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The Fellowships were announced by Science Minister George Freeman this morning, to help the UK’s most promising science and research leaders to tackle major global issues and commercialise their innovations within the UK.

Laurence Brassart and Archie Bott

Together, recipients across the UK will benefit from £97.8 million to help support their cutting-edge research and bring their innovative ideas from lab to market, on issues ranging from climate change to the exploitation of women in global garment supply chains. 

Professor Laurence Brassart (Associate Professor in the Department of Engineering Science) and Dr Archie Bott (a former EPSRC Doctoral Prize Scholar in the Department of Physics, currently based at Princeton University but soon to be returning to the University) are among five Fellows from the University to be announced today, alongside:

  • Dr Helen Barron (Medical Research Council Brain Network Dynamics Unit),
  • Dr Anwen Cooper (School of Archaeology), and
  • Dr Neil Hart (School of Geography and the Environment).

‘A unique opportunity’

Professor Brassart investigates the interplay between mechanics and chemistry in the degradation of biodegradable polymers used in medical, agricultural and packaging applications.

Many of these applications require a precise understanding of how the material deforms, and ultimately fails, as it degrades under external forces. This is particularly true in biomedical applications (e.g. stents, orthopaedic fixtures and tissue scaffolds), where an implant’s mechanical and degradation responses simultaneously affect healing outcomes.

Commenting on her award, Professor Brassart said: “This Fellowship gives me the support and resources to build an integrated research programme combining experiments, theory and numerical simulations. This is a unique opportunity to address fundamental scientific questions while solving important engineering problems related to sustainability and healthcare”.   

Professor Brassart’s research ultimately aims to inform new design principles for controlled or accelerated degradation.  

‘A dream come true’

Dr Archie Bott, formerly of the Department of Physics at Oxford, is a plasma physicist who specialises in the study of astrophysical and laser-produced plasmas. He completed his DPhil in Atomic and Laser Physics at the University in 2019, before moving to the USA to work as a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Astrophysical Sciences at Princeton University.

His research interests include magnetised plasma dynamics, plasma turbulence, plasma dynamo processes, and laboratory astrophysics. The goal of his Future Leaders Fellowship programme, which will be pursued back in Oxford, is to characterise, systematically, the anomalous material properties of magnetised, weakly collisional plasmas. These are an extreme type of plasma, with a complex microphysics for which classical plasma models are typically inadequate.

Constructing new models could help to address several long-standing astrophysical puzzles, refine interpretations of astronomical observations, and support efforts to develop laser-fusion power.

Dr Bott said: “I am delighted that I will be moving back to Oxford Physics as a Future Leaders Fellow at the end of the summer, to study the exotic material properties of weakly collisional plasmas.

“I believe that Oxford is one of the best places in the world for doing research in plasma physics, and so to have the opportunity to start my own independent research group there is a dream come true.”

Supporting world-class research and innovation

The Future Leaders Fellowship scheme aims to develop the next wave of world-class research and innovation leaders in academia and business. It helps universities and businesses in the UK recruit, develop and retain the world’s best researchers and innovators. Researchers can apply for substantial long-term funding to support their research or innovation and develop their careers, with each Fellowship lasting for four to seven years. 

UKRI Chief Executive, Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, said: “The Future Leaders Fellowships provide researchers and innovators with the freedom and generous long-term support to progress adventurous new ideas, and to move across disciplinary boundaries and between academia and industry.

“The Fellows announced today provide shining examples of the talented researchers and innovators across every discipline attracted to pursue their ideas in universities and businesses throughout the UK, with the potential to deliver transformative research that can be felt across society and the economy.”

Building on the success of the £900 million invested in the first six rounds of Future Leaders Fellowship, the UKRI has today announced a further £100 million to fund a seventh round.