounds) and helped organize the 2018 WIP London conference which brought together approximately 100 students within London for talks by female physicists and for workshops about their experience as women in physics departments.

Since the start of her PhD, López-Ríos de Castro has been the student head of the EDI committee of the London Interdisciplinary Doctoral Programme Doctoral Training Partnership, which encompasses seven London universities, including KCL, University College London (UCL) and the Royal Veterinary College (RVC). Within the many initiatives she has led in this role, the 'Food for Thought' events stand out. These events, currently held at KCL, RVC and UCL, are focused on having an open conversation with students about academia on topics including: misconduct reporting procedures, supervisor biases, being part of an underrepresented group in academia and resources for low economic background students. From these conversations, she and other members of the EDI committee wrote a report that was submitted to the UK Research and Innovation New Deal for Postgraduate Research call, where she proposed, for example, a better procedure for students to report academic misconduct/discrimination. Other outcomes of these events include the creation of an online video series called 'A Day in the Life of a PhD Student', which aims to demystify academia, explain what doing a PhD entails and discusses job opportunities, while encouraging minority students to pursue these degrees. Her work has led to further conversations with UCL about implementing other initiatives.

In her research, López-Ríos de Castro is combining molecular-scale simulations with a range of biochemical experimental techniques and fluorescent microscopy to design, synthesise and analyse polymer-based nanoparticles that specifically target cancerous cells. To date, she has contributed to work published in ACS Nano and Communications in Chemistry, two further manuscripts that are under review, and two state-of-the-art Python software packages.