Each year, the Biophysical Reviews journal runs a single competition known as the “Michèle Auger Award for Young Scientists’ Independent Research”. Started in 2020, the award carries out two functions that are important to the journal:

  1. (i)

    The annual award acts as a perpetual memorial for a much admired and well-liked former Editorial Board Member Prof. Michèle Auger (IUPAB 2018),

  2. (ii)

    Helps to recognize the next generation of biophysicists by providing a forum to have their work read and appreciated within the scientific community.

In this section, I would like to explain some of the benefits available to those nominated for the award, the process by which this year’s award was judged, and finally, to announce the winner of this year’s award.

Benefits of entry

The are three main benefits to candidates nominated to the Michele Auger Award for Young Scientists’ Independent Research.

Simple entry process

Entry to the competition is open to any scientist actively engaging in biophysical research who is under 40 years of age at the competition closing date (October 31st). Entry requires nomination (self-nomination or nomination by a respected colleague are both equally fine). After nomination, candidates are asked to submit, via email, pdf copies of a one-page descriptive curriculum vitae and five of their best primary research articles.

Widespread exposure

Irrespective of whether they win or not, each candidate’s c.v. and five best papers are read and evaluated by at least seven members of a judging panel. Each member of the judging panel was approached and recruited in November (after close of entry) with all members of the judging panel being established biophysicists at the senior group leader/senior Professor/Institute Director level. Exposure to this august group has many positive benefits in terms of promoting candidate recognition. It would be fair to say that many/most of the judging panel are active in conference organization and scientific hiring/ recruiting roles. Further to this, the winner of the award receives: A year’s subscription to the journal (courtesy of Springer); an invitation from the journal to publish a single author review article on an aspect of their research work (with the cost of the gold open access option paid for by the journal); and a personal plaque to keep in perpetuity.

Rigorous judging

Many competitions in science, from the poster prize at your local conference, to large national grant competitions, can suffer from a somewhat murky judging process in terms of undefined systems and numbers of assessors. From its very beginning Biophysical Reviews has attempted to obviate such particularities; the process of judging for this year’s award proceeded as follows.

First round

For this year’s Michèle Auger Award for Young Scientists’ Independent Research, we had a record of 25 nominations. Judging these nominations, we had 22 assessors who each evaluated eight candidates from the pool according to the following criteria.

  • No judge had the same set of candidates

  • Each candidate was evaluated by seven or eight judges

  • Each biophysicist judge was nominally assigned as predominantly physicist, predominantly chemist, or predominantly biologist, and each candidate had a proportional representation of each group on their panel.

  • Judges were assigned as male or female, and each candidate had as near as possible an identical gender balance on their assessment panel according to this statistical representation.

  • Judges were asked to provide a score from 1 to 10 for each candidate in their pool across three areas corresponding to independence, research originality and research quality.

Second round

After receiving all judges scores, the top six scoring candidates from the original pool of 25 candidates were sent out for a final round of judging amongst a common panel. This final round of judging ran from March 1st till March 14th and followed identical rules to the original assessment with the exception that judges were asked to score over the range from 7 to 10. The final round of scoring was not prejudiced by the scores from the original pool. All judges were invited to participate in the second round, and we had 11 out of the original 22 taking on this duty. Throughout the process, all judges were kept anonymous to both the candidates and also to each other.

Results

Although the scores were again tight this year, a numerically distinct top candidate was resolved and selected (Fig. 1). This year’s winner is Assoc. Prof. Antonio Benedetto. Originally from Italy, Antonio is an Associate Professor within the School of Physics at University College Dublin. His research focus is primarily concerned with the interaction of ionic liquids with biomolecules and cells, a topic he investigates by employing neutron scattering, atomic force microscopy, and computer simulations. More can be read about Antonio’s research at the website shown in Table 1 (with previous year’s winners are also listed (Zidovska 2020; Alegre-Cebollada 2021; Yanagisawa 2022). The journal congratulates Assoc. Prof. Antonio Benedetto, and we look forward to reading more about his research in the December Issue (Issue 6) of Biophysical Reviews.

Fig. 1
figure 1

Results of the 2023 Michèle Auger Award for Young Scientists’ Independent Research. Ordinal ranking of the nominated candidates with the judges’ scoring presented in the form of an average plus or minus one standard error. Congratulations to this year’s winner—Assoc. Prof. Antonio Benedetto of University College Dublin

Table 1 The 2023 Winner of the “Michele Auger Award for Young Scientists’ Independent Research”

The call for nominations for the 2024 Michèle Auger Award for Young Scientists’ Independent Research will be released in the June Issue (Issue 3) of Biophysical Reviews. Those interested in reading about the details from previous years can consult the following references (Hall 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022a).

