Lancaster University environmental scientist elected to Royal Society Fellowship

Professor Barbara Maher FRS
Professor Barbara Maher FRS

A Lancaster University scientist who is considered a world leader in environmental magnetism has been elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society – one of the world’s most prestigious learned societies.

Barbara Maher, Professor Emerita at Lancaster Environment Centre, whose research into air pollution particles discovered in the human brain and heart has generated headlines around the world, is among 90 exceptional researchers elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Society this year.

Using ultrafine magnetic particles, Professor Maher’s research has provided powerful insights into key environmental processes at different scales.

She showed that magnetite formation in soils is quantitatively linked with rainfall, enabling estimation of East Asian summer monsoon rainfall variations over the past 2 million years.

Professor Maher led a team of researchers that discovered toxic air pollution nanoparticles in human brains. Their research findings identified that vehicle and industry-derived metal-rich nanoparticles could be a potential risk for neurodegenerative disease.

Subsequent research by Professor Maher and her team has also discovered tiny metal nano-particles in the mitochondria of the heart, with the potential to cause cardiac stress.

Reacting to her election to the Royal Society Fellowship, Professor Maher said: “It’s a great honour, I'm absolutely delighted, and of course this is also a tribute to everyone who has contributed to our magnetic lab over the years.

“Such recognition also affirms the importance of keeping your nerve and standards, and standing up to any obstacles placed in your way. But, of course, the most important thing always is the science, and what you can contribute in order to drive the science forward - perhaps especially so in my work on the impacts of air pollution on human health. Chuffed and honoured!”

Professor Andy Schofield, Vice-Chancellor Lancaster University, said: “I’m very proud to see Lancaster’s Professor Barbara Maher FRS elected to the Royal Society Fellowship. This election is a huge recognition for the pioneering work led by Barbara into environmental magnetism, and the highly significant discoveries of air pollution nanoparticles in the human brain and heart.

“Congratulations to Barbara for this prestigious recognition of all her fantastic work and discoveries.”

Professor Peter Atkinson, Executive Dean of Lancaster University’s Faculty of Science and Technology, said: “Barbara Maher’s findings are hugely significant in raising our understanding of environmental processes as well as how nanoparticle air pollution is finding its way into our bodies. This Royal Society Fellowship is excellent news and well deserved recognition of Barbara’s achievements in science.”

Sir Adrian Smith, President of the Royal Society, said: “I am pleased to welcome such an outstanding group into the Fellowship of the Royal Society.

“This new cohort have already made significant contributions to our understanding of the world around us and continue to push the boundaries of possibility in academic research and industry.

“From visualising the sharp rise in global temperatures since the industrial revolution to leading the response to the Covid-19 pandemic, their diverse range of expertise is furthering human understanding and helping to address some of our greatest challenges.

“It is an honour to have them join the Fellowship.”

The Royal Society is a self-governing Fellowship of many of the world’s most distinguished scientists drawn from all areas of science, engineering, and medicine. The Society’s fundamental purpose, as it has been since its foundation in 1660, is to recognise, promote, and support excellence in science and to encourage the development and use of science for the benefit of humanity.

Professor Maher’s Fellowship sees her join existing Lancaster University Royal Society Fellows: Distinguished Professor Louise Heathwaite of Lancaster Environment Centre; Distinguished Professor George Pickett of the Department of Physics; Professor John Dainton, Honorary Professor also in Lancaster University’s Department of Physics; Distinguished Professor Keith Beven and Professor Terence Mansfield, Emeritus Professors from the Lancaster Environment Centre; Professor Sue Black, Visiting Professor from the School of Computing and Communications and Professor Stephen Long, Visiting Professor from the Lancaster Environment Centre.

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