Headshots of Haitao He and Naemi Leo

Innovators for the future: Two Loughborough researchers awarded UKRI Future Leader Fellowships

Two outstanding researchers at Loughborough University have been awarded funding from the latest round of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Future Leaders Fellows, to help tackle major global issues and to commercialise their innovations in the UK.

Dr Haitao He is a Lecturer in Urban Mobility and Intelligent Transport in the School of Architecture, Building and Civil Engineering. The transportation sector is currently facing significant challenges in congestion, emissions, and greater accessibility needs. These challenges require a people-centric approach rather than a car-centric approach to support future multimodal transport systems.  

Therefore, the Fellowship will support Haitao’s research in leveraging nascent digital technologies and artificial intelligence to develop new people-centric methodologies for transport, aiming to drive this paradigm shift through scenario testing and optimisation, aligning with the UK's recent strategic investment of £15 billion in promoting multimodal transportation over the coming decade. 

Haitao said: "I feel extremely honoured and humbled to have been awarded a UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship. The flexibility that this scheme provides will enable me to work on some of the most challenging ideas that I have been brewing, aiming to achieve the UK’s strategic agenda for net-zero and inclusive transport, leveraging nascent digital technologies and artificial intelligence. 

“I’m very thankful to all of the academic and industrial partners involved, as well as to all the colleagues who helped to get a proposal of this magnitude all the way through! I am truly excited to get the project started." 

Dr Naëmi Leo is an incoming researcher at the University where she will be based in the Physics Department in the School of Science. In today’s world, information technology helps us to solve more and more complex computational problems than ever before. However, the use of power and data to solve these issues means a significant level of energy consumption is used – and a sizeable fraction of electricity used to drive modern chips releases as heat that isn’t used effectively. Heat itself is not always bad though, and interesting phenomena useful for future computational devices occur in situations where the temperature distribution is not uniform (eg one side of a device is hot whilst the opposite is cold).  

Dr Leo’s Fellowship project, LIONESS (Light-controlled nanomagnetic and spintronic applications via magneto-thermoplasmonics), will implement a hybrid approach for novel devices to enable fast, precise, and reconfigurable optical control of nano to microscale temperature distributions by light for key applications in magnetic data processing.  

Naëmi commented: “I feel very privileged to have been awarded a UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship and I am really grateful for all the support I received in preparing the proposal through to the final interview stage.  

“I am very excited that the scope and flexibility of the grant allows me to undertake interdisciplinary work combining the fields of optics, magnetism, and computing, and I look forward to building fruitful collaborations with project partners within the University, across the UK, and internationally.” 

UKRI’s flagship Future Leaders Fellowships allow universities and businesses to develop their most talented early career researchers and innovators and to attract new people to their organisations.  

Researchers can apply for funding for up to four years to tackle ambitious and challenging research and develop their careers, with the opportunity to extend funding for an additional three years to support a longer-term focus on a particular area of their research. Over seventy researchers have been named Fellows in this round alongside Haitao and Naëmi. 

UKRI Chief Executive, Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, said: “UKRI’s Future Leaders Fellowships provide researchers and innovators with long-term support and training, giving them the freedom to explore adventurous new ideas and to build dynamic careers that break down the boundaries between sectors and disciplines.   

“The fellows announced today illustrate how this scheme empowers talented researchers and innovators to build the diverse and connected research and innovation system we need to shorten the distance between discovery and prosperity across the UK.”