Leeds researchers chosen for prominent funding programme


Three Leeds researchers working at the cutting edge of their disciplines have received prestigious national awards. 

Dr Viktoria Spaiser, Dr Tim Thurston and Dr Rene Frank have today been awarded Future Leaders Fellowships from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). Created in 2018, the Government-backed scheme is designed to promote ambitious and challenging research and innovative work by some of the UK’s brightest academic and business minds. 

The investment will enable the recipients to more rapidly progress their work tackling global problems by funding essential equipment and paying for researchers’ salaries. 

This substantial support will allow Viktoria, Tim and Rene to deepen their research into key areas of global significance, helping them to further develop their careers and make an even greater positive impact on our world.

Professor Nick Plant, DVC Research and Innovation

The recipients were announced by Science Minister Amanda Solloway, who said: "We are putting science and innovation at the heart of our efforts to build back better from the pandemic, empowering our scientific leaders of tomorrow to drive forward game-changing research that could improve all our lives and boost the UK economy.

“Supported by £113m, the Future Leaders Fellowships will equip our most inventive scientists and researchers across the country with the tools to develop and bring their innovations to market quickly - all while helping to secure the UK’s status as a global science superpower.” 

Professor Nick Plant, Deputy Vice Chancellor: Research and Innovation, said: “We are thrilled that Viktoria, Tim and Rene, three fantastic researchers whose work is already making a significant difference in their fields, have been accepted into the Future Leaders Fellowships programme by UKRI. This substantial support will allow them to deepen their research into key areas of global significance, helping them to further develop their careers and make an even greater positive impact on our world.”

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 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.”

Leeds' recipients

Dr Viktoria Spaiser

Dr Spaiser, in the School of Politics and International Studies, leads a project titled Understanding Normative Change to Address the Climate Change Emergency. It focuses on how we can establish the societal determination and consensus required to fight climate emergency.

She said: "I am so excited to be able to do this research and to contribute to our understanding of how to affect social change to help combat climate change.

"The fellowship allows me to take a holistic perspective and think bigger, looking at interconnected questions and complex phenomena when studying the societal response to the climate emergency."

Dr Rene Frank

Dr Frank, in the Faculty of Biological Sciences, is leading The architecture of Alzheimer’s disease-associated pathology by cryo-electron tomography, a four-year project which will bridge length-scales from molecules to the whole brain to identify the in-situ structural basis of Alzheimer’s disease.

He said: “It’s really exciting for me and my team to receive this award, and to have the support of UKRI for this challenging project of research. It means that I can focus a lot more on this strategic area of research we are carrying out in the Astbury Centre and the Faculty of Biological Sciences.”

Dr Tim Thurston

Dr Thurston, in the School of Languages, Cultures and Societies, is carrying out research for The Tibetan Sustainable Heritage Initiative, which forwards cultural sustainability as a new way of working collaboratively with communities to document and revitalise cultures and knowledge systems. 

Leading an international team of collaborators, Tim will conduct the first large-scale investigation of cultural sustainability in an authoritarian context in hopes of developing new methods for supporting vital futures for indigenous and minoritised cultures around the globe. 

He said: “I’m thrilled to have received this fellowship, and for the opportunity it provides to develop equitable and collaborative methods for working with Tibetan and other minoritised communities to support continued practice and transmission of threatened traditions.”

World leading researchers

The Future Leaders Fellowships scheme helps universities and businesses in the UK recruit, develop and retain the world’s best researchers and innovators, regardless of their background. Each fellowship will last four to seven years.

This year, 97 new fellowships were awarded, granting a total of £113 million in research funding from UKRI.

The three academics take the total number of Future Leaders Fellowships recipients at Leeds to 16. 

For media enquiries email University of Leeds Press Officer Lauren Ballinger at l.ballinger@leeds.ac.uk.