6 March 2020
The first nine Stephen Hawking Fellows, supported by UKRI through the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), have been announced today. Each fellow will continue Professor Stephen Hawking’s legacy by furthering our understanding of the universe and tackling major scientific questions such as, what is the nature of dark matter, which makes up most of our universe.
Fellows will be supported with training in public engagement and scientific communication to help them inspire a wider audience to explore complex scientific ideas. Fellowships include new approaches to understand blackholes, the diversity of planets outside our solar system and how planets are formed.
The Stephen Hawking Fellowships were launched by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), working with the Hawking family, in recognition of Stephen Hawking’s exceptional contributions to scientific knowledge and the popularisation of science.
Professor Stephen Hawking’s children, Lucy, Robert and Tim Hawking, said:
“We are proud to be associated with this initiative, which builds on the legacy of our father by supporting research into these areas of science.
“One of his greatest achievements was opening up even the most complex scientific breakthroughs to the wider world and we hope that these Fellows are able to continue that important mission by inspiring people from all walks of life in the wonders of science.”
Each Fellow will receive support to further research that challenges current assumptions, advances scientific knowledge and inspires the public through their discoveries.
UK Research and Innovation Chief Executive Professor Sir Mark Walport said:
“Professor Stephen Hawking pushed forward the boundaries of human knowledge, both through his research which transformed our understanding of the universe and his rare talent for communication.
“The Fellows announced today will continue his legacy, pushing the boundaries of knowledge and inspiring the public with the value and beauty of science.”
The fellowships focus on a range of research across physics, maths and computer sciences. They include the advancement of science’s knowledge of neutron stars and their unusual physical properties [University of Manchester], measuring signals from the early universe to understand its rapid expansion [University of Cambridge] and exploration of the formation of misaligned discs, which are formed by the gravitational collapse of gas and dust and serve as the birthplace of planets [University of Warwick].
Dr Danai Antonopoulou – The University of Manchester
As small as cities and incredibly dense, neutron stars are formed from the collapse of giant stars. Due to these extreme conditions the neutral particles – neutrons – that form them behave as superfluids inside a hard crust that forms the star’s exterior. Each neutron star is surrounded by a magnetosphere, like Earth’s but a trillion times stronger.
Based at the Jodrell Bank Centre of Astrophysics, Dr Antonopoulou will advance our knowledge of neutron stars and their unusual physical properties, such as superfluidity and superconductivity and the nature of extremely dense matter.
A detailed public engagement programme aimed at school children and students, and targeting underrepresented groups, will aim to inspire them about astrophysics and science in general.
Dr Martin Archer – Imperial College London
The interplay between the Earth’s magnetic field and the wind of electrically-charged particles blown off the Sun forms a shield in space, protecting us against most of the harmful radiation from the Sun and more distant sources.
Sound waves bounce around the different regions of this shield, acting like different instruments in an orchestra that transfers energy into our atmosphere. Dr Archer’s research will focus on the part of the shield that creates drum-like vibrations, and the results could ultimately be used to improve forecasting of space weather and predict potential risks to satellites.
He will also produce virtual reality experiences and a "magnetospheric drum kit" to be used by artists, filmmakers and musicians in creating works for performance, as well as by communities within the public that don't normally seek out or are underrepresented in science.
Dr Francesca Chadha-Day – King’s College London
Eighty-five per cent of the matter in the universe is made up of dark matter, but the only way we know it is there is by observing its gravitational pull on stars, galaxies and other visible matter. As such, the search for dark matter is one of the greatest outstanding questions in physics.
Dr Chadha-Day will explore the theory that axion-like particles – a theoretical form of ultralight particle – could form dark matter, using telescope observations of neutron stars and galaxy clusters to search for axion-like particles.
She will also communicate her research and the wonders of physics to the public through stand-up comedy, while also engaging schools through talks and workshops.
Dr Andrei Constantin – University of Oxford
String theory is one of the leading candidates for a ‘theory of everything’, addressing outstanding questions such as how gravity and quantum mechanics work together on the smallest scale. It proposes that all fundamental particles including electrons, quarks and the Higgs boson are tiny strings or membranes that vibrate in space.
Dr Constantin will conduct forefront research in Mathematics, aided by machine learning, in order to elucidate the precise map between strings and elementary particles and ensure that the theory can be tested against data, such as that from the Large Hadron Collider.
The research programme is linked with an important range of outreach activities including talks to local schools and the public as well as popular science publications, which will bring the fruits of the work to wider society.
Dr Ömer Gürdoğan – University of Southampton
Quantum Field Theory is at the heart of particle physics and describes the behaviour of particles that make up the universe. However, our understanding of the essential aspects of Quantum Field Theory is very limited.
Dr Gürdoğan will focus on scattering amplitudes, which are the quantum probabilities of the interactions of fundamental particles, and work towards an improved picture of Quantum Field Theory to help answer questions about how nature works at microscopic scales.
He will also conduct outreach activities including art exhibitions, interactive demonstrations in science centres, and virtual reality demonstrations for use in schools.
Dr Scott Melville – University of Cambridge
The very early universe was so hot and dense that particles experienced energies far greater than any we could recreate here on Earth. Measuring signals from this early time can teach us important lessons about physics in extreme conditions and help us to understand what is responsible for the rapid expansion of the early universe.
Understanding these extremely high energy processes will shed light on the fundamental structure of matter, such as what it is made of and how it is held together, and how it interacts with gravity.
Dr Melville aims to guide upcoming experiments to measure signals from the early universe, which could improve our understanding of the world around us. He will also develop public engagement activities, such as public talks.
Dr Francesco Muia – University of Cambridge
The recent detection of gravitational waves has opened a new era in astronomy and astrophysics, opening a new window of observation for phenomena in which gravity, instead of light, is the messenger and can be used to explore new fundamental physics.
Dr Muia will explore the catastrophic processes that produced gravitational waves during the first second of the universe’s history. The observation of such gravitational waves would lead to a substantial advancement in our understanding of the early universe.
In addition to the scientific impact of his work, he will aim to inspire the next generation of research leaders, carrying out lectures and public engagement activities on the history of the universe to schools in the UK.
Dr Rebecca Nealon – University of Warwick
Protoplanetary discs are formed by the gravitational collapse of gas and dust and serve as the birthplace of planets. Recent observations have shown that not all of these discs are aligned like the planets in our solar system. Instead, some are misaligned and show complicated structures.
Dr Nealon's research will focus on the formation of these misaligned discs and could generate new knowledge about how planets interact with their host disc as well as the diversity of planets outside of our own solar system.
She will use numerical simulations along with observations of protoplanetary discs, generated through state-of-the-art telescope facilities, to engage the public as well as delivering public talks and contributing to outreach activities.
Dr Stefan Schacht – The University of Manchester
The Big Bang is believed to have created equal amounts of matter and antimatter, but almost everything we know – from the smallest object on Earth to the biggest star – is made up of matter. The quest for the missing antimatter is one of physics’s greatest outstanding questions.
Dr Schacht aims to build on last year’s observation of the unique phenomenon of matter-antimatter asymmetry in a form of particle called the D0 meson, to take us one step closer to answering our big questions about the fundamental laws of nature.
He plans to engage the wider public by establishing a programme for particle physics at the Bluedot festival, an annual music, science and art festival at the Jodrell Bank Observatory in Manchester.
Last updated: 05 March 2020