Next round of Future Leaders Fellowships announced

Group of students in discussion at table, from above

Nearly 100 of the UK’s future research and innovation leaders will benefit from a £113 million cash boost to help commercialise their innovations.

Ninety-seven of the UK’s most promising science and research leaders will receive £113 million of funding, Science Minister Amanda Solloway has announced today.

Four-legged robots assisting British farmers and new therapy to treat Crohn’s disease are among nearly 100 cutting edge projects benefitting from the government cash injection.

Projects supported include robotics supporting British farmers, new therapies to tackle chronic illnesses and unlocking the secrets of naturally occurring batteries.

This follows the publication of the recent Innovation Strategy to turn world-leading research into new products and services.

This investment will help bring their innovative ideas from lab to market and provide bold solutions to tackle major global issues ranging from climate change to chronic disease.

Innovators for the future

Among the UK’s future scientific leaders announced today is Dr Dimitrios Kanoulas at University College London (UCL). He will lead the RoboHike project, giving autonomous four-legged robots the ability to navigate through difficult terrain, including construction and agriculture, as well as at the scene of natural disasters. This will enable fast, robust, and reliable navigation in situations where timely delivery of services and emergency aid is essential.

Another project, led by Dr Yujiang Wang at Newcastle University will use long-term brain recordings, combined with wearable environmental sensors, to capture and analyse fluctuations in epileptic seizures. Its aim is to gain a better understanding of how seizure activity and severity varies case by case. The project will enable Wang’s team to forecast the severity of upcoming seizures for individual patients, as well as developing future treatments that may reduce their severity.

The investment is delivered through UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) flagship Future Leaders Fellowships scheme, which aims to establish the careers of the next generation of world-class British scientists. It will enable researchers at universities and businesses to progress their studies quickly by funding essential equipment and paying for researcher wages.

Pursuing new research and innovation ideas

Science Minister Amanda Solloway said:

We are putting science and innovation at the heart of our efforts to build back better from the pandemic, empowering our scientific leaders of tomorrow to drive forward game-changing research that could improve all our lives and boost the UK economy.

Supported by £113 million, the Future Leaders Fellowships will equip our most inventive scientists and researchers across the country with the tools to develop and bring their innovations to market quickly, all while 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.

The government has committed over £900 million to its Future Leader Fellowship initiative over three years. The projects will be an important part of the government’s ambition to cement the UK’s status as a global leader in science, research and innovation, outlined in July’s Innovation Strategy.

Today’s funding forms part of the government’s commitment to increase public spending in research and development by £22 billion by 2024 to 2025. This aims to put the UK on track to reach 2.4% of GDP being spent on research and development across the UK economy by 2027.

Further projects announced today

Other projects announced today include the following:

Dr Jeffrey Howard, University College London

Dr Howard will investigate the ethics of content moderation by social media platforms and the limits of free speech online. His multidisciplinary team will use this investigative research to produce a major policy report, an educational podcast, and a curriculum promoting good online citizenship. This will help to generate the guidance that the general public, companies, and policymakers need to combat harmful speech on social media

Dr Emily Draper, The University of Glasgow

Dr Draper will lead a project to develop organic materials to replace environmentally damaging and expensive metals in everyday smart devices such as tablets and smartphones. Today, new environmentally friendly materials are often discovered by chance and then a use is found for them. Dr Draper’s research aims to produce a predictive model that will allow organic materials to be developed to suit an intended purpose

Dr Obinna Ubah, Elasmogen Ltd

Dr Ubah will lead a project to deliver a new type of therapy that overcomes the limitations of traditional antibody therapies currently used to treat autoimmune diseases, like arthritis and Crohn’s disease.

Unlike antibody therapies, the new drugs developed by Dr Ubah will be capable of being used to treat more than one kind of disease, will not require an injection, and will not themselves trigger an adverse immune response. This means they will be able to be used for a much longer period than antibody therapies to treat serious autoimmune diseases

Dr James Byrne, The University of Bristol

Dr Byrne aims to understand how iron-containing minerals found in the ground can act like natural batteries – known as biogeobatteries. Dr Byrne’s project will investigate how bacteria use these batteries to generate and store energy. It is hoped this work will help us to address the challenges of today’s energy storage demands and build a more sustainable future

Dr Viktoria Spaiser, The University of Leeds

Dr Spaiser will investigate how new social norms can trigger and accelerate social change (change in policies, institutions, behaviours) in response to the climate crisis. As part of this research, she will investigate the effectiveness of new norms advanced by recent global climate protests, such as Fridays For Futures and how political psychology mechanisms can be harnessed for an empowering and adequate climate action mobilisation.

Dr Joshua Dean, The University of Liverpool

Dr Dean is leading a project that will use urban waterways, such as canals and rivers, to work out how to measure and 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

Dr Rebecca Phythian, Edge Hill University

Dr Phythian seeks to assess how information can be effectively exchanged between law enforcement agencies globally by identifying the crucial underlying factors, specifically in relation to serious organised crime, human trafficking and modern slavery investigations.

Dr Uche Okpara, The University of Greenwich

Dr Okpara will build an interdisciplinary team to work on peace and prosperity in the Lake Chad region in Africa, which is vulnerable to the related risks of conflict and climate change. He will establish local Citizens Labs and a Conflict and Environment Observatory to deepen public understanding of ways to achieve climate-friendly peace and prosperity in the region.

Further information

The Future Leaders Fellowships scheme, run by UKRI, helps universities and businesses in the UK recruit, develop and retain the world’s best researchers and innovators, regardless of their background. Each fellowship will last four to seven years.

Top image:  Credit: Getty

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