Showcase highlights ‘tremendous impact’ of our early career researchers
Eleven of our early career researchers, across all Faculties and the School of Management, presented at the Vice-Chancellor’s Research Day highlighting the value and impacts of their work for the University and wider society.
From new mechanical solutions that could improve the quality of life for patients with heart failure, to understanding the levers of social mobility or securing future clean water supply, their talks reflected work across an array of interdisciplinary topics from a thriving research community.
Colleagues also emphasised the central importance of collaboration between different parts in the University, as well as with our growing international networks of partners, both within academia and in industry and civil society.
Inspiring future research leaders
We heard from:
- Whorrod Research Fellow Dr Ulrich Hintermair (Department of Chemistry, Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies) who opened with an overview of his work into catalysis design and its many industrial applications. With the potential to capture and store energy generated by renewables, Uli’s work is focused on improving the efficiency of water splitting. His recently developed molecular iridium-based electrocatalysts have set a new world record in efficiency.
- Research from Dr Katharine Fraser (Department of Mechanical Engineering) has direct consequences that could improve treatments for the half a million people in the UK who suffer from heart failure. Her work is focused on improving the design of mechanical pumps that work with the heart and are known to increase survival and recovery for patients.
- New ESRC Future Research Leader Dr Michael Donnelly (Department of Education) has recently been awarded funding by the research council to develop insights into the complex picture of related spatial and social mobility in the UK. Through his research, Michael is questioning to what extent young people’s higher education choices, and specifically their spatial movements (or non movements), determine their future career prospects and life chances.
- What is it like to work in a modern workplace and how do you motivate people to work harder – especially when they don’t have to? Dr Michael Gill (School of Management) is concerned with improving working practices and sharing insights with companies so that they can be rolled out in the real world. In his talk he expanded on why UK lawyers engage in pro bono work when there is limited financial or career gain, and when it is competing with growing workplace pressures.
- Each year diseases caused by fungi kill approximately 1.5 million people worldwide - as many people as malaria or tuberculosis - but our medical responses are often ineffective. Dr Stephanie Diezmann (Department of Biology & Biochemistry, The Milner Centre for Evolution) wants to inhibit fungal growth and is doing this by studying the genes and pathways of the chaperone Hsp90, which governs drug resistance in fungal diseases.
- Aquatic dead zones, where land use and climate change contribute to algal growth and oxygen depletion from water, are an increasing problem in the world’s oceans and fresh water bodies. Biogeochemistry researcher Dr Lee Bryant (Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering, WEIR) is working with local suppliers to find optimal solutions that aerate water and alleviate the associated economic and environmental costs. Lee is also working with our international partners in Stellenbosch on improving water quality in informal settlements and irrigation systems within South Africa.
- Dr Javier Gonzalez (Department for Health) is interested in exercise and nutrition. His work focuses on carbohydrate metabolism, which has important applications for athletes, for industry and across public health in relation to Type II diabetes. Javier is now looking at the links between exercise and meal times. This has already been shown to lead to improved glucose control in athletes, so Javier wants to replicate this to determine the impact for those at risk of metabolic disease.
- A significant future challenge is the sustainable and economical availability of safe drinking water, and the environmentally-friendly discharge of waste water. Dr Jannis Wenk’s (Department of Chemical Engineering, WIRC) research investigates new approaches in the design and application of water treatment technologies using chemical oxidants.
- Dr Ventsislav K Valev (Department of Physics) looks at the relationship between chirality and light, which could have important implications for the pharmaceutical industry. Ventsi’s work links synthetic metallic nanostructures to synthetic chemistry, and with most pharmaceuticals coming onto the market being chiral, there are huge potential applications.
- Our other ESRC Future Research Leader Dr Katie Maras (Department of Psychology) is examining how people with autism recall information in real-life formal contexts, like in police or job interviews. Katie has shown that the systems currently in place do not work for these people, so she wants to develop improved techniques which she will share with practitioners to help them respond better when working with individuals with autism.
- Understanding and evaluating how to optimise systems is the research goal of Dr Dimitris Paraskevopoulos (School of Management). His work has already had important impact for Network Rail, who have used his knowledge to help redesign timetables and improve services for customers. Dimitris is now looking at how the evolutionary algorithms at the heart of his research can be applied to help emergency services better prepare for mass casualty incidents.
Quality and calibre
Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Jonathan Knight, who chaired the event in the Vice-Chancellor’s absence overseas, said: “Along with colleagues from across the University, I was delighted to share in the passion and enthusiasm of our early career researchers and to hear how their work is making such a marked difference at all levels and across all disciplines.
“That so many of our early-career researchers are already involved in work which is delivering tremendous impact speaks volumes about the quality and calibre of researchers we recruit.”
Read about more about the work and activities of our early-career researchers:
- Scientists offer sweet solution to marathon fatigue - Javier Gonzalez, November 2015
- Major ESRC investment for humanities and social science researchers - Michael Donnelly and Katie Maras, November 2015
- Enemy within: the fungus that lives in your mouth and kills as many as MRSA - Stephanie Diezmann, August 2015
- Ocean 'dead zones' are spreading - and that spells disaster for fish - Lee Bryant, April 2015
- Breakthrough means bright future for clean hydrogen power - Ulrich Hintermair, April 2015