My week - 25 November 2013 - Nobel Prize winners, inspiring the young, and REF2014

A regular update from Vice-Chancellor Sir Alan Langlands.

Sir Alan Langlands

On Thursday evening the University hosted the Bragg Centenary Lecture, a celebration of the discovery and development of x-ray crystallography by William Henry Bragg and his son William Lawrence Bragg – both awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1915.  Their discovery remains the most accurate technique to determine the structure of materials at an atomic level and is still used today in the Astbury Centre to study the molecular basis of life and in SPEME to examine the properties of a myriad of materials.

Twenty-eight Nobel Prizes have been awarded to crystallography, including to Professor Dan Schechtman, the Bragg Centenary lecturer who told a remarkable story of scientific persistence in an accessible and entertaining way.  He discovered quasi-crystals, a breakthrough that changed our fundamental understanding of the atomic order of solids. Whilst his work has now developed into a remarkable and important interdisciplinary science, it took ten years for his peers to accept this new class of crystals.

Professor Schechtman is passionate about encouraging the young to study science and is currently making a series of TV programmes for 5 – 6 year olds in his native Israel.  This theme was picked up later in the week when I met James McKay and a team of PhD students from the Doctoral Training Centre in Low Carbon Technologies who have produced a graphic novel ‘Dreams of a low carbon future’ for the Royal Academy of Engineering and the EPSRC.  This is no ordinary book – 20 artists and writers; a dozen academics; 40 engineering PhD researchers; 370 school children aged 10 – 14; and a host of public engagement facilitators and teachers have contributed to unique visions of the future in a book which fuses science and the medium of comic art.  Giving the youngest in society the tools to understand the big issues of our time is surely a University responsibility worth celebrating.

Talking of impact, the REF steering group met for the last time to ‘press the button’ on the University’s 2014 submission.  This comprises more than 4000 high quality research outputs and almost 150 impact case studies, a testament to the work of the whole research community and a huge amount of hard work on the part of those who orchestrated our submission.  Having watched this process from its origins in HEFCE, I fully understand the scale of this achievement and pass on my sincere thanks to all concerned.

In addition I took part in the ‘Biggest Leeds Student Forum Ever’ – LUU is never knowingly undersold (!); participated in two separate meetings about student enterprise including one with Lord Young, the Prime Minister’s adviser who met a number of inspiring students who have been successful in developing their own businesses; and visited the Schools of Design and Modern Languages and Cultures.  I have now completed 13 school visits so far and find these stimulating and of real practical value.  The expertise and commitment of staff and the quality and enthusiasm of our students right across the campus is humbling.

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