Precis of the current issue

The current Issue is a Regular Issue with ten articles in total. Immediately following this Editorial (Hall 2023a) are three additional front matter pieces. The first of these is the latest in the “Biophysical Reviews’ Meet the Editor” series introducing the journal’s Executive Editor from Spain, Prof. Germán Rivas (Rivas 2023). Concentrating on a description of his research career in biomimetic chemistry Germán’s Editorial makes plain his interest in developing in vitro approximations of the biological chemistry occurring in vivo, with a particular focus on that which drives bacterial cell division (Rivas 2023). The second front matter item is the most recent addition to the Biophysical Reviews Editors’ Roundup, a Commentary series which provides an open forum to Editorial Board Members (of any journal with a biophysical focus) to write ~ 300 words describing up to five interesting articles appearing within their journal (Tame et al. 2023). For a look at other articles appearing in this series, the reader is directed to Shearwin et al. (2022); Nagayama et al. (2022); and Olson et al. (2022). Those interested in participating as an author should contact a senior Editor of the journal for more information. The third front matter piece is a Letter to the Editor piece (Finkelstein et al. 2023) providing a slight clarification to the scope of applicability of protein folding simulations presented in a prior publication appearing within the journal (Finkelstein et al. 2022).

The scientific content of the current Issue is constituted by five review articles and one scientific letter. The first of the review articles, submitted as a collaborative effort between groups based in Turkey, Israel, and the USA, is concerned with similarities in aberrant signaling pathways seen between previously thought unrelated diseases of neurodevelopment and cancer (Nussinov et al. 2023). Starting with the empirical observation that those who suffer from certain neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs) (such as autism, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, cerebral palsy, and schizophrenia) are predisposed to certain types of cancer, the authors review commonalities between the disease biology of NDDs and cancer at the level of dysregulation of cell signaling pathways responsible for differentiation (PI3K/mTOR) and proliferation (MAPK). Discussion is made at the level of mutations of protein components within the pathway and isoforms/copy number effects that lead to differential chromatin accessibility (Nussinov et al. 2023).

The second review article, submitted by a group from the Russian Academy of Sciences based in Moscow, is a fascinating examination of the role that the blood brain barrier (BBB) plays in regulating the clearance of the Aβ peptide from the brain interstitial fluid (Petrushanko et al. 2023). First reviewing the often-overlooked roles of the BBB located RAGE and LRP1 receptors in facilitating the respective ingress and egress of the Aβ peptide from the brain blood space, the authors delve further to examine how Aβ oligomer/amyloid damage to the BBB cells can lead to a loss of this vital homeostatic mechanism and promote Alzheimer’s disease development (Petrushanko et al. 2023).

The next review article, a contribution from groups located in India and Singapore, discusses highly sensitive automated methods for virus detection that employ surface enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS) (Lukose et al. 2023). Beginning with an introduction of the Raman effect, the authors go on to review how nanoscale featured surfaces can lead to enhancement of the Raman effect by exploiting constrained evanescent fields. Together with the employment of high-density derivatization of the surface with a suitable capture molecule (such as a monoclonal antibody), such patterned surfaces can be used to screen for virus mutants through a combination of the affinity capture and SERS signal properties (especially when coupled with machine learning signal analysis). Published in the wake of the pandemic, this work may point the way to exploitable technology necessary for dealing with the next virus caused global crisis (Lukose et al. 2023).

The fourth review article from Issue 2 is a collaborative contribution from groups located at three different medical science institutes within Iraq (Alwan et al. 2023). Rooted in the general area of biomaterials useful for reconstructive surgery, the authors review the use of hydrogels in bone tissue repair and engineering. Presenting the different types of hydrogels, they discuss their biocompatibilities, their different capabilities to act as drug conduits and release vehicles, and their mechanical and physical properties. The authors then highlight how these properties may be exploited to treat conditions associated with cartilage injury, skull deformity, and arthritis. Spanning large ranges in size and topic (from chemical interaction and dispersion in solution through to macroscopic mechanical effects), this paper should appeal to many types of biophysicists (Alwan et al. 2023).

Contributed by a group of pharmaceutical researchers from India, the fifth review article within Issue 2 (Banarase et al. 2023) is an interesting examination of both, the general process of mitophagy—the programmed death of damaged mitochondria, and the similarities and differences between mitophagy occurrence in cellular aging, and that occurring in several neurodegenerative diseases (such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases). Given that large cells, like neurons, can contain ~ millions of mitochondria, it is easy to appreciate how defects in mitophagy can lead to the catastrophic uncoupling of mechanisms required for achieving redox homeostasis (Banarase et al. 2023).

Rounding out the Issue is a scientific letter contributed by a scientist based in Austria (Kodirov 2023) who discusses different aspects of the patch clamp method—an electrophysiological procedure capable of inferring differences in conduction at the single ion channel level. Starting with a general outline of the technique, this scientific letter relates different aspects of the experimental setup to both expected and anomalous observations at the level of recorded current and electrochemical potential (Kodirov 2023).

