Sheffield Hallam PhD student awarded medal by Health Secretary

11th February 2021

A Sheffield Hallam PhD student has received a letter and medal from Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, in recognition of his efforts in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Rob Tempest initially volunteered at the Alderley Park Lighthouse Laboratory to help test swab samples for the coronavirus testing process, after responding to the Lighthouse Laboratory network’s call for the support of experienced scientists.

The Alderley Park lab is one of six in the UK that make up the network, a key component of the government’s plan to increase testing and tackle the Covid-19 pandemic.

Rob’s PhD studies were impacted by the current Covid-19 restrictions, so he decided to play his part in reducing the spread of the virus by volunteering, commuting from Sheffield to the Alderley Edge lab each day.

He soon progressed from being a laboratory Scientist to taking a Bioscience lead role, overseeing teams of up to ten who work on the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) diagnostic tests.

Rob and his colleagues’ lifesaving work received the attention of the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, who wrote a letter to the laboratory staff and awarded them all a medal in recognition of their contribution to the ongoing fight against Covid-19.

In the letter, Matt Hancock wrote: ‘The importance of testing cannot be overstated. Not only does your work directly save lives, but it also helps to reassure people and keep the country going through what has been, and continues to be, an incredibly challenging time for us all’.

Rob has now gone on to continue his PhD work into researching the link between obesity and bowel cancer and is looking forward to welcoming a baby daughter into his family in the coming months.

Rob said: “As the national lockdown resulted in the closure of the university laboratories for six months, I was keen to put my skills to good use in the fight against Covid-19.

“As a member of the team at Alderley Edge Lighthouse Labs I have been part of the national sample testing effort, working as a Bioscience Lead and supervising groups of scientists performing the PCR diagnostic test.

“This has been an amazing experience, not only in helping facilitate the essential testing required to combat the virus, but in building experience and skills I can take forward in my career."

Dr Catherine Duckett, Postgraduate Research Tutor for the Biomolecular Sciences Research Centre (BMRC) said: “We are not surprised that he got the role and has done well, progressing up the ladder in such a short space of time. In what he has done it collectively showcases what all of our students are capable off”.

Dr Nicholas Peake, a Senior Lecturer in Biomedical Science at Sheffield Hallam University and the director of studies on Rob’s PhD project said: “Rob has previously worked in a commercial laboratory as a bioanalyst and as a laboratory technician and has further enhanced his laboratory skills during his PhD, so he was a natural fit to support the COVID testing program.”

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