Meet the 2018-19 Vice-Chancellor's Fellows

Arthur Rose - Asbestos: A Matter of Time

Arthur’s project looks at literary, medical and legal accounts of asbestos from the major asbestos producing nations. Asbestos is a fibrous mineral composite that causes debilitating, life-ending illnesses, and proliferates across the built environment. When a problem is so evident, its conception is often deemed a low priority. Most academic work on asbestos has focused on proving historical fault, or medical cause, or on ‘practical’ decisions for the built environment. But, perhaps the biggest challenge is to mediate safe practice with realistic precautions. To develop this sense of ‘living with’ asbestos, Arthur researches a cultural imaginary that positions it as both ‘magic mineral’ and ‘killer dust’. This is particularly urgent in the case of mesothelioma, a painful asbestos-related chest cancer. Mesothelioma manifests 30 to 50 years after exposure to asbestos, and is often caught only very late in the disease’s progression. This creates a series of temporal disconnections, where moments of exposure, manifestation and diagnosis are out of synch with each other. Arthur will show how literature about asbestos diseases uses narrative tools to deal with this disjunction that might serve as a resource for people suffering from these terrible illnesses.

Bassam El Said - Hierarchical Multi-scale Modelling for Advanced Materials

Based in the Bristol Composite Institute, Bassam’s research project aims to develop the next generation of multi-scale Finite Element solvers to address the challenges associated with developing advanced materials. Composite materials are built from small scale constituents which are combined to fit the requirements of any structural application. These custom-built architectures are the main driver behind the superior mechanical performance of composites. However, the enhanced performance comes at the cost of additional design complexity due to the multi-scale behavior of composite structures.  Bassam’s project will develop a set of simulation tools to inform designers on how these materials behave and consequently how-to better design and construct composite structures.  Composites are being widely used in aerospace, automotive, marine and medical applications. The introduction of these new simulation tools will allow engineers to build lighter more efficient structures, as well as explore revolutionary design concepts.‌

Benjamin Ward-Cherrier - An intelligent neuromorphic tactile prosthetic hand

Benjamin’s research aims to address the current lack of sensory feedback in upper limb prosthetics; an essential component to regain full functionality of the missing limb. This fits within a research vision aiming to develop biologically-inspired hardware and perception algorithms to facilitate the integration of robotic devices with the human body.

The work will take a novel approach to prosthetic research, exploiting recent developments in 3d-printing and event-based vision to explore effective control and feedback strategies for upper-limb tactile prosthetics.  The goal of the research is to develop a low-cost 3d-printed prosthetic hand that restores a sense of touch, which could improve the quality of life of hand amputees worldwide.

Bernadette Carroll - Oncogene-dependent expansion of lysosomal pathways supports cell growth

Ageing and age-related diseases such as cancer are characterised by gross changes in cell growth. In healthy cells, a dynamic balance between biosynthesis, degradation and recycling controls growth. In contrast, activation of specific oncogenes drives a re-equilibrium between these processes which increases growth and can lead to cancer.

Her project will investigate exactly how oncogene activation changes biosynthesis (via mTORC1 activity) and recycling (via autophagy). The project will have a special focus on the lysosome, the degradative compartment of the cell which plays a crucial role in balancing mTORC1 and autophagy. If we understand the changes induced by harmful oncogenes, we can try to find a way to kill these cells and improve human healthy lifespan.    

Bethan Lloyd-Lewis - Deciphering the contribution of development and age to breast cancer aetiology

Bethan’s research seeks to understand the dynamic pathways that regulate breast stem cell fate during development, and how perturbation of normal developmental programs can lead to breast cancer.

While the risk of developing breast cancer varies throughout a woman’s lifetime, observational epidemiological studies suggest that pubertal breast development represents a crucial window in tumourigenic susceptibility. By combining techniques in genetic epidemiology and stem cell biology, Bethan aims to delineate the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying the susceptibility of the pubertal breast to cancer risk modulation.

In collaboration with the University of Bristol MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit, she will use population-based causal analysis approaches to determine which developmental exposures are causal for breast cancer. How these exposures affect breast epithelial cells, and their contribution to tumourigenesis, will be investigated using in vitro and in vivo laboratory models. Ultimately, this cross-disciplinary approach may define improved approaches for the prevention and early detection of breast cancer.