Having provided this short summary of the current Issue’s contents, we round out this Editorial with a short discussion of the pros and cons of writing in both, the formulation of ideas, and in their understanding.

Writing for the formulation of scientific ideas

On a recent science trip, I had discussions with two different professors of computational biophysics about the future of scientific writing. Like all good conversations, the subject of discussion lingered in my thoughts long after I had left. As the topics concerned different aspects of publishing that I thought might be of interest to the readers of the journal, I have described them here in the hope that they might provoke further discussion. I detail these two conversation subjects separately before providing a few thoughts of my own.

  1. (i)

    Machine readable paper formats

The first discussion concerned the format of scientific papers going forward. I raised a general concern that too many papers were being published such that it is becoming literally impossible to read the literature in your field (e.g., see Hall 2022b for a historical discussion). My discussion partner suggested that the results of many papers were contained within “stories” used by the authors as narrative devices. He went on to say that the writing of scientific results in a more streamlined manner, using a limited vocabulary set and standardized sentence construction pattern, would greatly assist in creating a machine readable paper format that could be used to better harvest information with the aid of text analysis and language processing tools, able to produce meta-summaries (Gupta and Lehal 2010; Saggion and Poibeau 2013; Verma et al. 2022). As someone likely guilty of using too many rhetorical flourishes in the writing of my own science papers, I found this suggestion quite confronting. My immediate reaction was that such a requirement would likely mute the enjoyment of writing up scientific results. However, I could also see the potential benefit to a scientific society struggling under the weight of too many (often unread) papers.

  1. (ii)

    Use of AI as a writing assistant

The recent rise of “clever” generative artificial intelligence (AI), such as ChatGPT (OpenAI 2023) able to effectively pass the Turing test (Turing 1950), has posed a number of ethical dilemmas for both academics (Bishop 2023) and academic publishers (Liebrenz et al. 2023). Raising some of these points, my conversational partner mentioned in reply that a potentially more acceptable way to use ChatGPT was to ask it to take pre-written text (by the prospective author) and to use it to change the style to something more suitable for a particular journal. In this way, ChatGPT would become similar to a writing assistant (Pavlik 2023) rather than a generator of original content. Framed in such a way, I had to admit that a lot of time and effort is often spent in rewriting manuscripts (often requiring the help of a native English speaker) and I wondered if this might not be a suitable compromise.

  1. (iii)

    Writing for coherent thought

Here, I offer my own opinion. After reflecting upon these two discussions, I came to the conclusion that the slow process of “non-assisted” writing and draft and format correction were necessary for cogently delineating my own understanding of events and that their role in this process should not be minimized in importance. As an example,  my own most recent scientific paper (Hall 2023b) is admittedly too long, but the writing of such a tome served four roles that I found personally valuable: (i) it acted as a vehicle to first learn, and then write about, the history of yeast epigenetics (i.e. the writing process required that I studied deeply a subject that was/is intensely interesting), (ii) it allowed me to construct a series of arguments (based on observations/results) and to discuss what aspects of the field were, in my opinion, unimportant /important (i.e., add a subjective take on the field), (iii) it slowed my paper production output to a rate at which acquisition of knowledge could influence my writing (a subject perhaps worthy of a separate discussion piece), and (iv) it was enjoyable in the same way that a hobby is, i.e., I actually enjoyed the process of learning, construction and revision. Indeed, if scientists are those who want to know what, how, and why, then perhaps the slow but sure acquisition of knowledge by an author, may be just as important as its rapid dissemination.

So, what are the pros and cons of machine readable constrained writing formats and future potential usage of generative writing assistants for the biophysics field? The Biophysical Reviews journal would like to know your opinion.

Concluding remarks

Biophysical Reviews is the single journal of IUPAB, the International Union for Pure and Applied Biophysics (IUPAB 2023). Possessing a mixture of conventional and philanthropic publishing goals, Biophysical Reviews is a non-typical journal that seeks to be of genuine benefit to all members of the world biophysical community, irrespective of their country of origin. Those interested in submitting an article to Biophysical Reviews should discuss the matter with either the Chief Editor or a close by Executive or Editorial Board Member. More information about the journal is available at its official Springer-Nature website and social media pages on Twitter and YouTube.

Web: https://www.springer.com/journal/12551

Twitter: @BiophysicalRev1.

YouTube:www.youtube.com/channel/UCzG_5MWmnrB2UBibtxs2DuA

After establishing the appropriateness of your suggested topic, a general timetable for the submission of your article (usually about 4 to 6 months following the official invitation) will be arranged in conjunction with the professional officers of the journal.