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Research Excellence Awards

The Open University (OU) Research Excellence Awards recognise outstanding research and celebrate achievement within the OU research environment.

They began in 2018, followed by a special 2019 programme which featured a 50th Anniversary Prize.

More than 250 OU staff, students, funders and partners came together in London in September 2022 to celebrate the latest edition of the awards.

During a glittering evening at the De Vere Grand Connaught Rooms in Covent Garden, The OU presented awards spanning 12 categories:

Outstanding Research Project



Environmental Sustainability Award



Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Award



Best External Collaboration and Knowledge Exchange



Outstanding Impact on Research on Society and Prosperity



Outstanding Impact on Research on Teaching, Curriculum and Students


  • The Gas Cell Project team


COVID-19 Award



  • Dr Amber Fensham-Smith
    For leading The Open University’s support for home learning during lockdown
  • Professor Harith Alani and team
    For research into COVID-19 related behavioural dynamics, misinformation spread and supply chain disruption

Early Career Researcher



Best Research Support Team



PGR Student Award



Outstanding Supervisor Award

Joint winners:


Best Technician/Technical Team of the year


  • Dr Simona Nicoara


Watch videos of the 2022 winners

People’s Choice Award 2022

Open University research is helping shape a more equal society and transform the future of people’s lives on this planet.

In 2022, we shortlisted four remarkable projects for the People’s Choice Award and invited the public to vote for the project that most inspires them.

We were very pleased to announce that Dr Margaret Ebubedike and Dr Saraswati Dawadi's vital research improving the lives of human trafficking survivors received the highest number of votes to win the People’s Choice award.

Watch the individual project videos below.

How can we empower victims of human trafficking?

Dr Margaret Ebubedike and Dr Saraswati Dawadi are conducting vital research into improving the lives of human trafficking survivors. This research is already empowering marginalised communities in Nepal and Nigeria through the latest technology-enhanced education. It’s about empowering victims of sex trafficking by giving them the support and skills to help themselves and others.

Lily Cole: Every year, 800,000 people are trafficked across national borders, 63% of which are women and girls trafficked specifically for sexual exploitation.

Here at The Open University, Dr Saraswati Dawadi is conducting vital research into improving the lives of human trafficking survivors. This research is already empowering marginalised communities in Nepal and Nigeria.

Dr Saraswati Dawadi: We are trying to empower the girl victims of human trafficking. Because in Nepal 54 girls are trafficked to India every single day.

We feel like if we want to support the girl survivors of human trafficking, we have to work not only with the girls, but also with the community people, but also with the family members.

Lily Cole: So is a big part of your work interviewing survivors and speaking with survivors to try and feed their voices into the research?

Dr Saraswati Dawadi: Yes, I mean, last year I collected data from Nepal and Nigeria, and I have collected heart-wrenching stories.

One of our key findings is that the support mechanism available for the girl survivors of human-trafficking in developing countries has not been very effective because they are following just a top-down approach. They don’t try to listen to the voices of the victims, actually, the young girls who have become a victim of human trafficking.

Lily Cole: Are there any kind of solution you’ve identified to try and reduce the amount of human trafficking that’s happening?

Dr Saraswati Dawadi: So we are trying our best to listen to the voices of the girl victims of human trafficking.

And then we are trying to provide the right kind of training to them. In the way, we are preparing them for future so that they can contribute to supporting other girls who have become the victim of human trafficking. So we are focusing on need-base support.

Lily Cole: Dr Sarasvati’s research is part of The Open University’s Social Justice mission. It’s having a real impact on these women’s life today and also creating a sustainable change for the future.

If you would like to find out more about research projects or courses at The Open University, go to

How can we extract water from the moon?

Professor Mahesh Anand and his team are conducting pioneering research into extracting water and its component hydrogen and oxygen molecules from lunar rock, paving the way for humans to live on the Moon. Back on Earth, the technology could provide clean drinking water in drought areas and even extract water and rare metals, such as lithium, from mine waste.

Lily Cole: For thousands of years, humans have looked at the skies with curiosity staring at the stars and planets above. I’m here at The Open University to meet someone who’s dedicated his life to the Moon.

Professor Mahesh Anand and his team are conduction pioneering research into extracting water from lunar rock. Technology that could have huge implications for dealing with droughts on Earth.

Professor Mahesh Anand: Our research here at The Open University is focused on the topic of water on the Moon.

Water is a key resource for supporting human exploration of the solar system. And therefore, our focus has been to understand how much water how much water is actually present on the lunar surface because the recent evidence has suggested that there might be a lot of water at the lunar poles, as well as potentially water can be extracted from the actual lunar rocks themselves.

