Professor Jason Swedlow, member of The Wellcome Trust Centre for Gene Regulation and Expression in the College of Life Sciences and his software development team, were named “Innovator of the Year 2011” for their work on the Open Microscopy Environment (OME) – a revolutionary venture into open source software.

The ethos of OME is “share and share alike”. With this approach Jason and colleagues are rapidly catalysing the path of discovery for all bioscience researchers who generate and use imaging technology as part of their work. This includes research to identify biological structures, examine animal behaviour, monitor the mechanism of action of a new drug, or any of a great number of applications of imaging in science.

As an open source, community-led consortium, OME is now the leading provider of software solutions for biological image management. Central to their success has been the development and uptake of a standard image format that can be used across a range of different microscopy platforms and allow researchers to share data in an open image data repository.

The judges’ view was that the impact of OME was of remarkably wide benefit due to the flexibility and openness of the approach. The business model is very clever and allows for open source software development – as in, for example, Linux, Java, and Mozilla’s internet browser, Firefox – and at the same time commercial opportunities are possible by licensing platforms based on the software. Two such platforms from OME are Bio-Formats and OMERO. In this way there are both economic and social impacts from the work.

Jason Swedlow said, “It is a great honour to accept this award. Our vision has always been to create a global standard for imaging software and the community that has grown up around the open source development is extraordinary. In reality I am receiving this award on behalf of a large group of extremely talented people who share a common commitment to innovation through teamwork, collaboration and the process of creating something new and exciting as a community. The support we have received from BBSRC, as well as the Wellcome Trust, during the early stages of the research has been invaluable.”

Professor Swedlow also won the category prize for Social Innovator of the Year. He receives a £10,000 award as Innovator of the Year.

Jason received his two awards from Mr David Willets, Minister of State for Universities and Science, at the same event in London where the College of Life Sciences won the ‘Greatest Delivery of Impact’ award in the BBSRCs national Excellence with Impact Competition.

About BBSRC Impact Awards

Innovator of the Year and the Excellence with Impact awards recognise individual and institutional commitment to realising the social and economic potential of excellent research.

Innovator of the Year has been awarded twice previously, in 2009 and 2010. Prize money in 2011 totals £20,000 with two category winners receiving £5,000 and one category winner who is also awarded the title of Innovator of the Year (i.e. Jason Swedlow) receiving £10,000. The award is to be spent at the winner’s discretion to support their research, training or other activities promoting economic or social impact, providing it falls within BBSRC’s sphere of interest.

Image copyright Andrew Davis, John Innes Centre