FIVE Liverpool researchers awarded UKRI Future Leaders Fellowships

Top row: Dr Joshua Dean and Dr Edward Hardy. Bottom row: Dr Caitlin Robinson, Dr Vicencio Oostra and Dr Esther Garcia-Tunon.

FIVE researchers from the University of Liverpool have been awarded prestigious UKRI-funded Future Leaders Fellowships, totalling £5.5 million in funding, in the latest round of the flagship programme announced today by Science Minister Amanda Solloway.

The highly competitive Future Leaders Fellowship scheme is designed to tackle major research challenges and support the research and innovation leaders of the future.

The five awards have been made in the fields of 3D printing, evolutionary biology, environmental sciences, theoretical physics and urban analytics.

Dr Esther Garcia-Tunon, from the School of Engineering, aims to expand the range of materials and structures that can be produced using 3D printing. 3D printing can already produce a range of materials to create printed batteries, supercapacitors, components of human organs and even shape-changing 4D printed structures. Dr Garcia-Tunon’s research will advance this technology to create multi-material structures, with applications in both healthcare and energy.

Dr Vicencio Oostra, an evolutionary biologist in the Institute of Infection, Veterinary and Ecological Sciences  is leading a project to help identify species that are most at risk from climate change and to find out what determines their ability to adapt. Dr Oostra’s research will bring together developmental, evolutionary, and ecological analytical methods, including DNA sequencing and genetics, to investigate and predict what enables a species to rapidly adapt to a changing environment. This information will prove invaluable when modelling resilience to climate change.

Dr Edward Hardy, a theoretical physicist with the Department of Mathematical Sciences, will analyse the properties of possible new light particles. Such particles could be dark matter, the mysterious substance that accounts for five times as much of the Universe’s energy as normal matter but which has never been directly detected. By predicting the mass of new light particles, his work will enable a concurrent new UK experimental programme searching for dark matter using quantum sensors to target their efforts, increasing the chance of a discovery.  This research will develop our understanding of the Universe and will strengthen a field that will lead to significant development in ultra-low noise sensor technology, with spinoff applications ranging from space based Earth observation to quantum computing.

Two researchers from the University’s Department of Geography & Planning have also been awarded UKRI Future Leader Fellowships.

Dr Joshua Dean will use urban waterways, such as canals and rivers, to work out how to measure, map the origins of, and reduce methane emissions. Methane is a greenhouse gas 86 times more potent than CO2, and more than half of methane emissions come from human activity. Part of the research will involve mapping how urban waterways deliver methane into the atmosphere, for example through leaking gas pipes, and how microbes within the water might be used to rapidly oxidise leaking methane before it reaches the atmosphere.

Dr Caitlin Robinson will lead a project to develop a framework for understanding and modelling inequalities in the ambient environment within cities. This will include mapping vulnerability to changes in temperature, air pollution, and humidity, and will consider how these disproportionately affect specific urban areas and populations. Dr Robinson’s work will unify these various factors into one overarching framework for the first time, giving policymakers the tools they need to deal with them effectively.

Professor Anthony Hollander, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research & Impact, said: “I am delighted that the University has been so successful in this round of UKRI Future Leaders Fellowships with five more researchers recognised for their outstanding work and their potential as future research leaders.

“The support available through this prestigious Fellowship scheme will enable them to take forward transformative new ideas in their chosen fields and conduct research that addresses global challenges and has significant impact on our society.”

Science Minister Amanda Solloway said: “The North West is a hive of innovation – home to everything from pioneering research on artificial intelligence to the latest advances in tropical medicine. Backed with £5.5 million of Government funding, these fantastic projects at the University of Liverpool, whether that’s climate modelling or exploring the potential of 3D printing, will continue that proud tradition.

“We are putting science and innovation at the heart of our efforts to build back better from COVID-19, empowering our scientific leaders of tomorrow to drive forward game-changing research and helping to secure the UK’s status as a global science superpower.”

UKRI Chief Executive, Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, said: “I am delighted that UKRI is able to support the next generation of research and innovation leaders through our Future Leaders Fellowship programme.

“The new Fellows announced today will have the support and freedom they need to pursue their research and innovation ideas, delivering new knowledge and understanding and tackling some of the greatest challenges of our time.”

A total of 97 Future Leaders Fellowships, backed with £97 million Government investment, were announced today Wednesday, 8 September 2021.