A visualisation of three computer simulations of terrestrial exoplanets, showing winds (arrows) and airborne dust (colour scale), with an M-dwarf host star in the background. Credit Denis Sergeev/ university of Exeter

Professor Nathan Mayne is part of a cohort of 101 new Fellows to be funded through the UKRI’s flagship initiative

Astronomy expert secure prestigious national fellowship

One of the University of Exeter’s most prominent astrophysics experts has received a prestigious national fellowship, it has been announced.

Professor Nathan Mayne, has been awarded a Future Leaders Fellowships, awarded by the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and announced today (October 15th 2020).

Professor Mayne, part of Exeter’s Physics and Astronomy department, aims to further our knowledge of whether life exists on other planets and how the Earth's climate will change in the future, through state-of-the-art modelling combining tools and expertise from a wide range of sources, such as the Met Office and astrophysics research.

He is part of a cohort of 101 new Fellows to be funded through the UKRI’s flagship initiative, which will help researchers and businesses to tackle some of the today’s most pressing global challenges.

Professor Mayne said: “This project is extremely ambitious, but builds on a foundation of strong inter-disciplinary collaboration we have built at Exeter, connecting researchers focusing on our own planet, with those exploring distant worlds.

“The Future Leaders scheme is uniquely placed to support a project of this kind, combining the large-scale research idea with a programme of impact activity focused on widening the accessibility of research and higher level education to those across the south west, and beyond, from backgrounds with traditionally lower uptake.'

`I am personally extremely excited about embarking on this project, and incredibly grateful for the support from the Future Leaders scheme. I am very lucky to be joining what I have learned already is an incredibly supportive network, and to be connected with the other Fellows all working on exciting projects across a range of fields.”

For the project, which will run for between four and seven years, Professor Mayne and his research team will work closely with the Met Office to co-develop and adapt the next generation of climate model, termed LFRic, to the study of exoplanets.

This state-of-the-art modelling will allow the team to overcome fundamental barriers to our understanding of planetary climates, presented by cutting-edge exoplanet observations and, crucially, connect these findings to research into Earth's own changing climate.

Professor Mayne added: “The answer to one of the most profound, and perhaps oldest questions humankind has contemplated – that of “are we alone?” - may well be within our reach.

The discovery of a vast number of exoplanets, planets orbiting distant stars, coupled with rapid advances in characterising these diverse and distant worlds provides an unprecedented opportunity in the hunt for life beyond Earth.

“The answer to the question of whether life exists on another planet is intrinsically linked to that of an equally important question, how will Earth’s climate change in response to life and, specifically, human action? Understanding both these questions demands advanced theoretical study of planetary environments as complete systems.”

Announcing the successful fellows at today’s Future Leaders Conference, Science Minister Amanda Solloway said: “We are committed to building back better through research and innovation, and supporting our science superstars in every corner of the UK.

“By backing these inspirational Future Leaders Fellows, we will ensure that their brilliant ideas can be transferred straight from the lab into vital everyday products and services that will help to change all our lives for the better.”

UK Research and Innovation Chief Executive, Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, said: “Future Leaders Fellowships provide researchers and innovators with freedom and support to drive forward transformative new ideas and the opportunity to learn from peers right across the country.

"The fellows announced today illustrate how the UK continues to support and attract talented researchers and innovators across every discipline to our universities and businesses, with the potential to deliver change that can be felt across society and the economy."

UKRI’s initiative aims to support the creation of a new cohort of research and innovation leaders who will have links across different sectors and disciplines. Awardees will each receive between £400,000 and £1.5 million over an initial four years.

The grant supports challenging and novel projects, and the development of the fellow’s career. The funding can also used to support team members, their development, and pay for equipment and other needs.

UKRI is committed to increasing diversity on its fellowship programmes. It is today publishing diversity data on application and award rates for the Future Leaders Fellowships.

Date: 15 October 2020

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