Research Round-up – February 2019

Welcome to the first of our new monthly feature series throwing the spotlight on our research success stories.

Professor Hai-Sui Yu addressing the European Parliament discussion about the ethics of artificial intelligence

The strength of our research is in making a real and telling difference to the world around us, by working across traditional boundaries to find innovative solutions to some of the greatest challenges facing society today.

Here we highlight some of latest projects being pioneered by the expertise and efforts of the highly talented research community at Leeds. 

This month alone, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) announced that Leeds will receive more than £15 million to fund three Centres for Doctoral Training, creating more than 150 new PhD researcher places. And it was revealed Leeds received more than €19 million in funding from the prestigious and highly selective European Research Council (ERC) during 2018. The figure places us in the top 10 recipients of ERC funding among UK universities for the first time.

From grant awards to examples of outstanding interdisciplinary work and best practice, we’re keen to showcase your research achievements. See the foot of this article for details of how you can get involved.

Professors Rob Richardson and Pietro Valdastri at the European Parliament event 

Robotics experts lead the conversation on AI ethics

Rapid technological innovation is bringing human-robot interaction ever closer to our daily lives, meaning society needs a standard framework to address the ethical and safety issues that arise. 

The question of how to develop such a framework was debated by leading northern robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) researchers, MEPs and representatives of other bodies during an event at the European Parliament. 

The White Rose Partnership – made up of the universities of Leeds, Sheffield and York – held the event to share their research excellence in this field. 

Professors Pietro Valdastri and Rob Richardson, from Leeds, led discussions on the impact robotics innovation can have on consumers.

The event was hosted by John Procter MEP and chaired by Professor Hai-Sui Yu, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: International at Leeds.

He said: “The wave of technological advances in artificial intelligence and robotics is truly exciting, but further work is still needed to address associated ethical challenges. 

“There is a need for conversation between researchers and policy-makers across Europe to coherently address the issues this important work raises. We have deliberately chosen to hold this discussion in the heart of the European policy-making scene to encourage as many opinions as possible, including those from leading researchers and policy-makers, to begin the conversation.”

The White Rose academics forged strong links with a variety of EU stakeholders from robotics networks, other universities and industry professionals, and will continue to work closely together to tackle key societal issues relating to AI.

Read more about the delegation’s visit to Brussels.

One of the instruments in the Bragg Centre for Materials Research

Bragg Centre: a new focus for materials research

A new centre for research into the analysis and development of advanced materials has been launched. 

The Bragg Centre for Materials Research will work closely with leading researchers and industry to develop new and innovative solutions to real-world materials challenges. It brings together engineers, physical scientists, and materials science researchers from across the University, further removing boundaries between disciplines and opening up new ways of working.

The Centre aims to discover, create, characterise, and exploit materials engineered at the atomic and molecular level. Its interdisciplinary research combines the fundamental understanding, design, modelling and fabrication of materials to lead to new devices, systems and applications.

Professor Giles Davies, Pro-Dean for Research and Innovation in the Faculty of Engineering, said: “The Bragg Centre provides an excellent opportunity to develop the University’s interdisciplinary research portfolio further, and to work in partnership with industry to deliver solutions to real-world challenges.

"We provide a unique environment, bringing together research capability, technical expertise, internationally-recognised facilities and industrial collaborations.”

Read more about the launch.

Scientists in one of the labs 

Manipulating microorganisms to tackle bowel cancer

Leeds researchers have been awarded nearly £2.5 million to investigate how billions of microorganisms living in our bodies – called the microbiome – could be manipulated to treat bowel cancer.

The researchers will collaborate with a team of scientists from the UK, the US, Canada, the Netherlands and Spain, who have collectively been awarded £20 million by Cancer Research UK (CRUK).

The funding is one of the largest grants ever awarded by the charity and forms part of its new Grand Challenge fund, set up to revolutionise the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

Philip Quirke, Professor of Pathology at Leeds, said: “We are really excited to be part of CRUK’s Grand Challenge. This award means that Leeds will be at the centre of some of the most exciting research into cancer going on in the world right now.”

