75 new Future Leaders Fellows and upcoming rounds announced

75 of the most promising research leaders will benefit from £101 million to tackle major global issues and to commercialise their innovations in the UK.

Additionally, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) is confirming two additional upcoming rounds of over £100 million each, with deadlines expected in summer 2024 and 2025.

A pre-announcement for round nine will be published in the coming weeks.

Innovators for the future

UKRI’s flagship Future Leaders Fellowships allow universities and businesses to develop their most talented early career researchers and innovators and to attract new people to their organisations, including from overseas.

The cutting-edge projects supported by these awards include:

  • research to understand how galaxies are shaped by galaxy clusters
  • studying how social media is affecting the mental health of adolescence
  • models of lactation to support mothers with low-milk production
  • computational statistical methods to tackle modern slavery

Supporting children

Among the future scientific leaders announced today is Dr Louise Marryat at University of Dundee.

Dr Marryat will lead research to explore the impact of exposure to illicit and prescription opioids on child and adolescent development.

Working in partnership with women who use opioids, this project will use routinely collected data, such as hospital records, from multiple countries.

Dr Marryat will then investigate developmental pathways of children exposed to opioids in pregnancy.

The project findings will enable clinicians and women to make informed decisions about care, and support to children to fulfil their potential across the life course.

Producing new technologies and methods

Another project is led by Dr Tom Mitchell at the University of the West of England who will lead on the development of a radical new approach to digital musical instrument design.

Current digital musical instruments are highly constrained by their internal sensing technologies.

This research will explore an alternative ‘outside-in’ approach, which blends high-fidelity wearable technology and leading-edge manufacturing methods.

This research will produce new technologies and methods that will invite broader participation in the development of new musical instruments and future visions of musicianship.

Freedom to explore adventurous new ideas

UKRI Chief Executive, Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, said:

UKRI’s Future Leaders Fellowships provide researchers and innovators with long-term support and training, giving them the freedom to explore adventurous new ideas, and to build dynamic careers that break down the boundaries between sectors and disciplines.

The fellows announced today illustrate how this scheme empowers talented researchers and innovators to build the diverse and connected research and innovation system we need to shorten the distance between discovery and prosperity across the UK.

Projects announced today

Some of the projects announced today include:

Dr Michael Mangan, Opteran Technology Ltd

Michael Mangan’s fellowship aims to bring safe and efficient robots to market by reverse engineering how insect brains work.

Current robots remain too unreliable and too costly to be deployed widely, such as in our homes.

The Brain Beats Brawn project will take a radically new approach.

This will involve reverse engineering the sensing and processing algorithms that insects use to expertly navigate complex environments across conditions, with a brain the size of a pinhead.

Michael’s team will apply methods from neuroscience, computer science, and robotics.

This will allow them to understand key circuits in insect brains that underpin robust autonomy, before deploying algorithms in the next generation of robots that use natural, not artificial, intelligence.

Dr Hana D’Souza, Cardiff University

Dr D’Souza will lead a project to better understand how attentional and motor difficulties limit the learning opportunities of young children.

These are common in early development across a range of neurodevelopmental conditions (including Down syndrome, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and autism).

Families and professionals working with children worry that the difficulties many young children have with focusing their attention and moving their bodies affects how they learn.

Her project will use cutting-edge technology to better understand how these difficulties impact learning during the crucial first years of life.

Working with families and professionals, she will create tools and improve support for the children’s development and their quality of life.

Dr Yannick Bahé, Liverpool John Moores University

Dr Bahé will lead research to understand how galaxies are shaped by galaxy clusters, the most extreme cosmic environment.

It has long been observed that galaxies in these clusters differ strikingly from those in other cosmic regions.

However, how these differences originate and what they tell us about the physics of galaxy formation has so far remained obscure.

This project will develop advanced hydrodynamic simulations to solve this problem.

They will provide a tool to interpret upcoming observations of these systems with the world’s most powerful telescope, learning critical new insight into the formation of clusters and their galaxies.

Dr Amy Orben, University of Cambridge

Dr Orben will pinpoint how social media use might be linked to mental health risk in teenagers, a time when we are especially susceptible to developing mental health conditions.

She will use a range of innovative techniques to study technological designs.

These designs include the quantification of social feedback through ‘like’ counts, which could be problematic and therefore a target for future regulation.

Through this project Dr Orben will also collaborate flexibly with youth, policymakers, and charities.

This will enable pressing questions about social media and technology to be swiftly addressed, helping safeguard young people from the moment her fellowship starts.

Dr Alecia-Jane Twigger, University of Cambridge

Dr Twigger will lead on a project leveraging cells in milk to determine the molecular underpinnings of human lactation.

