The Alex Mischenko Prize is awarded annually following the Conference on Everything to the student who has presented the best poster. The winner will receive a gift (usually a financial reward and a bottle of wine) and will have their name engraved upon the prize plaque. This is normally kept on display in the Sandy Ashmore Room for everyone to admire.
The prize is named as a tribute to a former PhD student. Alex sadly died in 2007. He was well liked and embodied much of what we strive for as students in Churchill, excelling academically whilst still playing an active role within the College community.
Alex (Sasha to his family) joined Churchill in 2003 to study for a PhD in materials science. He was born in Kazakhstan, and had previously graduated from the Lomonosov Moscow State University. In Cambridge he studied the electrocalorific effect and its application for cooling. His thesis was entitled “On-Chip Cooling and Power Generation”. In 2006 some of this work was published in Science. The same year he was awarded Science Graduate of the Year by the Royal Institution and L’Oréal. He went on to complete his thesis (well within his three years of funding) and passed his viva with no corrections. Both are achievements to be envied by many PhD students. In October 2006 he was elected to be a Junior Research Fellow at Trinity College. He also won the 2006/7 Ted Perry Award from the Institute of Refrigeration.
Despite having his thesis approved, Alex never made it to graduation. Therefore, he never had his degree conferred. However, he was still a doctor. Whilst studying at Cambridge, he also completed a second doctorate at Moscow State University in his spare time. This was unrelated to his work here, and was entitled: “Magnetic phase transitions in nanostructured transition metals in strong magnetic fields”.
Alex was not just involved in the academic pursuits, but was also involved within the social side of the MCR. He was a member of the MCR Committee, serving as Equipment Officer. He was also well known for having a repertoire of interesting party games. These proved entertaining during Freshers’ week activities.
The illuminating case of the Oxford motto
In addition to the previous winners of the prize, there is also something else engraved upon the plaque: “Dominus illuminatio mea”. This is the the opening of Psalm 27, and translates as “The Lord is my light”. It also happens to be the motto of a lesser institution.
The plaque was stolen by some opportunistic pranksters during the Michaelmas Guest Night of 2009. We were concerned that the prize would be lost forever; however, it did make its way safely back. The prize was thrust upon an unsuspecting Churchill undergrad during the Varsity Rugby Match at Twickenham (Cambridge won). They passed it along to the JCR President, who returned it to the MCR President. The prize came back with a souvenir of its adventure: the engraving of the motto. It was decided by the MCR Committee to keep this addition, as it makes for an interesting history, and it is felt that the cumulative sum of all of Oxford’s achievements over the past 900 years probably about justifies them to be awarded the Alex Mischenko Prize… once… assuming that we round up.
The plaque is now always safely locked away before a Guest Night.