Royal Society announces University Research Fellowships for 2021

04 August 2021

The Royal Society has announced 37 successful University Research Fellowship (URF) candidates for 2021. The researchers will take up their new posts at institutions across the UK and Ireland from the start of October.

Dame Linda Partridge, Biological Secretary and Vice President of the Royal Society said, “The URF scheme honours high calibre early career scientists throughout the UK and Ireland. The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted the research community, and so it is essential that long-term, flexible funding schemes like this are in place to continue to support the careers of researchers pursuing novel and ground-breaking research.

“The scheme is central to the Society’s commitment to fostering excellence in science by supporting early career researchers who are fundamental to the future of global science. It is gratifying to see the URF scheme expand this year to support the biomedical sciences, a discipline that was vital in the response to the pandemic. This will ensure we continue to support a wide breadth of science through the scheme.”

The newly appointed research fellows will be working on research projects spanning the physical, mathematical, chemical and biological sciences, including: 

Dr Cyrielle Opitom (University of Edinburgh) – Cometary ices as probes of the formation conditions of planet building blocks

Dr Opitom will look at the composition of comets to learn about the early solar system and how it was formed. She will compare the composition of solar system comets to interstellar objects formed in very different environments. She will combine new observations of comets at large distances, re-analyse existing data and use multi-wavelength and multi-technique observations. Comets are some of the most pristine relics of planetary formation, and their nuclei preserve invaluable clues about the conditions at the time of their formation. 

Dr Ludmila Carone (University of St Andrews) – RexoT: Rocky EXOplanets in Time – Linking exoplanet atmospheres to the interior to follow the water

Dr Carone will assess planet water content to understand what it really takes to make a planet habitable. By using modelling techniques, Ludmilla will estimate the ‘chemical fingerprints’ of planets much different from ours – worlds that have eternal day or night sides and orbit red temperamental stars. Understanding how rocky planets evolve outside of the Solar System will allow us to appreciate our Earth's history and its habitability more.

Dr Tom McAllister (Newcastle University) – Massively high-throughput technologies for probing chemical glycobiology

Dr McAllister will develop new ways to understand how proteins and carbohydrates interact. Projects include determining how human glycosylating enzymes implicated in cancer recognise their protein targets, furthering our fundamental understanding and paving the way for new diagnostics or treatments and developing a novel alternative mode of treatment for the wheat pathogen, Z. tritici the causative agent of septoria leaf blotch disease, allowing the plant to ‘fight off the invader’ naturally, leading to better yield and more sustainable wheat production.

Dr Martin Balcerowicz (University of Dundee) – Control of temperature-dependent plant development through RNA thermoswitches

Dr Balcerowicz will investigate ‘thermoswitches’ – a RNA structure that enables the temperature to control rate of growth in plants. Temperature affects all aspects of plant development – in wheat and barley, each 1°C increase above optimal growth temperature reduces crop yield by 5–6%. This research will present ways to breed climate-resilient plants that can cope with the challenging temperature environment of the future.

Dr Roger Close (University of Oxford) – Unravelling the spatial fabric of Phanerozoic biodiversity

Dr Close will investigate how biodiversity is generated and maintained. He will use large datasets and computer simulations of global ‘palaeoclimates’, in an innovative framework to see how they responded to environmental changes, and how this drove large-scale trends in Earth’s biodiversity levels. This will help us understand how biodiversity is generated and maintained through deep time.

Dr Michael Gibbons (Trinity College Dublin) – Loop heat pipe for waste heat recovery in data centres

Dr Gibbons will harness data centre waste heat to produce usable energy that will reduce data centre energy requirements and carbon emissions. Data centres enable social networking, banking, and online shopping to function, but they also consume 1.1–1.5% of the world’s total energy and have one of the fastest-growing carbon footprints. This project will develop innovative waste heat transportation technology by combining numerical simulation, novel material science approaches, and previously unconnected technologies. 

