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Plymouth Marine Laboratory wins ‘Innovation’ Award and finalist in ‘Best place to work’

2 December 2022

Plymouth Marine Laboratory winning the 'Innovation' award Plymouth Marine Laboratory came home with two awards from the Western Morning News Business Awards this week: winning the ‘Innovation’ award and a finalist in the ‘Best place to work’ category. 

PXL_20221130_224952144-MP.jpgAbove: The Plymouth Marine Laboratory team collecting the awards. From left to right, Dr James Clark (Marine Ecosystem Modeller), Elaine Fileman (Plankton Ecologist), Julia Davy (Head of Human Resources) and Lesley Nel (Fundraising Officer). 

Innovation award 

The ‘Innovation’ award celebrates ‘new ideas, processes, products, services, technologies and applications that have had an impact on an organisation's success over the past 12 months.’ 

‘Innovation’ is one of Plymouth Marine Laboratory’s seven core values, and it spans all areas of research at the laboratory. At a time when the sustainability of the ocean is under increasing threats from unprecedented and rapid changes, our scientists are committed to harnessing new and innovative ways to evidence and understand the environmental changes taking place and develop novel solutions. 

Take a look at just some of our innovative highlights over the past six months: 

  • Launch of the National Centre for Coastal Autonomy 


Above: HRH Princess Anne officially launching the National Centre for Coastal Autonomy, speaking to Dr James Fishwick (Head of Smart Sound Plymouth and Head of Operations and Technology, Western Channel Observatory) 

In October, we had the honour of HRH Princess Royal visiting PML to launch the National Centre for Coastal Autonomy: the UK’s first autonomous fully integrated coastal observing and monitoring network employs the latest autonomous technologies to drive towards a net zero oceanographic capability, delivering world-leading and cutting-edge science. 

October also saw the opening of the Smart Sound Connect Control Centre, and Smart Sound Connect winning the ‘5G Innovation of the Year’ Award at the 20th Mobile Industry Awards

  • Mussel ‘cages’ deployed in a pilot project to help stem the flow of marine plastic 

In September, we saw the deployment of mussel ‘cages’ at four local estuary sites as part of a trial project to establish how effectively they can remove microplastics from tidal, estuarine waters. Earlier laboratory experiments conducted by the PML team have shown that a cluster of 300 blue mussels (Mytilus edulis) - around 5kg - could filter out over a quarter of a million microplastics per hour. 
  • Major funding boost for advanced monitoring of plankton using AI technology

Above: Dinoflagellates under the microscope by Plankton Ecologist Claire Widdicombe 

Plymouth Marine Laboratory was awarded £651k for its bespoke ‘Automated, in situ Plankton Imaging and Classification System’ (APICS). Designed for remote deployment in the Western Channel Observatory , the new system uses two state-of-the-art submersible devices (an Imaging FlowCytobot and a Plankton Imager) to gather images of plankton at varying sizes that can then be automatically classified using machine learning software.   
This innovative, automated technique will radically improve the frequency, duration and range of plankton monitoring, which is currently carried out manually by scientists in situ, offering a dramatically improved understanding of how environmental changes are affecting plankton, the microscopic organisms at the foundation of the marine food chain which also play a vital role in generating oxygen for the planet.

  • Plans announced for the world’s first long-range autonomous research vessel 


Above: Artist’s impression of the 24-metre autonomous vessel – the Oceanus.  

In July, we revealed plans for the world's first long-range autonomous research vessel – the Oceanus - set to usher in a new era for net zero oceanography and advanced international marine research. The fully uncrewed ‘Oceanus’ has been designed as a self-righting, light-weight, mono-hulled autonomous vessel capable of carrying an array of monitoring sensors to collect data for research into critical areas such as climate change, biodiversity, fisheries and biogeochemistry. 

  • Floating Plastic Litter Detected and Categorised Using Artificial Intelligence (AI) 

Above: AI identifies plastic waste using the vessel-mounted camera 

July also saw news regarding a new AI technique pioneered by scientists at PML that uses images from a vessel-mounted camera to identify different types of marine plastic

Plastic waste is a major part of the global pollution crisis, affecting marine organisms and ecosystems and, in turn, posing a threat to human health. To support efforts to mitigate the issue it is vital that marine plastic can be monitored effectively. 

The Chief Executive of Plymouth Marine Laboratory and PML Applications Professor Icarus Allen commented on the news of the 'Innovation' award win: 

“We are delighted to have won the ‘Innovation’ award at the Western Morning News Business Awards. Plymouth Marine Laboratory have been at the forefront of marine research for almost 50 years, and throughout that time, we have been committed to the delivery of impactful, cutting-edge environmental and social science in support of a healthy and sustainable ocean.” 

Dr James Fishwick (Head of Smart Sound Plymouth and Head of Operations and Technology, Western Channel Observatory) added:

"Innovation is a core value of ours and so it is very pleasing that our innovation has been recognised with this Devon & Cornwall Business Award. PML stays at the forefront of marine research by being an early adopter of cutting edge technologies such as AI and autonomous vessels, and indeed by playing a leading role in developing these game-changing technologies."

"Through our Digital Science Strategy and initiatives such as Smart Sound Plymouth, the National Centre for Coastal Autonomy, and the Artificial Intelligence Service of the NERC Earth Observation Data Acquisition and Analysis Service (hosted here at PML), we are harnessing the power of digital technologies to advance marine science and create novel solutions to global environmental challenges." 

‘Best place to work’ finalist 

The criteria for the ‘best place to work’ was for companies that believe their environment is the best place to work, whether this is through their workplace set up or through a home working system.  

Following the challenges and achievements of a national lockdown with many businesses having to move to a home working model, the WMN Business Awards also considered entries that could demonstrate how they successfully handled the lockdown and the move to working remotely, how they kept in contact with their teams and any new initiatives put in place to help keep their teams engaged and taking pride in their work.  

The judges were interested in how companies establish credibility in terms of vision, communication and co-ordinating activities, how employees are treated with respect and equality, how a company encourages employees to take pride in their work, how the atmosphere created is conducive to a successful team environment and employee's wellbeing and safety.   

Professor Allen commented: 

“It is also fantastic to have been recognised as a finalist in the ‘Best place to work’ category. Plymouth Marine Laboratory is a dynamic, exciting and rewarding place to work, and we pride ourselves on offering high quality roles in a supportive, friendly and inclusive working environment.” 

“Our colleagues are our greatest asset. And we strive to support them as best we can, both personally and professionally. From our wide-ranging employee benefits, to our thriving sports and social club, from our commitment to career development and progression, to our flexible working policy.” 

See Plymouth Marine Laboratory’s career portal here >>