Daniel Finch-Race - Nineteenth-Century France and the Environmental Humanities

His latest project is about literature and art representing regional industrialisation in France during the second half of the nineteenth century. In line with UNESCO's Strategy for Action on Climate Change, he is evaluating the rise of a green agenda based on environmental concerns. Inspired by the growing field of material ecocriticism, his interdisciplinary readings focus on emotive elements such as smokestacks in Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary (1856) and Berthe Morisot's In the Wheat Fields (1875). He is particularly looking forward to cross-cultural collaborations with Bristol Green Capital, the Cabot Institute, the Centre for Environmental Humanities, and the Centre for Material Texts, as well as partners in Australia, Canada, France, and the USA.

Duleeka (Dee) Knipe (Elizabeth Blackwell Institute’s Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow) - Parental migration from low and middle-income countries: what are the mental health consequences for left-behind children?

An emerging global challenge in LMIC is that of migration. There are 244 million international migrants worldwide; 71% are from LMIC. Many migrants are young mothers working on short-term contracts without their families, leaving millions of children behind in the care of other relatives. Little is known about the long-term impact of this migration on children’s mental health but there are concerns of greatly elevated risk.

Dee plans to address this gap in our understanding by analysing existing (longitudinal) and new datasets in Sri Lanka and the Philippines (two major temporary labour sending countries). Using advanced life-course techniques this data will be examined to help identify ways in which any negative impacts of this migration on offspring’s mental health can be reduced.

An important part of Dee’s work is the engagement and collaboration of individuals and organisations who will use her findings. This project, therefore, is conducted in close collaboration with the International Organisation for Migration, who will help Dee ensure that her research findings are translated into impacts which will benefit migrants and their families.

Elizabeth Haines - Evidence and action: maps in the long history of the global land grab in Zambia (1900-2000)

The starting point for her Fellowship project is the proposition that we should step back from the fiction of the map as the end-point for social consensus around land tenure.

This long-term study of rural Zambia (1900-2000) will challenge the widely accepted notion that maps generate stability in land use. In a region without accurate geo-locating systems, and with overlapping judicial authorities, cartographic evidence has rarely been conclusive in cases of dispute. Using archives and fieldwork the project will offer historical context to current strains on the Zambian legal system. A series of case studies will investigate whether different modes of representing land rights have had different outcomes for social stability in the longer term, but also ask whether we don’t need to look elsewhere entirely to find positive resolutions to competing claims.

In order to pursue these questions Elizabeth will be exploring creative collaborative research methods with the support of the Brigstow Institute. She will also be pursuing multi-disciplinary discussions on land rights with the Centre for the Environmental Humanities and the Cabot Institute. Throughout the project she will work with Zambian campaigners and NGOs to consider what implications this re-framing of cartographic evidence might have for contemporary land policy.

Jie Zheng - MR-RCT for the integration of Mendelian randomization and trial evidence to strengthen causal inference for drug development

Jie’s Vice-Chancellor's Fellowship project will focus on developing an innovative platform, MR-RCT, to accelerate drug development. The platform will integrate causal evidence of drug targets on human diseases using two state-of-art epidemiology methods, Mendelian randomization (MR) and randomized controlled trial (RCT). Both MR and RCT are well developed methods and play important roles in causal inference. However, the communication between these two fields are limited. By developing MR-RCT platform, Jie plans to fill the gap between these two disciplines and maximise the value of open access resources and methods from both sides. Such integration will strengthen confidence of causal findings to support drug target validation and repurposing.

An important component of this project is to consolidate the existing networks and develop future collaborations between University of Bristol (UoB) and pharmaceutical companies such as GSK and Biogen. This will fill the gap between academia and industry and accelerate the translation of UoB’s research outputs. 

  Pierangelo Gobbo - Development of prototissues from adhesive synthetic protocells

Pierangelo’s project aims to open new frontiers in the field of synthetic biology by pioneering new technological advancements towards the spatio-temporal organisation of protocells into interconnected networks that are capable of emulating living tissues and displaying emergent collective behaviours.

To achieve this goal he will work at the interface of physical-organic chemistry, biomaterials chemistry, and synthetic biology to develop 1) new adhesive synthetic protocell membranes; 2) unprecedented technologies for the assembly of prototissues with high spatio-temporal resolution; and 3) innovative forms of chemo-mechanical transduction within prototissues.

Overall, this project aims to address important emerging challenges in bottom-up synthetic biology and bioinspired tissue engineering. Most importantly, it is expected to lead to applications in biomedical engineering, micro-bioreactor technologies, soft robotics and flexible electronics.