The complete list of 2021 appointments is as follows:

Dr Martin Balcerowicz
Control of temperature-dependent plant development through RNA thermoswitches
University of Dundee

Dr Aakash Basu
Deciphering the mechanical code of genome and epigenome
Durham University

Dr Jani Reddy Bolla
Elucidating the molecular mechanisms of protein import into chloroplasts
University of Oxford

Dr Amy Bonsor
Planet Formation, White Dwarfs and the Composition of Rocky Planets
University of Cambridge

Dr Richard Booth 
Testing the physics of planet formation
Imperial College London  

Dr Finn Box
Flexible Fluidics
University of Manchester

Dr Lukas Brantner
Tackling p-adic problems with partition Lie algebras
University of Oxford

Dr Mauro Brotons-Gisbert
Semiconductors with a Twist: Engineering Programmable Quantum Materials
Heriot-Watt University

Dr Michelle Browne
New Catalysts for the Oxygen Evolution Reaction 
Trinity College Dublin

Dr Ludmila Carone
RexoT: Rocky EXOplanets in Time – Linking exoplanet atmospheres to the interior to follow the water
University of St Andrews

Dr Jeongmin Choi
Phosphate signaling in arbuscular mycorrhizal symbiosis 
University of Cambridge 

Dr Roger Close
Unravelling the spatial fabric of Phanerozoic biodiversity
University of Oxford

Dr Stephen Cox
Elucidating structure and dynamics of complex interfaces in solution
University of Cambridge

Dr Siân Culley
Biology-driven image analysis for light microscopy
King's College London

Dr Bart de Nijs
Extreme Plasmonics for Optically Controlled cHemistry (EPOCH)
University of Cambridge

Dr Harry Desmond 
Fundamental Physics from Galaxies 
University of Oxford

Dr Jack Devlin
A Penning trap axion search
Imperial College London

Dr Frederic Dreyer
Accelerating discoveries at the Large Hadron Collider through robust machine learning
University of Oxford

Dr Dorian Gangloff
Quantum Interface Engineering with Solid-State Spins and Photons
University of Cambridge

Dr Michael Gibbons 
Loop heat pipe for waste heat recovery in data centres 
Trinity College Dublin

Dr Conrad Goodwin
Transuranium Redox and Covalency
University of Manchester

Dr Lionel London
Unraveling the structure of gravitational radiation: Fundamental Physics, Signal Modeling, and Beyond GR
King's College London

Dr Tom McAllister
Massively high-throughput technologies for probing chemical glycobiology
Newcastle University

Dr Ailsa Mclean
Symbionts as hidden players in ecological communities
University of Oxford

Dr Cyrielle Opitom
Cometary ices as probes of the formation conditions of planet building blocks
University of Edinburgh

Dr Christiana Pantelidou 
Gravitational turbulence in the era of gravitational waves 
University College Dublin (UCD)

Dr Katherine Pattle
The Role of Magnetic Fields in ISM Evolution and Star Formation
University College London (UCL)

Dr Sarah Penington
Branching systems with spatial interactions
University of Bath

Dr Laura Maria Peralta Pereira
Hyper-Aperture Ultrasound
King's College London

Dr Ján Pich
Proof complexity and circuit complexity: a unified approach
University of Oxford

Dr Luke Pickering 
Neutrinos through a PRISM 
Royal Holloway College

Dr Emilio Pisanty
New Frontiers of Strong-Field Physics: Vortices, Catastrophes, and Quantum Electrodynamics
King's College London

Dr Jan Sbierski
The strong cosmic censorship conjecture and weak null singularities
University of Edinburgh

Dr Joshua Snape
Deciphering the early geological evolution of the Moon
University of Manchester

Dr Andreas Stergiou
Advancing the Conformal Bootstrap Program in Three and Four Dimensions
King's College London 

Dr Alice Thorneywork
The noise is the signal: exploring physico-chemical fluctuations with multiscale experimental models
University of Cambridge

Dr Stefan Vuckovic
Transforming applicability of density functional theory simulations
University of Bristol