From the origins of life to early cancer detection: Wolfson welcomes nine new world-class researchers

The College officially welcomed its new cohort of Junior Research Fellows (JRFs) this week: nine world-class researchers covering a broad range of subject areas, including chemistry, biomedical optics, epidemiology, social anthropology, developmental psychology, molecular biology, history of international relations, and genetics and translation at the origins of life on Earth. 

Wolfson Junior Research Fellows 2022

Junior Research Fellows are a key part of the College, making the College home to a vast spectrum of world-leading research, representing multiple University departments and coming from diverse international backgrounds.

Professor Jane Clarke, Wolfson College President, said: "I am delighted to welcome our new crop of JRFs to Wolfson. The College benefits enormously from the presence of early career academics. They bring new ideas to the fore, they mentor and inspire our graduate students, and they epitomize the diverse and international nature of our community. It is through supporting and nurturing the next generation of researchers, both research students and JRFs, that Wolfson contributes to creating a better world."

Each year the College offers up to ten non-stipendiary JRFs, awarded on the basis of an open competition. Fellowships are for research at postdoctoral level and are open to scholars in all subjects and all disciplines.

Dr Samuel Roberts, new JRF and postdoctoral research associate at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, is working on the chemistry of the origins of life. For him, the interdisciplinary opportunities of Wolfson offer a great opportunity: “I’m looking forward to being able to interact with lots of people outside my field and thoroughly engross myself in College life,” he said.

“I'm delighted to be joining Wolfson College,” said Dr Hannah Forde, new JRF and Research Associate at the MRC Epidemiology Unit. “It's a college that I was aware of being really welcoming and multicultural. I am excited to connect with other researchers who are passionate about global health and sustainability issues.”

Meet Wolfson’s nine new Junior Research Fellows

Dr Jane Chui is a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics. Her current research interests lie at the intersection of biology and physics and are an extension of the wonder and awe she experiences on encountering natural mechanisms perfectly attuned to carry out their designated purpose, often in complex environments. She is interested in designing experiments that elucidate fundamental physics at play that will help us understand these complex mechanisms and processes necessary for all living things.

Dr Sean Flynn is a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellow at the CRUK Cambridge Institute and a Wolfson College alumnus. His research focuses on DNA structure and gene regulation. Sean is interested in understanding the role of quadruplex DNA in basic biological processes and identifying mechanisms by which it regulates gene expression. Sean is based at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, where he uses genetic and genomics methods to study G-quadruplexes in human cells. He also works closely with colleagues at the Department of Chemistry.

Dr Hannah Forde is a Research Associate at the MRC Epidemiology Unit. Hannah’s research is concerned with making the food system – the network of activities involved in the production, processing, and sales of food and drinks – healthier and fairer for population and planetary health. She is principally interested in researching ways to change the practices of multinational companies that dominate the food system, and usually produce less healthy, ultra-processed foods. Hannah supervises MPhil students in the Department of Public Health and Primary Care and is a Research Associate in The Mandala Consortium.

Dr Emma King-Smith is a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Physics, working at the intersection of chemistry and machine learning. Emma's area of research is focused on providing practical solutions to synthetic chemistry challenges via the predictive power of machine learning. She is interested in reaction outcome prediction: if given some molecules, how do they react? Machine learning, with its astonishing predictive power, is a potential solution to recognizing the subtle patterns that govern the seemly random outcomes of complex reactions.

Dr Donatas Kupčiūnas is a Research Associate at the Centre for Geopolitics, Department of Politics and International Studies. In addition to running the Centre’s Baltic Geopolitics strand, Donatas co-teaches the MPhil course on the History of European Geopolitics and supervises undergraduate students on the subject of International Conflict, Order and Justice. His research interests include modern international history, relations between East/Central and Western Europe in the interwar period, cultural and intellectual history of diplomacy, geopolitics of the Baltic sea region, international law of global security and contemporary Russian foreign policy.

Dr Zhen Rao is a researcher at the Centre for Research on Play in Education, Development and Learning at the Faculty of Education. Zhen’s research has centred on understanding the links between play, learning, development, and wellbeing. She is particularly interested in social play (e.g. parent-child play, peer play) and how it is related to parents’ and children’s emotions and mental health. Her current work includes examining how parent-child play develop over time, and how their play behaviour is associated with long-term child behavioural and emotional outcomes. She is also investigating how to support teachers to promote play-based learning at schools. 

Dr Samuel Roberts is a postdoctoral research associate at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology working on the chemistry of the origins of life. Sam’s current work focuses on the origins of the mechanisms of translation in Biology, i.e. how genetic code gets converted into proteins. These studies have centred around building tRNA – the molecule which ensures the correct amino acid matches the correct codon sequence - in a prebiotically plausible manner. Sam is an Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and supervises undergraduate chemistry for the natural sciences courses.

Dr Graham Spicer is a Research Associate in the Department of Physics, working to build new endoscopes for early cancer detection. Graham’s current research focuses on developing new modes of spectral endoscopy for the early detection of esophageal and gastric cancers. He works to bring new spectral endoscopes to the clinic where they can be tested in real patients to determine benefit. His research is interdisciplinary, spanning the fields of optics, engineering, and clinical medicine, part of a project funded by the EPSRC with Dr Sarah Bohndiek.

Dr Elizabeth Turk is a Research Associate and Affiliated Lecturer in the Department of Social Anthropology. She is also a Curatorial Consultant for the National Museum of Qatar. Elizabeth’s research explores health-related practices and strategies in Mongolia, with particular focus on ‘alternative’ and nature-based therapies. The research will illuminate the ways in which public administration and national constructions of culture shape practices that influence health and wellbeing, revealing mechanisms by which cultural forms change more generally.