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UKRI announces first Stephen Hawking Fellows and £179 million doctoral training boost


UKRI announces first Stephen Hawking Fellows and £179 million doctoral training boost

The first nine Stephen Hawking Fellows, announced today, will continue Professor Stephen Hawking’s legacy by furthering our understanding of the universe and communicating the wonders of science to the public.

They will tackle major scientific questions such as the nature of the early universe and dark matter and whether string theory really is a ‘theory of everything’, engaging with the public through stand-up comedy, art and music.

The new fellows have been announced by Business Secretary Alok Sharma and Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, alongside a £179 million in the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s Doctoral Training Partnerships and funding to improve and boost uptake of science subjects at school.

The Stephen Hawking Fellowships were launched by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), working with the Hawking family, in recognition of Stephen Hawking’s exceptional contributions to scientific knowledge and popularisation of science.

Professor Stephen Hawking’s children, Lucy, Robert and Tim Hawking, said: “We are proud to be associated with this initiative, which builds on the legacy of our father by supporting research into these areas of science.

“One of his greatest achievements was opening up even the most complex scientific breakthroughs to the wider world and we hope that these Fellows are able to continue that important mission by inspiring people from all walks of life in the wonders of science.”

Business Secretary Alok Sharma said: “From Ada Lovelace to Stephen Hawking, our scientists and the discoveries they have made have pushed the boundaries, improving our healthcare and transforming the way we live, work and travel.

“Today’s funding will support the talented people we have in this country to study these vital subjects, develop technologies for the future and support the UK’s status as a science superpower.”

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Making sure that the next generation has the scientific skills to meet the world’s needs – from developing green technologies to curing illnesses – couldn’t be more important.

“That’s why we continue to invest in science programmes in our schools and ensure that anyone, regardless of their background, can participate.

“Girls now make up just over half of A level entries for the three core science subjects but there is more we can do so we will fund research to better understand how we can improve girls’ physics A level participation.”

UKRI will support up to 50 postdoctoral scientists through the Stephen Hawking Fellowships scheme, with further calls to be launched in due course.

UK Research and Innovation Chief Executive, Professor Sir Mark Walport, said: “Professor Stephen Hawking pushed forward the boundaries of human knowledge, both through his research which transformed our understanding of the universe and his rare talent for communication.

“The Fellows announced today will continue his legacy, pushing the boundaries of knowledge and inspiring the public with the value and beauty of science.”

Each fellowship provides up to four years’ funding, dependent on the nature of the proposed research, for fellows with a strong passion for curiosity-driven science, who seek to challenge current assumptions and inspire the public through their work.

Fellows will be supported with training in public engagement and scientific communication to help them inspire a wider audience to explore complex scientific ideas, continuing Professor Hawking’s legacy of bringing science into popular culture.

The Stephen Hawking Fellowships are delivered by UKRI’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and Science and Technology Facilities Council.

Meet the Stephen Hawking Fellows:

Dr Danai Antonopoulou – The University of Manchester

As small as cities and incredibly dense, neutron stars are formed from the collapse of giant stars. Due to these extreme conditions the neutral particles – neutrons – that form them behave as superfluids inside a hard crust that forms the star’s exterior. Each neutron star is surrounded by a magnetosphere, like Earth’s but a trillion times stronger.

Based at the Jodrell Bank Centre of Astrophysics, Dr Antonopoulou will advance our knowledge of neutron stars and their unusual physical properties, such as superfluidity and superconductivity and the nature of extremely dense matter.

A detailed public engagement programme aimed at school children and students, and targeting underrepresented groups, will aim to inspire them about astrophysics and science in general.

Dr Martin Archer – Imperial College London

The interplay between the Earth’s magnetic field and the wind of electrically-charged particles blown off the Sun forms a shield in space, protecting us against most of the harmful radiation from the Sun and more distant sources.

Sound waves bounce around the different regions of this shield, acting like different instruments in an orchestra that transfers energy into our atmosphere. Dr Archer’s research will focus on the part of the shield that creates drum-like vibrations, and the results could ultimately be used to improve forecasting of space weather and predict potential risks to satellites.

He will also produce virtual reality experiences and a "magnetospheric drum kit" to be used by artists, filmmakers and musicians in creating works for performance, as well as by communities within the public that don't normally seek out or are underrepresented in science.