Breastfeeding has been highlighted by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “one of the most effective ways to ensure child health and survival”.

A major priority of the WHO is to increase the global rate of exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months up to at least 50% by 2025.

However, many mothers worry about low milk production, a major driver for mothers switching to formula feeding.

Dr Twigger will establish state-of-the-art models of lactation with the aim of developing and trialling treatments to support mothers with low-milk production in partnership with breastfeeding advocates and clinical stakeholders.

Dr Rowland Seymour, University of Birmingham

Dr Seymour will lead a project revolutionising modern slavery research by developing new computational statistical methods.

His team will aim to provide better estimates for the prevalence of modern slavery.

This project will ultimately help to save and improve the lives of those at risk of modern slavery by:

  • working with policymakers at local, national and international levels
  • using the latest statistical research to record incidents of modern slavery at a granularity not possible before

Further information

Future Leaders Fellows

Full list of Future Leaders Fellows and their institutions:

  • Rhianne Jones, BBC
  • Lucia Corsini, Brunel University London
  • Cynthia Sandor, Cardiff University
  • Hana D’Souza, Cardiff University
  • Renata Jurkowska, Cardiff University
  • Dean D’Souza, City, University of London
  • Sara Heitlinger, City, University of London
  • Francesca Fragkoudi, Durham University
  • Hannah Williams, Durham University
  • Anna Hadjihambi, Foundation for Liver Research
  • Calum Ross, Heriot-Watt University
  • Chao Wu, Imperial College London
  • Lucy Thorne, Imperial College London
  • Martin Archer, Imperial College London
  • Sofya Shahab, Institute of Development Studies
  • Michael Webster, John Innes Centre
  • Antonio Elia Forte, King’s College London
  • Cinzia Imberti, King’s College London
  • Tom Matthews, King’s College London
  • Hannah Stewart, Lancaster University
  • Yannick Bahe, Liverpool John Moores University
  • Rosalind Eggo, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
  • Haitao He, Loughborough University
  • Naëmi Leo, Loughborough University
  • Anna Lichtschlag, National Oceanography Centre
  • Rory Steven, National Physical Laboratory
  • Claudia Soares, Newcastle University
  • Michael Mangan, Opteran Technologies Ltd
  • Laura Nolan, Quadram Institute Bioscience
  • Hossein Heidari, Queen Mary University of London
  • Tarek Anous, Queen Mary University of London
  • Alice Bullas, Sheffield Hallam University
  • Paul Iacomi, Surface Measurement Systems
  • Helen Chadwick, Swansea University
  • Madhvi Menon, The University of Manchester
  • Thomas Day Goodacre, The University of Manchester
  • Christina Anderson, University College London
  • Emily Kostas, University College London
  • Jonathan Patrick Hugh Fisher, University College London
  • Lucy van Dorp, University College London
  • Min Pan, University of Bath
  • Annelies Mortier, University of Birmingham
  • Maria Chiara Arno, University of Birmingham
  • Rowland Seymour, University of Birmingham
  • Filipe França, University of Bristol
  • Paul Hufe, University of Bristol
  • Alecia-Jane Twigger, University of Cambridge
  • Amy Orben, University of Cambridge
  • Anna Moore, University of Cambridge
  • Niamh Gallagher, University of Cambridge
  • Louise Marryat, University of Dundee
  • Sofia Ferreira-Gonzalez, The University of Edinburgh
  • Jennifer Hoyal Cuthill, University of Essex
  • Bryony Onciul, University of Exeter
  • Katy Sheen, University of Exeter
  • Kyle Wedgwood, University of Exeter
  • Joy Hannah Farnaby, University of Glasgow
  • Rhys Crilley, University of Glasgow
  • Fiorella Picchioni, University of Greenwich
  • Jessica Baker, University of Leeds
  • Josie South, University of Leeds
  • Mark Evan Hopkins, University of Leeds
  • Robert Parker, University of Leicester
  • Joanne Cormac, University of Nottingham
  • Peter Harvey, University of Nottingham
  • Tammy Tong, University of Oxford
  • Thomas Darton, The University of Sheffield
  • Vasu Siddeswara Kalangi, University of Surrey
  • Charlotte Rae, University of Sussex
  • Donal Brown, University of Sussex
  • Thomas Mitchell, University of the West of England
  • Jessica Mee, University of Worcester
  • Stuart Higgins, University of York
  • Fedra Zaribaf, Victrex plc
  • Craig Jones, Newcastle University

Top image:  Credit: Laurence Dutton, E+ via Getty Images

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