Royal Institution welcomes 2023 Freer Prize Fellows

The Ri has today named its 2023 Freer Prize Fellows.

The outside of the RI building
Image credit: Tim Mitchell

The Royal Institution has today named the two History of Science researchers who have been appointed as its 2023 Freer Prize Fellows.

Aoife Sutton-Butler from the University of Bradford and Miguel Ohnesorge from Cambridge University will each take up their one-year Fellowship at the Ri in October.

Aoife, who is exploring the acquisition and retention of human remains for the creation of eighteenth and nineteenth-century potted specimens as an essential aspect in the development of the anatomical sciences in Britain; and Miguel, who is investigating the basic but surprisingly puzzling problem of determining the exact shape of the earth, will now have access to Ri resources, archives and support while completing the final year of their PhD.

Both were chosen through an open competition, from a strong and diverse field of international researchers.

Director of the Royal Institution, Katherine Mathieson, said:

We are delighted to be announcing Miguel Ohnesorge and Aoife Sutton-Butler as this year’s Freer Fellows. Miguel and Aoife will be continuing the Ri tradition of scientific scholarship, discovery and engagement.

We’re extremely proud of our rich heritage, and yet still acutely aware that there is still so much we can all learn from the past.

Dr Sophie Forgan, a Trustee of the Philip Freer Studentship Trust, said: “The Philip Freer Studentship Trust was established to support postgraduate students in making a difference in the world and that begins by engaging the public with compelling, research-based conclusions.

“Following the success over the past two years of the open competition for these prestigious Ri Freer Prize Fellowships, I am delighted to see more applications from research students from more diverse locations. Two outstanding Fellows have been appointed, whose work is intriguing and has the potential to make a significant contribution to public engagement with science at the Ri.” 

Aoife’s research topics include what eighteenth and nineteenth-century potted specimens can tell us about death and dying in a modern context, attitudes towards the display and conservation of these remains, and how these remains can still be useful in contemporary teaching and learning environments. She argues that the conservation of these potted specimens should be further invested in as they are an important part of our heritage, and that these collections can be utilised in innovative ways in research and public engagement. 

Miguel’s PhD topic – focused on the history of attempts to determine the shape of the earth empirically and to understand it theoretical – shows how this problem shaped debates in gravitational physics, mathematics, and metrology from the seventeenth to the early twentieth century. His project blends historical with philosophical and scientific questions by exploring how history can inform debates about the roles of measurement, statistical inference, and theory-testing in science.

As Freer Prize Fellows, Aoife and Miguel will each benefit from significant opportunities to communicate their research through the support of the Royal Institution as well as receiving guidance for publication plans and further research grant applications training in science communication and engagement opportunities and techniques, and a stipend funded by the Freer Trust.

About the Philip Freer Studentship Trust

Philip Freer was a collateral descendant of world-famous Ri scientist Michael Faraday and a great philanthropist who established the Philip Freer Studentship Trust to support postgraduate students to “make a difference in the world”. While studying the history of magnetic research at the Ri, Michael Faraday was inspired to try some historical experiments for himself and in doing so discovered electromagnetic rotations. The new Ri Freer Prize Fellowship have been established to coincide with the anniversary of Faraday’s famous discovery and celebrate Philip Freer’s vision of science and heritage working together to make that difference.

About the Ri Freer Prize Fellowships

The Ri Freer Prize Fellowships are intended as writing-up awards for doctoral candidates researching the history of science; history of the Royal Institution; or heritage conservation science. They are awarded on the basis of candidates’ ability to identify and communicate the significance and potential of their research to provide insights into present day challenges and to contribute to shaping equitable and sustainable futures, in a compelling way that can engage a general interest audience.

Ri Freer Prize Fellows will benefit from significant opportunities to communicate their research through the support of the Royal Institution; receive mentorship from the UCL and Ri Lecturer in the History of Science and Technology, including guidance for publication plans and further research grant applications; and a stipend funded by the Free Trust. Ri Freer Prize Fellows commit to the public communication of their research, including short films, tours for visitors to Ri collections, and online content. The call for the next round of Ri Freer Prize Fellowships will be announced in early 2024.