University of Sheffield academics honoured for world class research and innovation
20th October 2020
Four academics from the University of Sheffield have been recognised for their world class research that is at the forefront of innovation in the UK by a prestigious fellowship scheme.
Dr Jennifer MacRitchie from the University’s Department of Music, Mr Eddie Ball from the Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering, Dr Maria Fragiadaki from the Department of Infection, Immunity and Cardiovascular Disease, and Dr Anastasia Shesterinina from the Department of Politics and International Relations, have been awarded Future Leaders Fellowships by the funding body UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).
Future Leaders Fellowships, announced by the Secretary of State in 2018, support early career researchers and innovators who are demonstrating outstanding potential in UK universities.
The scheme aims to help each fellow tackle ambitious and challenging research and innovation as well as to develop their own career. The academics will now each receive a portion of a £900 million fund that has been set up to support leaders across UK business and academia.
With over one million people expected to have dementia by 2025, increasing to two million in 2050, Dr Jennifer MacRitchie’s research is investigating how we can use emerging technologies to help older people with dementia, to engage and interact with music.
Interacting with music has the potential to be a powerful activity for people with varying levels of cognitive impairment and can contribute to their physical, cognitive and emotional wellbeing. Yet access to music for older adults, including those who live independently out in the community, those who are supported by formal/informal carers and those who are in residential care, is vastly limited by the current tools and devices we use to make and explore music.
Dr MacRitchie’s research will link previous studies demonstrating that older adults gain strong and positive social connections when interacting with music, with a new project to develop and refine new technologies to enable more older adults with cognitive impairments to access music. Working with people with dementia as co-researchers, her project will develop innovative new tools and assistive technologies which specifically enable older adults with dementia to fully participate in interacting with music, both individually and in group activities.
Dr MacRitchie said: “I’m thrilled to be awarded this Fellowship and am looking forward to working alongside people with dementia, to realise new tools that will allow them to further engage with music. Developing new interfaces is key to creating a world where our physical and cognitive capacities aren’t barriers to engaging with others musically. This fellowship allows us to further envisage what the future looks like for assistive technology in creative environments.”
The fellowship awarded to Mr Eddie Ball, an expert in radio frequency engineering with 20 years of industry experience, will support his research that aims to help develop the next generation of mobile radio communication systems - the technology and infrastructure that will be vital if the UK is to transition to 5G and 6G mobile phone networks.
With the UK and the rest of the world looking to introduce 5G and 6G cellular networks that would transform the download speeds available on mobile devices, much of the technology, infrastructure and devices we use on mobile phone networks now will not be fit for purpose and not be able to handle the demands placed on them by new high speed networks that use millimetre wave frequencies (mmWave).
Mr Ball’s research is focusing on developing new devices and equipment in four key areas that underpin mmWave technology and are critical in enabling 5G and 6G networks. He is aiming to develop antenna arrays for forming and pointing mmWave radio frequency (RF) beams, advanced mmWave circuits, advanced signal processing and artificial intelligence (AI), and demonstration platforms to showcase prototypes and support the testing of systems - all with a view to making performance dynamically reconfigurable and enabling the best power efficiency of the mmWave transceiver in 5G and 6G networks.
Mr Ball said: “I’m delighted and excited to be selected for this prestigious Fellowship. It will allow me to explore areas of RF and radio research that fascinate me and will become pivotal to mobile radio communications systems in the future. The millimetre wavelength (mmWave) bands covering 30GHz to 100GHz and beyond are stimulating a lot of international research and are the basis for my Fellowship transceiver research. This Fellowship aims to create new mmWave radio subsystems that, in concert, provide major power savings, cost savings and increases in RF performance, compared to today’s architectures.”
Dr Maria Fragiadaki will use the Future Leaders funding to carry out cutting-edge research into the causes of Polycystic Kidney Disease, which is the most common inherited form of Chronic Kidney Disease. Polycystic Kidney Disease affects over 12 million people and there are currently no drugs that can stop or slow down kidney disease early on. To add to the problem, many patients will also develop aneurysms and large cystic livers, proving that the disease is multi-organ and complex.
Dr Fragiadaki will create the first ‘map’ of the machinery within our kidneys that controls how our genes behave during health and in disease. Dr Fragiadaki’s work will generate the knowledge required for drug development. This work may also provide insights that will benefit treatment of other conditions such as liver, lung, skin sclerosis and cancer.
Dr Fragiadaki said: “My goal is to establish a research group that will pioneer the use of RNA therapeutics to change the future of Polycystic Kidney Disease. This is a huge opportunity to generate unrivalled mechanistic data, necessary for drug development not only for kidney disease but also for other proliferative syndromes.
“To truly understand this enigmatic multi-organ disease a coordinated effort is vital. A key goal is to bring together a multi-disciplinary, international, network of experts to tackle this challenge at a global level. As a female scientist I feel honoured to receive the Future Leader Fellowship Award since it also gives me the chance to nurture the next generation of scientists that can tackle future challenges making a lasting positive change.”
Dr Anastasia Shesterinina is the first recipient of a UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship in the University’s Faculty of Social Sciences. Her research is set to transform how scholars and policymakers think about and tackle the dominant form of contemporary armed conflict - civil wars.
Every year, civil wars kill, displace and force millions of people into poverty, creating humanitarian and environmental crises. Dr Shesterinina’s research will address this pressing global problem by redefining civil war as a process that connects the pre-war, war and post-war stages of conflict through evolving relations between state, non-state, external actors and populations and studying different paths that civil wars follow based on how they emerge, unfold and end.
Through a qualitative comparison of eight cases around the world based on unprecedented coordinated fieldwork and analysis, Dr Shesterinina’s work will push the frontiers of research on civil war and inform and influence international efforts to sustain peace in conflict affected societies. Her fellowship will allow her to build a team of doctoral and postdoctoral researchers, develop long-term interdisciplinary academic and practitioner collaborations and establish the Center for the Comparative Study of Civil War to host the project and form the foundation for continued research and impact in this field.
Dr Shesterinina said: “This fellowship is the culmination of my decade-long commitment to advancing research and researchers working on one of the deadliest and most persistent problems of our time. By offering long-term, flexible funding of the scale necessary for the project, the fellowship will allow me to push current knowledge to recognise a variety of civil wars that follow different paths and require different responses and advance new practices to sustain peace from pre- to post-war stages of conflict. It will also help develop the next generation of researchers and build networks for future research excellence and leadership in the field.”
Professor Sue Hartley, Vice-President for Research at the University of Sheffield, said: “I’m delighted to hear that four more academics at the University have been recognised for their outstanding research, which will drive innovation in their fields of study. Seeing the ambitious research plans of each fellowship winner is really exciting and inspiring – they are all conducting the very best research, aiming to help people in need and improve the world we live in. I wish them every success with their fellowships and congratulate them all.”
Professor Dave Petley, Vice-President for Innovation at the University of Sheffield, said: “It’s wonderful to hear that once again we have four more academics from across the University who have been awarded UKRI Future Leaders Fellowships. Our four colleagues who have been awarded fellowships today will be pushing the very boundaries of research and innovation in their chosen field and conducting research that can make a huge difference to people’s lives. I’d like to congratulate them on receiving their fellowships and wish them the best.”