Dr Oliver Henrich


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Job title: Lecturer and Chancellor's Fellow
Division: Department of Physics
Organisation: University of Strathclyde
Tags: Fellowship: RSE Fellowship, Researcher, University of Strathclyde
Related theme: ICT Physical Sciences


I graduated from Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nürnberg and continued my doctoral studies at the University of Konstanz, where I was awarded a PhD in Theoretical Physics. This was followed by postdoctoral appointments at the University of Edinburgh and University College London. In 2012 I joined the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Edinburgh. In 2017 I joined the Department of Physics at the University of Strathclyde.

My Fellowship

My research area is soft condensed matter, an interdisciplinary field at the interface of physics, chemistry and biology. It deals with mostly liquid or gel-like substances that are easily deformable at room temperature. This is why we call these materials ‘soft’.

Soft matter is ubiquitous and a vast number of materials fall into this category: complex fluids like liquid crystals, nanoparticle suspensions, but also glasses, amphiphilic mixtures, polymeric liquids, foams, gels, granular matter and a huge variety of biological substances.

Apart from their deformability, these materials share the common feature that they tend to self-organize into larger super-structures which crucially determine their elastic response and flow behavior. This makes it difficult to describe these systems in a single mathematical model. Often large-scale computer simulation is the only way to gain a detailed understanding of these materials.

As a computational scientist and research software engineer, my role goes beyond conducting the research. Equally important is the provision of reliable, accurate and sustainable software for current and future research. A good example are coarse-grained models of DNA and RNA. Coarse-grained models allow us to simulate sequence-specific strands on unprecedented time and length scales where more detailed atomistic models cannot deliver the required resolution.

The software that I produce will reach physicists, engineers, material scientists, physical chemists, biochemists, cell or molecular biologists as well as workers in industry. Furthermore, the impact of the research originating from this software will often go beyond academia and be also relevant to clinical studies and molecular medicine.

Career benefits of Fellowship

A significant part of my work consists of advanced software engineering and code development. Until recently in academia this has been an area which was often left for afterthoughts. Consequently, the people behind the development of research software lacked recognition for the substantial contribution they make to research.

The EPSRC Research Software Engineer Fellowship is a pioneering approach and acknowledges the importance of professional software engineering for present day research. I cannot overstate the personal benefit that I draw from this award.