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Queen Mary cosmologist to explore the universe as a Future Leader Fellow

A Queen Mary cosmologist has been announced as a Future Leader Fellow as part of a new government initiative to give researchers an opportunity to deliver global impact.

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Dr Alkistis Pourtsidou
Dr Alkistis Pourtsidou

Dr Alkistis Pourtsidou, from the School of Physics and Astronomy, will explore the universe with radio and optical galaxy surveys and is one of 41 Fellows funded through the Future Leader Fellowships initiative announced by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). 

Dr Pourtsidou secured a total award of ~£1.5 million, the maximum amount that can be requested. 

The initiative will encourage a new generation of rising stars across research and business to tackle pressing global challenges.

Supported by a £900 million investment fund, the Fellowships will provide researchers and innovators from diverse backgrounds and career paths with the flexibility and time they need to make progress on truly challenging questions.  

Dr Pourtsidou said: “My vision for my Future Leader Fellowship is based on my belief that my generation of cosmologists will be remembered for making the largest 3-dimensional map of the Universe, and for extracting the maximum amount of information from it using amazing telescopes and innovative techniques.”

Credit: SKA Organisation [close up view of the SKA and MeerKAT dishes in South Africa]
Credit: SKA Organisation [close up view of the SKA and MeerKAT dishes in South Africa]

Maximise output

Dr Pourtsidou will use the Fellowship to maximise the scientific output of a suite of radio and optical galaxy surveys and exploit synergies between them. These surveys include the Square Kilometre Array and its MeerKAT precursor, as well as the Euclid satellite mission. Both are major international projects in which the UK plays a leading role.

Dr. Pourtsidou’s funded research projects also include working with current data from the Green Bank Telescope and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, as well as producing state of the art numerical simulations and developing innovative techniques to jointly analyse interlinked data.

Dr Pourtsidou said: “During the last two decades we have entered a “golden era” of cosmology. Using satellites and ground based telescopes we have gathered high quality data from the very early Universe, from the light emitted from around 400,000 years after the Big Bang, as well as from the “late” Universe (the last few billion years), through the light emitted from stars and galaxies.

“However, a big part of our Universe’s history and volume remains unexplored. A way to attack this challenge is by using radio telescopes to observe the light emission from the neutral hydrogen (HI) that filled the Universe before the first galaxies were formed. After that time HI resides within galaxies, so we can also use it as a novel way to study the late Universe.

“This is my main area of research; it is exciting because it opens a new observational window into the Universe and can push the boundaries of our understanding of the cosmos. I am also working with state-of-the-art optical galaxy surveys, whose main goals are to probe the mysterious dark matter and dark energy, and understand the initial conditions of the Universe.”

Dr Pourtsidou added: “I will also build upon my involvement in data science training networks and the fact that all these surveys are “big data” astronomical projects to develop new collaborations across astronomy and data intensive science and industry.”

Talented individuals

The first wave of Future Leader Fellows will investigate a diverse range of challenges from the effects of poverty on child development to climate change and next generation mobile networks, with the time, freedom and encouragement to cross boundaries and disciplines in pursuit of excellence.

Universities, Science, Research and Innovation Minister Chris Skidmore said: “From Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s creation of the World Wide Web, to Rosalind Franklin whose work was critical in understanding DNA, we have a rich history of talented individuals who have paved the way for ground-breaking research and discoveries in their fields.”

UK Research and Innovation Chief Executive, Professor Sir Mark Walport, said: “The Future Leaders Fellowships offer long-term support for the most talented researchers and innovators. Fellows will be encouraged to be adventurous in tackling tough and important research questions and opportunities for innovation.  

“The Fellowships offer opportunities to move across disciplinary boundaries and between academia and industry. These Fellowships will enable us to grow the strong supply of talented individuals needed to ensure that UK research and innovation continues to be world leading.” 

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