Dr Francesca Chadha-Day – King’s College London

Eighty-five per cent of the matter in the universe is made up of dark matter, but the only way we know it is there is by observing its gravitational pull on stars, galaxies and other visible matter. As such, the search for dark matter is one of the greatest outstanding questions in physics.

Dr Chadha-Day will explore the theory that axion-like particles – a theoretical form of ultralight particle – could form dark matter, using telescope observations of neutron stars and galaxy clusters to search for axion-like particles.

She will also communicate her research and the wonders of physics to the public through stand-up comedy, while also engaging schools through talks and workshops.

Dr Andrei Constantin – University of Oxford

String theory is one of the leading candidates for a ‘theory of everything’, addressing outstanding questions such as how gravity and quantum mechanics work together on the smallest scale. It proposes that all fundamental particles including electrons, quarks and the Higgs boson are tiny strings or membranes that vibrate in space.

Dr Constantin will conduct forefront research in Mathematics, aided by machine learning, in order to elucidate the precise map between strings and elementary particles and ensure that the theory can be tested against data, such as that from the Large Hadron Collider.

The research programme is linked with an important range of outreach activities including talks to local schools and the public as well as popular science publications, which will bring the fruits of the work to wider society.

Dr Ömer Gürdoğan – University of Southampton

Quantum Field Theory is at the heart of particle physics and describes the behaviour of particles that make up the universe. However, our understanding of the essential aspects of Quantum Field Theory is very limited.

Dr Gürdoğan will focus on scattering amplitudes, which are the quantum probabilities of the interactions of fundamental particles, and work towards an improved picture of Quantum Field Theory to help answer questions about how nature works at microscopic scales.

He will also conduct outreach activities including art exhibitions, interactive demonstrations in science centres, and virtual reality demonstrations for use in schools.

Dr Scott Melville – University of Cambridge

The very early universe was so hot and dense that particles experienced energies far greater than any we could recreate here on Earth. Measuring signals from this early time can teach us important lessons about physics in extreme conditions and help us to understand what is responsible for the rapid expansion of the early universe.

Understanding these extremely high energy processes will shed light on the fundamental structure of matter, such as what it is made of and how it is held together, and how it interacts with gravity.

Dr Melville aims to guide upcoming experiments to measure signals from the early universe, which could improve our understanding of the world around us. He will also develop public engagement activities, such as public talks.

Dr Francesco Muia – University of Cambridge

The recent detection of gravitational waves has opened a new era in astronomy and astrophysics, opening a new window of observation for phenomena in which gravity, instead of light, is the messenger and can be used to explore new fundamental physics.

Dr Muia will explore the catastrophic processes that produced gravitational waves during the first second of the universe’s history. The observation of such gravitational waves would lead to a substantial advancement in our understanding of the early universe.

In addition to the scientific impact of his work, he will aim to inspire the next generation of research leaders, carrying out lectures and public engagement activities on the history of the universe to schools in the UK.

Dr Rebecca Nealon – University of Warwick

Protoplanetary discs are formed by the gravitational collapse of gas and dust and serve as the birthplace of planets. Recent observations have shown that not all of these discs are aligned like the planets in our solar system. Instead, some are misaligned and show complicated structures.

Dr Nealon's research will focus on the formation of these misaligned discs and could generate new knowledge about how planets interact with their host disc as well as the diversity of planets outside of our own solar system.

She will use numerical simulations along with observations of protoplanetary discs, generated through state-of-the-art telescope facilities, to engage the public as well as delivering public talks and contributing to outreach activities.

Dr Stefan Schacht – The University of Manchester

The Big Bang is believed to have created equal amounts of matter and antimatter, but almost everything we know – from the smallest object on Earth to the biggest star – is made up of matter. The quest for the missing antimatter is one of physics’s greatest outstanding questions.

Dr Schacht aims to build on last year’s observation of the unique phenomenon of matter-antimatter asymmetry in a form of particle called the D0 meson, to take us one step closer to answering our big questions about the fundamental laws of nature.

He plans to engage the wider public by establishing a programme for particle physics at the Bluedot festival, an annual music, science and art festival at the Jodrell Bank Observatory in Manchester.

Notes to Editors:

For further information contact James Giles-Franklin, UKRI External Communications, on 01793 234170.

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