Professor David Stephenson and Professor Michael Cant.

Two top Exeter researchers secure distinguished science award

Two world-leading scientists from the University of Exeter have been honoured with a prestigious national science award.

Professor David Stephenson, from the College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences, and Professor Michael Cant, from the College of Life and Environmental Sciences, have been bestowed with a Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award.

They are two of just 19 scientists nationwide to be awarded the honour, in recognition of their outstanding research in the areas of Stochastic modelling for improving understanding of storm risk and Social development and life history evolution in animal societies respectively.

Professor Stephenson, Head of Statistical Science in the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, said he was “honoured and delighted with this recognition of both my and my team’s pioneering interdisciplinary research at the interface between weather and statistical science.”

Professor Cant said: “I am thrilled to receive this award, and excited by the research programme ahead. Long-term studies of wild mammals are difficult to carry out and sustain, but they are enormously valuable to understand why animals – including humans - vary so much in behaviour, fertility and lifespan.”

Professor Stephenson’s research makes novel use of statistical modelling to understand weather and climate processes and predictions.

The research for which he received his award focuses on modelling storms as random processes, to not only provide new insight into storm behaviour, but also help stakeholders develop a more reliable view of storm risk, which then enables them to develop better resilience and protection for society.

Professor Stephenson and his storm risk team develop new approaches for quantifying and understanding ‘collective risk’ – such as the chance of having a cluster of many extreme storms in a season.  Their research has used statistical models to quantify how much clustering there has been in storms, which has helped insurers to revise their estimates of storm risk using improved catastrophe models.

Michael Cant is Professor of Evolutionary Biology in the Centre for Ecology and Conservation at the University’s Penryn Campus. The award will support Professor Cant’s research into life history evolution in animal societies. His primary project is a 20-year study of wild banded mongooses in Uganda, but he also works on wild populations of killer whales and paper wasps.

Professor Cant’s research addresses basic questions about the lives of animals that live in close-knit family groups  He is currently investigating why some individuals deteriorate with age more rapidly than others; how important it is to get a good start in life; and whether individuals that receive lots of care and attention grow up to be more caring and attentive themselves. 

The Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award is jointly funded by the Wolfson Foundation and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).

It aims to provide universities with additional support to enable them to attract science talent from overseas and retain respected UK scientists of outstanding achievement and potential.

The Wolfson Foundation is a grant-making charity established in 1955. Funding is given to support excellence. More information is available from its website.

Date: 31 July 2015

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