Imperial College London

Dr Jana Volaric wins Backer-KNCV prize for best PhD thesis 2022


Dr Jana Volaric's PhD thesis cover

Jana Volaric is honoured to receive the Backer-KNCV prize for the best PhD thesis of 2022

The Backer-KNCV Prize is awarded every year for the best PhD thesis in the field of organic chemistry which was defended in the Netherlands. The committee judges the submitted theses based on scientific quality and relevance, as well as the structure of the thesis.

Before joining the Tate group at Imperial College London, Jana completed her PhD at the University of Groningen in the field of photopharmacology under the guidance of prof. Ben L. Feringa as her first promotor and prof. Wiktor Szymanski as the co-promotor. In her thesis titled "Water-soluble Azobenzene Photowitches for Controlling Biological Systems" she describes the design and synthesis of azobenzene photoswitches, and their application to control various biological systems, such as cell-destroying biological toxins or to manipulate aggregation of peptides involved in neurodegenerative disease.  

The major challenges for the application of photoswitches in a biological setting is their insolubility in water, the fact that the aqueous environment often has a negative impact on the properties of the photoswitch and that many known photoswitches respond to UV light which is damaging to tissue. Those challenges have inspired great efforts to redesign the photoswitch molecules to fully respond to exclusively visible light while also featuring water solubility, thus bringing them one step closer towards applications in living organisms.

Additionally, Jana designed her own PhD thesis cover by making a compilation of her own paintings which she made during her PhD.

Jana will attend the two-day National symposium in Lunteren (, the Netherlands 30-31st March where she will give a talk about her work and receive the official prize.

Congratulations Jana!


Edward Bartlett

Edward Bartlett
Department of Chemistry