My week - 8 June 2015 - Hot tickets and folding proteins

Two hundred and fifty alumni and friends of the University gathered on the Thames balcony at the House of Lords on Friday evening at the invitation of our Chancellor, Melvyn Bragg.

Sir Alan Langlands

This was the hottest ticket in town – when the tickets were released earlier this year, they sold out in less than 30 minutes and we had almost a hundred people on the waiting list.

Alumni joined us from every corner of the UK – there was even a kilt (certainly not mine) in evidence – and from Australia, Malaysia, the west coast of the United States and Italy. Many talked fondly, and with a hint of nostalgia, about their time at Leeds and how it had broadened their horizons and contributed to their success.

But no one was focused on the past – these are people who care passionately about the University and, in increasing numbers, they are playing an important role in our future: as ambassadors and advocates; as volunteers, sharing career experiences with students and offering them work placements; and providing financial support for scholarships and cutting edge research.  Remarkably, more than 2,000 alumni contributed to the cost of the newly opened Laidlaw Library.

As I left Leeds for London on Friday afternoon the exams were drawing to a close, the sun was shining in a deep blue sky, the funfair was being erected for the Summer Ball and the campus was being spruced up by Kevin Banks and his excellent team for open days and a busy summer ahead including the Medieval Congress, the Teach First conference and of course our degree ceremonies. This is surely a time to be especially proud of the achievements of students and staff, and a time to celebrate our wonderful campus.

Another highlight announced last week was Council’s decision to invest £17m in a new BioStructure Laboratory in the Astbury Centre. This will buy two 300 kilovolt electron microscopes with the power to give researchers new insights into healthy and diseased cells, and how pathogens like viruses and bacteria attack them: and a new, ultra-sensitive 950 megahertz nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometer which can reveal how biological structures move and interact in real time.

This world-leading equipment, used in combination with x-ray crystallography – a science first developed in Leeds by Sir Henry William Bragg between 1909 and 1915 – means that the staff of the Astbury Centre can continue to address major research questions in areas as diverse as membrane proteins, protein folding and assembly, viruses, motor proteins and biological systems engineering. These techniques in turn have the potential to bear down on complex disorders associated with ageing, cancer, lifestyle and drug resistance.

This boost for the Astbury Centre is consistent with commitments in the strategic plan to build on our existing research strengths; and to develop a number of important technology platforms which will provide the very best training opportunities for PhD students, be attractive to leading scientists, strengthen our industrial partnerships and ensure effective partnership working with other universities and research institutes, nationally and internationally.

The University has a strong commitment to ensuring an integrated approach to education and research which meets the needs and aspirations of our students and staff. Alumni support means that we can provide a forward looking environment for education and personal development; putting a premium on high-quality tuition, independent learning and critical thinking; and inspiring our students to develop new knowledge and insights of their own. Good governance through a Council which is willing to act quickly to keep pace with advances in science will ensure that we work at the leading edge of research and ensure that we can attract the next generation of high performers.

Let us all look forward to the summer with renewed self-confidence but not a hint of complacency.

Sir Alan Langlands

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