Read more about this pioneering project.

The team of cancer doctors and scientists heading up the new Cancer Research UK Leeds Clinical Trials Unit 

Cancer charity invests in new clinical trials research unit

Doctors and scientists at Leeds have received a major boost for their pioneering work with cancer.

A grant has created the Cancer Research UK Leeds Clinical Trials Unit, which will allow doctors and scientists to continue researching and testing better and kinder treatments for patients.

Cancer Research UK (CRUK) is investing almost £2 million during the next five years in ground-breaking work at the unit, which is based at our Institute of Clinical Trials Research

This newly-opened unit will focus on two main areas – patients who are treated with radiotherapy or have cancers of the blood – giving them more access to innovative treatments by significantly increasing the number of clinical trials.

Professor Julia Brown, who will lead the new CRUK Leeds Clinical Trials Unit, said: “We are delighted and very proud that Leeds has been given this investment by Cancer Research UK, which will allow us to pursue an ambitious scientific research programme at a much faster rate.”

Read more about this fantastic research taking place at Leeds.

Enhancing the impact of social science research

Leeds has received a funding boost to help ensure its work has even more impact on people’s lives.

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) has announced a £27 million investment to boost research impact at 26 UK research institutions.

Leeds Social Sciences Institute (LSSI) landed the largest award, with £1.3 million for its Impact Acceleration Account (IAA) to develop flexible, creative and tailored approaches to increase the social and economic impact of its work during the next four years.

New initiatives will include: 

  • a Rapid Action Fund to help academics respond quickly to pressing debates and urgent opportunities; and
  • informing public policy by linking academic research with urgent policy issues, through improved relationships with policy makers, regulators, government agencies, parliamentarians, think tanks and campaigning groups – in the UK and around the world.

Professor Adam Crawford, LSSI Director, said: “This excellent news is a reflection of the research excellence across the social sciences at Leeds that has enhanced relations with stakeholders and is delivering research-informed change across policy areas and professional practice.”

Read more about the grant award. 

New funding for the Consumer Data Research Centre

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) has awarded the Consumer Data Research Centre (CDRC) generous funding to continue its work until 2024. 

Matched contributions from ESRC and the University will provide £5 million in financial support during the five-year extension period.

The multi-million pound Centre, based at the Leeds Institute for Data Analytics, creates, sources and maintains data for a wide range of users, working with private and public suppliers to ensure the efficient and safe use of data in social science research. 

In its next phase, the CDRC will continue to generate impactful research around the themes of consumption and lifestyles, as well as introducing new and ambitious strands of activity relating to innovation and methods. It will also continue to collaborate closely with a growing list of industry partners in an effort to free up consumer data for scientific research and in a bid to tackle a wide range of social and environmental challenges.

Read more about CDRC’s research plans.

Northern Exposure: examining the implications of Brexit

A major new social science project will examine the implications of Brexit on race relations, new migrations and Northerners’ sense of place and belonging.

The project – Northern Exposure: Race, Nation and Disaffection in ‘Ordinary’ Towns and Cities after Brexit – is led by Professor Adrian Favell from the School of Sociology and Social Policy, and has been awarded £750K by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). 

Running from February 2019 to May 2021, the project will see a team investigate exactly how Brexit impacts upon local communities in the North, amidst growing inequalities and post-industrial decline. 

Co-investigators in the research team include Dr Roxana Barbulescu, Dr Yasmin Hussain, Dr Andrew Wallace, Dr Albert Varela, Dr Paul Bagguley and, from Leeds University Business School, Dr Zinovijus Ciupijus, together with filmmaker Lucy Kaye.

Professor Favell said: “Northern Exposure offers a unique opportunity to dig deeply into the community relations of northern towns that are often off the radar of most policy makers.”

Read more about the Northern Exposure project.

How to feature in future round-ups

Please contact Internal Communications if you or one of your colleagues would like to appear in this monthly feature.

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