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Bristol’s most promising scientists awarded £4.5M UK Government funding to bring pioneering ideas to market

Two men

Dr James Byrne (left) and Dr Nick Simpson

A man and a woman

Dr James Armstrong and Dr Gemma Coxon

Press release issued: 8 September 2021

Promising future science and research leaders at the University of Bristol will benefit from a £4.5 million cash boost to convert their innovative ideas to transformational products and services, the Science Minister Amanda Solloway announced today.

Tackling some of the world’s greatest challenges, 97 of the UK’s most talented researchers will be backed with £113 million to help bring their innovative ideas from lab to market and provide bold solutions to tackle major global issues ranging from climate change and chronic disease to hate speech.

The investment, delivered through UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) flagship Future Leaders Fellowships scheme, will enable the most promising scientists and researchers in Bristol and across the UK to fund vital equipment and researcher wages to help drive forward their studies more quickly. 

The next generation of UK science leaders at the University of Bristol being backed today include Dr James Byrne, who aims to understand how iron-containing minerals found in the ground can act like natural batteries - known as biogeobatteries. Dr Byrne’s project will investigate how bacteria use these batteries to generate and store energy. It is hoped this work will help us to address the challenges of today’s energy storage demands and build a more sustainable future.

Science Minister Amanda Solloway said:

“Ending our contribution to climate change will mean harnessing the talents of innovators across the UK, not least in the South West of England. I’m delighted that this fantastic work by researchers at the University of Bristol will help us take another step towards that goal thanks to £4.5 million of Government funding.

“We are putting science and innovation at the heart of our efforts to build back better from COVID-19, empowering our scientific leaders of tomorrow to drive forward game-changing research and helping to secure the UK’s status as a global science superpower.”

Other projects at the University of Bristol announced today also include:

  • Dr Nick Simpson, who will lead an ambitious and comprehensive research programme into metal Additive Manufacturing for electrical machines. This process enables complex parts to be manufactured that may not be possible using conventional methods, allowing for the production of improved electrical conductors required to support the advancements needed for the next generation of electric cars, vans, buses, trains and planes needed to achieve the UK’s net zero ambitions;
  • Dr Gemma Coxon, who will undertake research to establish the resilience of the UK’s water systems to the increasing risk of extreme drought. As part of Dr Coxon’s research, she will develop new integrated modelling tools to help determine how water resources will respond to changes in water supply and water demand. This will enable her to provide the first set of extreme drought projections for the UK, which will be used to support critical decisions on how best to manage future water resources by water companies and environmental regulators; and
  • Dr James Armstrong, who will lead a study into brain organoids – tiny, self-organized three-dimensional tissues that are derived from stem cells, which have been used to model human brain development and neurological conditions. Dr Armstrong’s project seeks to use new bioengineering tools to produce organoids with an asymmetry that matches the developing human brain. These organoids will provide new opportunities to study many serious neurological conditions, while the bioengineering tools will be tested in other organoids, such as those that model the pancreas or endometrium.

UKRI Chief Executive, Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, said:

“I am delighted that UKRI is able to support the next generation of research and innovation leaders through our Future Leaders Fellowship programme.

“The new Fellows announced today will have the support and freedom they need to pursue their research and innovation ideas, delivering new knowledge and understanding and tackling some of the greatest challenges of our time.”

The government has committed over £900 million to its Future Leader Fellowship initiative over 3 years. The projects being backed today will be an important part of the government’s ambition to cement the UK’s status as a global leader in science, research and innovation, as set out through the publication of the Innovation Strategy in July.

Today’s funding forms part of the government’s commitment to increase public spending in R&D by £22 billion by 2024 to 2025, putting the UK on track to reach 2.4% of GDP being spent on R&D across the UK economy by 2027.

Further information

The Future Leaders Fellowships scheme, which is run by UK Research and Innovation, 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. Awardees will each receive between £400,000 and £1.5 million over an initial four years.

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