UKRI invests £109 million in future leaders


One hundred and one research and innovation leaders of the future have received significant government support to tackle major challenges ranging from cancer treatment to space travel and reducing harmful vehicle emissions.

Science Minister Amanda Solloway will today (15 October 2020), announce the latest next wave of individuals to receive Future Leaders Fellowships through UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) flagship scheme.

The fellows, based at UK universities and businesses, will be supported through an investment of £109 million.

World-class research and innovation leaders

The Future Leaders Fellowships scheme is designed to establish the careers of world-class research and innovation leaders across the UK.

The new fellows include:

  •     Dr George Gordon, at the University of Nottingham, aims to develop advanced endoscopes – long thin tubes capable of capturing images through optical fibres – that will help to identify cancers that occur deep within the body and can be difficult to detect and treat, such as pancreatic and ovarian cancer.
  •     Dr Zoe Tolkien, at Advanced Furnace Technology, aims to develop new, advanced graphite coated parts for use in the silicon carbide semiconductor market, which is critical to a range of new clean technologies, from electric cars to solar and wind power generators.
  •     Dr Tobias Hermann, at the University of Oxford, aims to ensure that future spacecraft are able to re-enter the earth’s atmosphere safely despite being exposed to extreme heat, removing barriers to future space travel.
  •     Dr Yoselin Benitez-Alfonso, at the University of Leeds, is working to make UK crops resistant to viruses and the impacts of climate change, such as depleted soils with little water or nutrients, helping to ensure the UK’s food supply remains strong during severe weather events. She will also determine how unused plant resources can be repurposed to create new biomaterials, such as bioplastics, which could be used as sustainable alternatives to plastics in manufacturing and packaging.
  •     Dr Alison Garden, at Queen's University Belfast, will work with the arts and cultural sector across Ireland to produce an interdisciplinary social and cultural history of mixed marriage, or love across the divide, in modern Ireland. She will capture and disseminate her findings through theatre productions, films, exhibitions and engagement with community groups.
  •     Dr Mauro Vallati, University of Huddersfield, who aims to create an artificial intelligence-driven, autonomous traffic management system that will be able to use vast quantities of data to reduce traffic congestion – while monitoring the environmental impact of travel, such as vehicle emissions. The system will be designed to effectively manage congestion in specific areas by altering existing traffic light sequences and to communicate with vehicles to suggest that they drop speed, change routes to avoid congested areas or switch to electric power.

Announcing the successful fellows at today’s Future Leaders Fellowships Conference, Science Minister Amanda Solloway will say: “We are committed to building back better through research and innovation, and supporting our science superstars in every corner of the UK.

“By backing these inspirational Future Leaders Fellows, we will ensure that their brilliant ideas can be transferred straight from the lab into vital everyday products and services that will help to change all our lives for the better.”

UK Research and Innovation Chief Executive, Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, said: “Future Leaders Fellowships provide researchers and innovators with freedom and support to drive forward transformative new ideas and the opportunity to learn from peers right across the country.

"The fellows announced today illustrate how the UK continues to support and attract talented researchers and innovators across every discipline to our universities and businesses, with the potential to deliver change that can be felt across society and the economy."

UKRI’s initiative aims to support the creation of a new cohort of research and innovation leaders who will have links across different sectors and disciplines. Awardees will each receive between £400,000 and £1.5 million over an initial four years.

The grant supports challenging and novel projects, and the development of the fellow’s career. The funding can also be used to support team members, their development, and pay for equipment and other needs.

UKRI is committed to increasing diversity on its fellowship programmes. It is today publishing diversity data on application and award rates for the Future Leaders Fellowships.

Links across sectors and disciplines

The Future Leaders Fellowships scheme, which is run by UK Research and Innovation, will recognise up to 550 individuals with a total investment of £900 million committed over three years.

  •     The scheme helps universities and businesses in the UK recruit, develop and retain the world’s best researchers and innovators, regardless of their background
  •     They can apply for up to £1.5 million to support the research and innovation leaders of the future, keeping the UK at the cutting edge of innovation. Each fellowship will last four to seven years
  •     Fellows from the first three rounds will be meeting for a digital conference on 14, 15 and 16 October, and may be made available for interview.

Round six of the Future Leaders Fellowships is currently open to applications. See:

See the full list of round 4 fellows here

To read more information, click here.