Lily Cole: I’m fascinated by the way in which are thinking about applying this technology terrestrially, if I understand it, in the regions of drought. Can you maybe speak about your hopes for what this research and technology might mean for living on Earth?

Professor Mahesh Anand: So something that’s quite fascinating about space exploration, is that it actually forces you to challenge your comfort zone. So you have to go out of your comfort zone to actually come up with new and innovative solutions. In this case, we are trying to develop the technology that could one day be extracting water from the actual lunar samples. But the point is that in order to extract that water, you need to develop those technologies that we have not thought about before.

The hope is that one day we will find a direct application here on Earth to improve the quality of life for fellow human beings.

Lily Cole: Professor Mahesh‘s work is cosmic and inspiring. His team are working with NASA and some of the top scientists around the word. What really excites me about their research is the way in which it might help solve some of the greatest sustainability challenges we have here on Earth.

If you would like to find out more about research projects or courses at The Open University, go to

How can we age well, and what does that mean?

Dr Jitka Vseteckova’s future-facing research into the ageing process has led her to develop five pillars of good health and longevity to help people live well. She shares her research through a series of talks in the community to encourage people to take responsibility for their own ageing.

Lily Cole: With advances in modern medicine, our life expectancy is increasing. But how we can age well? And what does that even mean?

Dr Jitka Vseteckova’s research into the ageing process, has led her to develop five pillars of good health and longevity. She shares her research through talks in the community to encourage and empower people to take responsibility for their own ageing process.

Dr Jitka Vseteckova: I research ageing and I lead ‘Ageing Well’ public talks here at The Open University. The talks are structured around the five pillars for ageing well: nutrition, hydration, physical activity, social and cognitive stimulation.

Lily Cole: How much do you think we can influence the way in which we age?

Dr Jitka Vseteckova: So it’s not one thing that will make us age well, it will be a combination of things that are the right things for us. This is where our ownership of our health care is so important, because we can only tell our doctor how we feel, how the medication they prescribe make us feel.

So then they can really help us to get well, get better, and stay well and age well.

Lily Cole: I read about the impact of social dynamics and community for ageing, which I found really kind of surprising and eye-opening.

Dr Jitka Vseteckova: Our brain fires up hugely and much more when we see people in person than when we, for example, see them online on a screen. So human connections are much more than just an image. It’s a smell, it’s chemistry that we sometimes don’t even understand, but all that fires our brain, and when brain get stimulated, it’s likely to function better for longer.

Lily Cole: When people discover the five pillars of aging well, what would you think surprises people the most?

Dr Jitka Vseteckova: It’s hydration. When we are dehydrated, our body doesn’t perform optimally.

Lily Cole: How many people have been coming to your talks and engaging with this research?

Dr Jitka Vseteckova: So since we started here at the OU, actually here in the library in September 2019, we’ve had over 35,000 people engaging with the talks, with the recorded materials and with accompanying materials such as Open Learn articles that we could produce with colleagues and people with lived experience.

Lily Cole: Dr Jitka’s work is full of surprises. So remember, drink lots of water and make lots of friends!

If you would like to find out more about research projects or courses at The Open University, go to

How can we improve teacher training in India?

Dr Simon Cross and a team of academics, working with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai, are researching how digital technology can be used to effectively deliver teacher training at scale in India and beyond.

Lily Cole: How do you deliver and improve upon education on a vast scale? India has a population of 1.4 billion people, 350 million of which are children. And whilst everyone agrees education is really important, there is huge variation in the quality of education that can be offered across the country.

Simon Cross and a team of academics working with Tata Institute of Social Science in Mumbai are researching how teacher training can be improved at scale by using digital technology in India and beyond.

Dr Simon Cross: There are so many millions of teachers in India and delivering teacher professional development to them every year is a great challenge. So our research focus has been on how to use educational technology and learning approaches to better support teachers in improving their classroom practice and pupil outcomes. In particular we’ve been interested in using digital badges.

Lily Cole: And what is a digital badge if you were explaining to someone for the first time?

Dr Simon Cross: The digital badge is essentially a graphic or a symbol which is hyperlinked to information, which explains what the person did to earn that badge. Not only can we deploy them at scale, but it also means teachers can collect and shared them digitally as well.

So there was an overwhelmingly positive response from teachers. Not only did they engage with the learning materials and with the assessment linked to the badges, but they took great pride in receiving the badges. They also showed great interest in us rolling this out further across the state and we are already beginning to see signs of this being adapted by other regions.

Lily Cole: We all know how important education is to achieve different social and environmental goals, such as UNESCO’s sustainable development goal. We don’t often consider teachers training which is why this research is so important.

If you would like to find out more about research projects or courses at The Open University, go to

If you have any questions about the process, email the Research Excellence Awards team.