World-class scientists awarded Royal Society Research Professorships

15 January 2021

Seven world-class scientists have been awarded Royal Society Research Professorships, the Royal Society’s premier research awards.

These prestigious appointments provide long-term support for internationally recognised scientists of exceptional accomplishments from a range of diverse fields, including biochemistry, genetics, mathematics, chemistry, computer science, developmental biology and physics.

The Research Professorships help release these exceptional researchers from competing duties, such as teaching and administration, allowing them to focus on ambitious and original research of the highest quality. The awards also enable distinguished, international research talent to relocate to a UK academic institution. 

Linda Partridge, Biological Secretary of the Royal Society, said: “We are delighted to have appointed seven Royal Society Research Professorships this year. It is becoming more important to enable world-leading talent such as these exceptional scientists. By offering long term support to carry out exciting and visionary research, these scientists will contribute to and strengthen the continued success of UK science.” 

The appointments this year are as follows:

Professor Peter Cullen, University of Bristol - Defining endosomal cargo sorting defects in neurodegenerative disease

Professor Peter Cullen is a Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Bristol. He is being awarded the Royal Society Noreen Murray Professorship for research in neurological sciences.  His research will apply his expertise in endosomal sorting to understand why defects in proteins and lipids transport lead to the development of neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson disease and Alzheimer disease.

For human cells to function normally, proteins and lipids must be efficiently transported to the correct cellular organelle. If such transport is perturbed, so that the wrong proteins and lipids are delivered to the incorrect organelle, the function of that organelle can be adversely affected leading to the establishment of human disease, most notably neurodegenerative diseases. 

Professor Cullen will establish new experimental approaches to generate new insight into these transport defects, to assist in the design of therapeutic strategies to alleviate and manage the symptoms of these neurological diseases.

Professor Loeske Kruuk, University of Edinburgh - Evolution in changing environments

Professor Loeske Kruuk is an evolutionary ecologist, currently based at the Australian National University. Through this award Professor Loeske Kruuk will re-locate to the University of Edinburgh, where she plans to determine the genetic and short-term effects of current environmental change on natural populations.

The effects of rapid environmental change on wild animal populations are of significant concern, and present a unique opportunity to understand the fundamental mechanisms underlying biological change. Professor Loeske Kruuk will combine the data-sets, state-of-the-art analytical methods, and fundamental evolutionary theory to deliver the first comprehensive assessment of the importance of evolutionary genetic adaptation versus short-term plastic responses to environmental change - in particular climate - and overall consequences for population dynamics. 

Professor Miles Padgett OBE FRS, University of Glasgow - Optics at the boundary of classical and quantum science: imaging and phenomenology

Professor Miles Padgett FRS is the Kelvin Chair of Natural Philosophy at the University of Glasgow. 

Professor Miles Padgett’s research focusses on shaping light beams in both their intensity and phase to create new optical effects and gain an understanding of optical phenomena. By incorporating both advanced computational techniques and machine learning, he hopes to use shaped light, often at the level of individual photons, in new types of imaging systems. These systems will have better resolution and noise rejection than the traditional systems before them

Professor Jenny Nelson FRS, Imperial College London - Optimising energy efficiency of solar energy conversion in molecular materials by learning from nature

Professor Jenny Nelson FRS is Professor of Physics in the Blackett Laboratory and Head of the Climate change mitigation team at the Grantham Institute - Climate Change and Environment at Imperial College London. Molecular electronic materials that can absorb light and conduct charge are appealing as tuneable, affordable, ‘designer’ materials to generate and store renewable energy – whilst still maintaining efficacy. Professor Jenny Nelson’s research will focus on energy efficient materials for solar energy.

Professor Jenny Nelson will ‘learn from nature’ to design better materials for solar energy conversion. Studying varieties of artificial, molecular photovoltaic and natural, photosynthetic systems using measurements of light emission and a common modelling framework, will underpin how well molecular materials can ultimately perform.

Professor Roberto Maiolino, University of Cambridge - The chemical evolution of galaxies across the cosmic epochs

Professor Roberto Maiolino is Professor of Experimental Astrophysics and Director of the Kavli Institute for Cosmology, Cambridge. Professor Roberto Maiolino seeks to underpin the chemical enrichment of distant galaxies, of which very little is known.

Professor Roberto Maiolino will use two new cutting- edge facilities to measure the chemical enrichment of galaxies out to the earliest epochs of galaxy formation with unprecedented accuracy and datasets of distant galaxies. This will enable him to discriminate between different scenarios of galaxy formation and ultimately trace chemical enrichment all the way back to the very first galaxies.

Professor Tom Bridgeland FRS, University of Sheffield - Geometry from Donaldson-Thomas invariants

Professor Tom Bridgeland is currently at the School of Mathematics and Statistics of the University of Sheffield.  He seeks to explore the close relationship between pure mathematics and theoretical physics. 

He will study a class of problems in pure mathematics which are closely related to important ideas in quantum field theory. His aim is to use geometry to understand the solutions to these problems. He hopes to prove a general result showing they can always be solved – thus bringing us a little closer to a mathematical understanding of quantum field theory.

Professor Sheena Radford OBE FMedSci FRS, University of Leeds

Professor Sheena Radford is Professor of Biophysics at the University of Leeds. 

She hopes to determine how protein dynamic disorder shapes biology and discover innovative ways to map the dynamic life of proteins within cells. Proteins are not static: they wiggle, change shape, and form fleeting interactions - making it difficult to underpin how their transient interactions enable healthy life or cause disease.

Professor Sheena Radford will investigate how protein dynamic disorder in amyloid – an aggregate of proteins – can either store long-term memories or cause Parkinson’s disease.  During her award she hopes to establish a new research centre, which will foster collaborations between research and industry – creating a buoyant research hub for generations of scientists to come.