Meet our latest gold medallist Manuel Schweikle

Manuel Schweikle was awarded His Majesty the King's Gold Medal for his outstanding PhD thesis focusing on developing mineralised hydrogels for regenerating bone tissue around dental implants. 

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Manuel Schweikle received his King's Gold Medal at the University of Oslo's Annual Celebration. Photo: Manuel Schweikle

Our former PhD student Manuel Schweikle had a lot to celebrate when he was awarded the H.M. King's Gold Medal for his PhD thesis "Characterisation of mineralised synthetic hydrogel scaffolds for bone repair" at the University of Oslo's Annual Celebration last month.

In his PhD thesis, Manuel described the formation, structure, and biological performance of a new type of injectable hydrogel scaffold containing bioactive minerals that supports peri-implant bone regeneration. The results Manuel presented in his thesis demonstrated a simple route to produce self-mineralising synthetic hydrogel bone scaffolds and led to the development of new analysis tools to elucidate the complex calcium phosphate mineral formation and transformation processes within an organic material.

Hard work rarely goes to waste

Despite the overwhelmingly positive feedback on the quality and depth of his PhD research Manuel received from his peers as well as the committee evaluating his PhD thesis and defence, Manuel claims to have been surprised when he received the unexpected news that he had been awarded the H.M. King's Gold Medal. 

- I mean, I just opened an email from someone at university administration congratulating me for being awarded the medal while I was on my way home from work. And this happened more than two years after I had defended my PhD, so it took a little while to sink in. I actually had to read the email twice before I fully understood what it meant. Once I finally realised that I was awarded the King's Gold Medal, I was of course very happy, and I must admit, a little flattered, Manuel explains.

According to the description of the award, the H.M. King's Gold Medal is awarded to "outstanding young researchers" at the University of Oslo whose research represents a significant and important addition to the current state of the art in their field. Not being a person who particularly likes to toot his own horn, Manuel becomes a little bit squirmish when asked what he thinks made his PhD thesis stand out from the rest and what makes his research worthy of this award. 

- This one is a bit tricky to answer... I think what I can say is that I did put a lot to effort in and dedicated a lot energy to doing my PhD research. I always had the ambition to do science that goes beyond the state of the art in my field of research. To actually make something that matters and is somehow meaningful, instead of just trying to meet the minimum requirements for a PhD thesis or for getting my work published. I set my bar much higher than that, Manuel says after some hesitation.

But setting ambitious, yet realistic, objectives for PhD research is often much harder than one might think. Manuel confesses that he went through a phase of disillusionment halfway through his PhD when he felt that the outcome of his work was not living up to his own expectations. But ultimately, it was putting all the individual findings to context that brought him the greatest satisfaction.

- In the end, I was very happy that I managed to publish my results in some of the highest-ranked international journals in the field of biomaterials science, and I actually really enjoyed summarising the results and bringing everything together in my PhD thesis. 

- So hard work and setting your aims high, is that what you would recommend to a young and aspiring scientist hoping to win this award one day?

- Well, hard work will definitely help you get there. Or you just need to be on very good terms with the evaluation committee. Maybe even bribe them, if necessary... Jokes aside, just try to do good research and get your work published in good journals, that's really all there is to it. Even if that doesn't necessarily win you the gold medal, it will still build a solid foundation for your future career in science. 

- Never underestimate the soft skills

Talking about careers in science, we are all interested to know what Manuel has been up to during the two years since finishing his PhD here at the Department of Biomaterials. After spending four years working in our lab, Manuel decided to step out from academia, but he still continues working with hydrogels and tissue engineering with his biotech start-up ClexBio. Apart from gaining the obvious scientific skills needed for developing and testing hydrogels for biomedical application, Manuel has found out that his PhD training has actually prepared him for the life of an entrepreneur better than he expected.

- This might sound a bit cheesy, but I think I gained a lot of extremely useful soft or transferrable skills on top of all the technical skills I developed through my PhD research. I learned a lot about working independently, defining hypotheses and objectives, planning experiments, managing my time, and communicating science. These are all important skills that come in very handy in my everyday work.

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Practicing one of those all-important soft skills: communication. Photo: Florian Weber

Manuel further highlights the importance of soft skills that are transferrable to almost any job a PhD graduate might find themselves in after their studies, and encourages PhD students to focus on obtaining these skills as part of their PhD training. Whether you are going to work in academia or industry, or maybe even end up running your own business in the future, being able to define a strategy, devise a plan, and most importantly, execute this plan are all essential skills that you need to master.

- Without proper time management and prioritisation, I would never get anything done, and without communication, be it written or oral, none of the things I do would have any impact. Interestingly, I have also got a completely new perspective on soft skills as an employer. These are skills that are absolutely crucial in my line of work, but unfortunately, not all PhD graduates excel at them, Manuel continues.

A chain of success

Manuel becomes the latest link in an important chain: his main supervisor Hanna Tiainen received the same award in 2015, while Hanna's main supervisor S. Petter Lyngstadaas was awarded the H.M. King's Gold Medal in 1997. How does it feel to be the one carrying the torch forward to inspire the next generation of young scientists?

- I certainly hope the chain of success keeps growing and my award is not going to be some kind of a dead-end in this series, which I am very proud to be a part of. Petter and Hanna have obviously done a tremendous job in building an environment for doing good science at the Department of Biomaterials. Since I have left academia, I am not sure if I can contribute to this in the same degree, but I am more than happy to do what I can to inspire future young scientists through cross-institutional events and collaborations.

Meeting the King!

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Winning the King's Gold Medal can open many new doors. Including the doors to the Royal Palace. Photo: Florian Weber

Winning this award is by no means a small feat. His Majesty the King's Gold Medal, or Hans Majestet Kongens gullmedalje as it is called in Norwegian, is a very prestigious award with a long tradition, and it even comes with an invitation for a private audience with the King of Norway. An exciting, but at the same time, perhaps a little intimidating opportunity, and definitely not an occasion Manuel intends to miss. Since meeting the king of any country is not an everyday event for the most of us, it is always good to be prepared when the occasion presents itself. So we asked Manuel what he would like to talk about with the King of Norway when he visits His Majesty at the Royal Palace.

- I would be very curious to know what the King thinks about the post-oil Norwegian society and economy. Apart from that, I have heard that the King actually has a quite good sense of humour and I hope I will get to see a tiny snippet of that during my visit, Manuel says. 

- You are not asking for a selfie, then?

- No. I think it would be totally unnecessary anyway. Meeting the King is such a surreal thing to be doing that people will never believe me if I tell them about it, selfies or not. Especially in these days when photoshopping has become almost too easy. 

Well, we at the Biomaterials lab hope that Manuel will have a fun and memorable meeting with the King and will enjoy every bit of that once in a lifetime experience!

Winners of the H.M. King's Gold Medal from the Department of Biomaterials

2021 - Manuel Schweikle
2017 - Anders Verket
2015 - Hanna Tiainen 
2013 - Christiane Petzold
2011 - Sébastien Taxt-Lamolle
1997 - Ståle Petter Lyngstadaas

Tags: Biomaterials, King's gold medal, Kongens gullmedalje, Manuel Schweikle By Hanna Tiainen
Published Oct. 18, 2021 9:52 AM - Last modified Feb. 10, 2022 8:12 PM