University of Sheffield scientists honoured for being at forefront of UK research and innovation

  • Four academics from the University of Sheffield have been recognised for their outstanding research that is at the forefront of research and innovation in the UK
  • Academics have been honoured with Future Leadership Fellowships by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) to further support their careers and boost research and innovation across the country
  • Sheffield scientists are helping to design ultra low/zero emission vehicles, revolutionising manufacturing processes, improving strategies to remove CO₂ from the environment, and using drones and satellites to tackle issues around food security.

Four scientists from the University of Sheffield have been recognised for conducting outstanding research which is at the forefront of innovation in the UK.

Dr Maria Val Martin and Dr Holly Croft from the University’s Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, together with Dr Dikai Guan and Dr Dan Cogswell from the University’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering, have been awarded Future Leadership Fellowships by the funding body UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

Future Leaders Fellowships are prestigious funding schemes that aim to develop a strong supply of talented individuals that are needed to boost research and innovation across the UK. The scheme is open to researchers and innovators from across business, universities, and other organisations.

The Sheffield researchers will now each receive a portion of a £900m fund set up by UKRI to further support their careers and develop their world class research and innovation.

Dr Maria Val MartinDr Val Martin will use the funding to launch the first UK integrated study into the environmental risks associated with large-scale deployment of land-based strategies to remove CO₂ from the atmosphere.

With the use of CO₂ removal technologies playing a crucial role in the UK meeting the Paris Agreement on climate, Dr Val Martin’s research will examine the proposals to remove CO₂ from the atmosphere, such as afforestation/reforestation, bioenergy crops, enhanced weathering and wetland/peatland restoration, to ensure they can effectively stop future warming.

Dr Val Martin said: “I am excited to receive this important award. I am an atmospheric scientist and up until two years ago my research focused mainly on understanding how human activities and natural processes, like wildfires, change the composition of the atmosphere. I then had the opportunity to extend my work in the area of climate change mitigation and have been leading a new research line on atmospheric chemistry and climate feedbacks from the deployment of enhanced rock weathering with croplands as a CO₂ removal strategy.

“This is a new research area which I quickly became fascinated with because of its major societal relevance and has formed the basis of my fellowship. Personally, I feel very proud to be able to set an example for the next generation of scientists and I’m grateful for the support of the University’s Department of Animal and Plant Sciences and, in particular, Professor David Beerling and my colleagues at the University’s Leverhulme Centre for Climate Change Mitigation.”

Dr Holly CroftThe funding awarded to Dr Croft will support her research into remote sensing technologies that can be used to improve our understanding of how plants interact with the environment, from leaf to global scales.

Dr Croft aims to transform how we understand and model plant responses to various biotic and abiotic stresses, from the leaf, to the field, to the globe. Combining traditional plant physiology techniques with drone and satellite technology will enable us to investigate which crops, in which regions, are close to their physiological limits.

The research will include fieldwork in Canada, China, Uganda and in the UK, and use state of the art, controlled-environment growth chambers at the University of Sheffield to grow plants under future climate scenarios.

Predicting how future climate conditions will affect crop yield at a national and global scale will enable us to future-proof our food systems; to maintain food security and sustainably intensify agricultural production.

Dr Croft said: “I’m delighted to be awarded this prestigious fellowship, and excited to contribute to the excellent plant sciences research that is already being done at the University of Sheffield. This is a huge opportunity to use remote sensing techniques to improve our understanding of the impacts that future climate change will have on national and global food systems.”

Dr Dikai GuanFunding awarded to Dr Guan will support his research that is helping to design and manufacture ultra low/zero emission vehicles. With the suggestion that a 10 per cent reduction in vehicle weight can lead to around an 8 per cent improvement in fuel economy, Dr Guan is developing strong, formable, stainless and low-cost magnesium alloys for next generation cars.

While the use of magnesium would offer significant weight savings, there are long-standing issues around high production costs, low formability and high corrosion rates associated with magnesium alloys, when compared to traditional automotive materials. Dr Guan’s research is providing a solution to this by developing light, low-cost magnesium alloys with high strength, good formability and high corrosion resistance to replace heavier Al and steel components.

On his fellowship, Dr Guan said: “Receiving a UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship is a breakthrough to my academic career, enabling me to become a Principal Investigator for the first time and conduct independent research.

“In the long term, my ambition is to create and expand a world leading team known for its expertise in developing materials science, engineering-based alloy selection techniques, manufacturing and thermomechanical processing.

“This fellowship will be not only be the beginning of my independent research focusing on light magnesium alloy systems, but it will also be a very important foundation to enable me to lead future light weighting research areas distributed in automotive, aerospace, medical and defence sectors and act as an ambassador for UK science and innovation.”

Dr Daniel CogswellMeanwhile, Dr Cogswell’s research is using cutting-edge materials science, mechanical engineering and data analytics to develop a revolutionary manufacturing and property assessment tool to guide engineers on just how much and what type of effort needs to be placed in risk assuring the performance of a component.

This research could lead to engineers taking advantage of the full potential of a material, particularly when used in high-value products for the automotive, aerospace, healthcare and energy sectors.

Dr Cogswell is joining the University from industry. His fellowship will involve the University of Manchester, Imperial College London and the Advanced Forming Research Centre as academic partners, and Rolls-Royce and Sheffield Forgemasters as industrial partners.

Dr Cogswell said: “The Future Leaders Fellowship award is an incredible opportunity to make a lasting and transformative contribution to the development of engineering capability for the UK. This fellowship enables me to take a substantial step forward in my career, moving from focussing on a single sector within a company environment to a multi-sector role fostering links between industry, academia and policymakers.

“A real key to this will be developing people, not just technology, to make a lasting impact and take advantage of the materials science ability of the UK in safely solving the engineering challenges of the future.”

Professor Sue Hartley, Vice-President for Research at the University of Sheffield, said: “We are absolutely delighted that four academics from the University have been honoured for their world class research and the impact they could have both in the UK and around the world. All four of them, like many more of our inspirational academics across the institution, are conducting research that can really make a difference in society and solve some of our most pressing challenges. Congratulations to them all and I wish them all the best with the fellowships.”

Professor Dave Petley, Vice-President for Innovation at the University of Sheffield, said: “I’m thrilled to see four more of our researchers being awarded with Future Leaders Fellowships. All of our academics who have been awarded this honour are at the very heart of innovation in their respective fields and are playing crucial roles in developing solutions for the industries and partners with whom they’re working. They demonstrate the immense strength of research across the disciplines at the University of Sheffield and I’d like to congratulate them on receiving their fellowships.”

Additional information

The University of Sheffield

With almost 29,000 of the brightest students from over 140 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world’s leading universities.

A member of the UK’s prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.

Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.

Sheffield is the only university to feature in The Sunday Times 100 Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to Work For 2018 and for the last eight years has been ranked in the top five UK universities for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education.

Sheffield has six Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.

Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, Glaxo SmithKline, Siemens and Airbus, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.


For further information please contact:

Sean Barton
Media Relations Officer
University of Sheffield
0114 222 9852