Four world-class scientists have been awarded Royal Society Research Professorships, the Royal Society’s premier research awards.
These prestigious posts provide 5 and up to 10 years of support for internationally recognised scientists of exceptional accomplishments from a range of diverse areas including biochemistry, genetics, mathematics, chemistry, developmental biology and physics.
The award helps release the best leading researchers from teaching and administration to allow them to focus on research.
Professor Michele Dougherty FRS, principal investigator for the magnetometer instrument on board the Cassini spacecraft’s mission to Saturn and previous year's Research Professorship awardee, said:
“I really enjoy teaching, but it is very time-consuming. What the professorship has allowed me to do is really to focus on the end of mission science on Cassini as well as building a new instrument to go to Jupiter. We wouldn’t have been able to get the results we’re producing unless I’d been awarded the grant.”
The four appointments this year are as follows:
Professor Caucher Birkar, University of Cambridge
Caucher Birkar is a mathematician and professor at the University of Cambridge, last year becoming the recipient of the most prestigious medal in mathematics: the Fields Medal. He researches higher dimensional algebraic geometry, the study of geometric structures as defined by polynomial equations.
Professor Birkar will be using the Professorship to investigate fundamental questions of algebraic geometry whose solutions will have a profound impact on algebraic geometry, and will provide important tools for other fields like differential geometry, arithmetic geometry, and mathematical physics.
Professor Martin Hairer KBE FRS, Imperial College London
Martin Hairer KBE FRS is a mathematician and professor at Imperial College London where he is a leader in the fields of stochastic analysis and dynamics, describing the mathematics behind the random—or at least systems whose wild fluctuations appear random. He is the awardee of many major prizes, including the 2013 Fermat Prize and—also, the 2014 Fields Medal.
With stochastic systems becoming increasingly understood in terms of stochastic partial differential equations, Professor Hairer aims to use his professorship to justify just such equations, helping to explain how they arise naturally from smaller, more fundamental principles and how it is that they are ‘universal’.
Professor Corinne Le Quéré FRS, University of East Anglia
Corinne Le Quéré FRS is Professor of Climate Change Science at the University of East Anglia where she conducts research on the interactions between climate change and the carbon cycle. Corinne was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2016 and was most recently awarded the 2019 Prince Albert I medal for her fundamental contributions to our understanding of ocean biogeochemistry.
Professor Le Quéré is planning on using the Professorship to understand, with higher fidelity, the ocean’s role in absorbing carbon—and how this function will evolve under a warming climate. With the observed variability in ocean carbon currently deviating from modelled estimates, Professor Le Quéré will build a more accurate, granular model to better characterise the ocean as a carbon sink and constrain future changes.
Professor Andrew Zisserman FRS, University of Oxford
Andrew Zisserman FRS is a computer scientist and professor at the University of Oxford who specialises in computer vision - automated recognition in images and videos. His work has been foundational in the development of the computer vision field. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2007, and received the Royal Society Milner award in 2017.
Professor Zisserman plans on using his Professorship to develop new ways for computers to learn to understand the content of video streams. Currently, computers are taught with 'strong supervision', by being shown many (thousands) of examples of each item they need to learn. Andrew plans on innovating 'self-supervision' for teaching computers, where they develop insights directly from the structure of the video. The approach is inspired by how infants may 'learn to see'. Professor Zisserman will be working part time at Oxford and part time at Google DeepMind, where he holds a position working on computer vision.