Rachel Bennett - Using hydrodynamics and geometry to design bacteriaphobic surfaces

Rachel uses mathematical and physical approaches to understanding important mechanical effects in cells, with a particular interest in the fluid dynamics of swimming microorganisms and nuclear mechanics in cancer cells.

Rachel’s project will use mathematical and computational modelling to study how different surface geometries can be used to modify the hydrodynamic interactions between swimming bacteria and the surface, with the goal of designing a surface that repels swimming bacteria away from the surface. These surface designs will then be tested experimentally. When a bacterium swims close to a flat surface, there is a hydrodynamic attraction between the bacterium and the surface, which causes the bacterium to swim parallel to the surface for long durations, giving plenty of opportunities for the bacterium to attach. When bacteria attach to a surface they form colonies called biofilms which are difficult to remove and resistant to antibiotics. With the global threat of antimicrobial resistance, it is vital to develop strategies for preventing biofilm formation. This approach focusses on keeping bacteria away from the surface so that they do not have opportunities to attach, and since this approach does not kill the bacteria, there is less risk of resistance developing. An important application of these surfaces is to indwelling medical devices to reduce the risk of bacterial infection.

Rebecca Richmond - From clustered behaviours to molecular mechanisms in chronic disease epidemiology

Rebecca has been awarded the de Pass Vice-Chancellor's Fellowship for future leaders in translational population-based genetic epidemiology. Her proposed research project is entitled “From clustered behaviours to molecular mechanisms in chronic disease epidemiology” and aims to highlight the relative importance and inter-relationships of several health behaviours for prioritization in disease prevention strategies and to identify molecular pathways which could serve as therapeutic targets for intervention.

Her research proposal is aligned with the research ongoing within the Bristol Population Health Science Institute and the MRC-IEU, with a focus on the large-scale integration of molecular data in population-based and clinical health science.

Ryan Davey - How class inequality is reproduced through motherhood and regeneration – an ethnography

In Britain, the accumulation of wealth, for instance through property development, runs alongside intense class-based stigma, often directed at marginalised women in their capacity as mothers. Ryan’s project will investigate the link between these economic and moral dimensions of inequality through immersive ethnographic fieldwork on two housing estates, bringing an anthropological approach to the study of class in Britain. To do so, he focuses on two key areas: motherhood and regeneration. Both of these are key targets of current policies for tackling poverty and disadvantage. While regeneration is premised on the assumption that improving the built environment of an area will improve its social make-up, parenting is widely seen as a cause of and solution for widespread social problems. By exploring how women raising children on low incomes themselves value their parenting in an often judgemental world, and how community workers reconcile the contradictory effects of regeneration, these case studies will answer much bigger questions about why Britain is so unequal today; and how one person’s dreams can become another person’s losses.

Tigist Grieve - Improving the educational outcomes and empowerment of adolescent girls in Ethiopia

Her work seeks to bring the marginalised voices of adolescent girls to the ongoing debate on gender and empowerment. Her research approach is committed to co-production of knowledge anchored on the lived experiences of adolescents. She brings extensive understanding of the political, economic, cultural and social environment within which the lived experiences of adolescent girls need to be framed.
Her research is valuable to understand why some rural adolescent girls were able to benefit from interventions and policy measures while many do not. It will also identify the ways in which adolescent girls empowerment interventions and policies may be improved to result the desired outcomes. The aim of empowering adolescent girls through access to education and related outcomes are at the heart of Sustainable Development Goals and catalyst in reaching all other goals. She seeks to contribute a nuanced insight that shape existing policy and interventions in Ethiopia and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Tigist actively engages with non-academic sector informing policy and practice with valuable evidence to disrupt inequality and intergenerational transfer of social and economic disadvantages.

William Seviour - The coupled dynamics of Southern Ocean climate change

Based in the School of Geographical Sciences, Will’s project aims to unravel how interactions between the atmosphere and ocean around Antarctica will shape the future of the world’s climate. He will use a combination of state-of-the-art climate model simulations performed locally in Bristol and through the weather@home citizen science project, alongside a range of newly-available observations. The focus will be on understanding the impact of two major anthropogenic effects, rising greenhouse gas concentrations and the Antarctic ozone hole, including consequences for the global carbon cycle and sea level. Close links with modelling groups will ensure that the results feed into the development of the next generation of climate models.

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