Leicester space scientist receives prestigious Ernest Rutherford Fellowship

A space scientist from the University of Leicester has been identified as a science leader of the future by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC).

Dr Beatriz Sánchez-Cano has been awarded a prestigious Ernest Rutherford Fellowship to continue research into the interactions between the Sun’s ‘solar wind’ and the atmospheres of Venus, Earth and Mars through study of ground-based observations and data from space probes such as BepiColombo, of which the University of Leicester plays an important role.

Her work will advance our understanding of habitability in the Solar System, and inform robotic exploration and eventually human exploration.

The Ernest Rutherford Fellowships are awarded to early-career researchers who have leadership potential in their chosen field.

Dr Sánchez-Cano is one of 10 talented researchers to receive a five-year award from £5.7million total of STFC funding to establish an independent research programme.

Science Minister Amanda Solloway said: “In a year which has shown the life-saving importance of science as we tackle COVID-19, we must capitalise on this innovative spirit and equip our most ambitious early career scientists with the tools they need to become the next generation of leaders in their field.  

“From understanding dark matter to exploring the habitability of the Solar System, these inspiring fellows we are backing today will help us to solve crucial unanswered questions about the Universe, all while cementing the UK’s status as a science superpower.”

Dr Beatriz Sánchez-Cano, Ernest Rutherford Fellow and part of the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Leicester, said: “This Fellowship will allow me to provide a better and necessary understanding of the influence of the Sun on three different types of planetary upper atmospheres. This is very important for understanding planetary habitability.

“I’m very honoured and grateful for this incredible opportunity to establish my own independent research and consolidate my scientific career at the University of Leicester, which has always been very supportive.”

Professor Philip Baker, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Enterprise, said: “As a University we are proud to support outstanding scientists throughout their career, and I wish to congratulate Dr Sánchez-Cano on this prestigious Fellowship award.

“We are proud that Leicester is leading the way in space research and enterprise, and the opening of the first phase of our Space Park Leicester development will enable increased collaboration between researchers and high-profile industry partners.

“This underlines our ambition to play a key role in expanding our understanding of the Earth, our Solar System, and beyond.”

Dr Sánchez-Cano has also received the 2020 Arne Richter Award for Outstanding Early Career Scientists from the European Geosciences Union for her study of Mars’ ionosphere, and is a European Space Agency (ESA) and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) guest investigator for the BepiColombo mission as well as co-investigator for the MARSIS instrument onboard ESA’s Mars Express mission.