Review of the year
A selection of news and events from August 2016 to July 2017
The past year has been a busy and eventful one in which the University has been much in the spotlight as it continues to make new advances in research, teaching and innovation.
Deep time illuminates Edinburgh castle
The University welcomes all on Doors Open Day
The University took part in the annual Edinburgh Doors Open Day, one of the city’s most popular free events. Promoted by the Scottish Civic Trust and coordinated by the Cockburn Association, the event offers people a rare opportunity to see inside some of the most important architectural, social and cultural buildings in the area.
With a 430-year history and an estate which includes many converted, listed and contemporary buildings, the University was able to offer an interesting and varied selection for the weekend-long event.
Visitors enjoyed access to buildings including the refurbished St Cecilia’s Hall (pictured is a detail of the building’s metal façade) in the University’s Central Area; the FloWave Ocean Energy Research Facility at the King’s Buildings; and the Anne Rowling Regenerative Neurology Clinic at Little France. Each building provided information to help visitors learn more about its history, design and day-to-day function, and many offered a range of activities, exhibitions and talks.
Chemistry alumnus wins Nobel Prize
Edinburgh alumnus Professor Sir J Fraser Stoddart was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. The prize was awarded jointly to Professor Stoddart, Jean-Pierre Sauvage and Bernard Feringa for the design and synthesis of molecular machines. Professor Stoddart is one of the few chemists of the past 25 years to have created a new field of organic chemistry. His award recognises his development of a rotaxane molecule in 1991.
Professor Sir Timothy O’Shea, Principal of the University, welcomed the achievement: “For someone who has given so much to others throughout his career, we are thrilled that Professor Stoddart’s work is being celebrated at the highest level.”
Professor Stoddart, currently of Northwestern University in Illinois, received his BSc from Edinburgh in 1964 and a PhD two years later. He was also awarded a DSc degree by the University in 1980 for his research into stereochemistry beyond the molecule.
Festival celebrates Gaelic community
The University was closely involved in the week-long Edinburgh Gaelic Festival, known as Seachdain na Gàidhlig in Gaelic. Among the highlights were the screenings of two Gaelic films, Tron Doras (pictured) and Shepherds of Berneray, at the University’s 50 George Square, and a whisky tasting event led by the University’s Water of Life Society, during which experts offered an insight into the pronunciation and meaning of Gaelic whisky names.
A new Gaelic journal was launched at the University in partnership with publishers Clàr during the festival. STEALL features established and up-and-coming new Gaelic writers. For the festival finale, the University’s Highland Society hosted a ceilidh in Teviot Row House.
The annual festival is run by a dedicated committee of volunteers and is supported by Gaelic officers from the University and Iomairt Dhùn Èideann (the Edinburgh Gaelic Initiative).
University commits to cut carbon by 2040
The University’s new Climate Strategy was launched, which aims for the institution to be zero carbon by 2040. Action is being taken across all of the University’s activities, including research, learning and teaching, operations and responsible investment. The first scheme from the strategy was a £2.75 million initiative called the Sustainable Campus Fund to help bring to reality sustainability suggestions made by staff and students.
Edinburgh’s world-leading climate research has secured more than £50 million in funding over the past seven years. The University has also invested more than £30 million in low-carbon and renewable technology on campus. Senior Vice-Principal Charlie Jeffery commented: “In this strategy, we commit to long-term goals to ensure we are leading the way in tackling climate change across all of our activities and recognising the core strength of the University as a globally connected, socially committed research and learning organisation.”
Zebrafish aid quest to treat disease
A study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, revealed how tropical fish are helping scientists to stop inflammation in the body. Researchers used specialised microscopes to watch neutrophils cells, that are part of the immune system, as they heal wounds in living zebrafish. Once an infection has been cleared, neutrophils usually self-destruct to prevent bystander damage to healthy tissues. Scientists discovered that a key molecule called CDK9 helps neutrophils to swerve the self-destruct process, keeping the inflammation going. Blocking CDK9 – using drugs called CDK9 inhibitors – triggered the neutrophils to die, resolving inflammation in the fish.
“These relatively simple fish are helping us to understand the fundamental process underpinning the resolution of inflammation, and will help discover new therapies for the treatment of inflammatory diseases,” said Professor Adriano Rossi of the Medical Research Council Centre for Inflammation Research, where the research was carried out.
Enhancing skills through the Festival of Creative Learning
The University’s Festival of Creative Learning saw more than 130 events open to all staff, students and members of the wider community. The week-long event aimed to give people an opportunity to work together and learn new skills.
Among the inspiring and creative offerings were a mathematics themed bake-off competition, a workshop showcasing the biological science behind glow-in-the-dark plants, and an introduction to mindfulness and beginners’ Spanish – combining relaxation with learning a new language.
Run by the Institute for Academic Development, the Festival of Creative Learning builds on Innovative Learning Week, which ran from 2012 to 2016. It aims to celebrate and share good practices happening throughout the University, and support innovative ways of teaching.
World’s first national live music census takes place
For 24 hours in March, organisers of the UK Live Music Census monitored performances in cities across the country – including buskers, choirs, pub gigs and stadium concerts. The aim of the survey – a world first – was to help measure live music’s cultural and economic value and inform policy to help it flourish.
The Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded census – conducted by the Universities of Edinburgh, Newcastle and Glasgow – recruited volunteers to record aspects of a gig including the musical genre, the venue and the audience demographic.
Dr Matt Brennan, Chancellor’s Fellow, Reid School of Music, said: “Live music in the UK – from the Beatles and the Sex Pistols to West End musicals and Glastonbury – has transformed our culture, yet it is constantly under pressure. This census will help give us an accurate snapshot of the scene’s health.”
Funding backs next stage of Roslin research
Research to improve the health, welfare and sustainability of livestock farming received a £29.3 million award from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). The funding is part of a £318 million UK-wide investment by the BBSRC to support strategic research programmes in the UK’s National Institutes of Bioscience, of which the University’s Roslin Institute is one.
“The Institute plays a pivotal role in the University’s mission to tackle the many pressing issues in animal health and welfare, including those which have implications for human health and sustainability of animals in the food chain,” explained Professor Sir Timothy O’Shea, Principal and Vice-Chancellor at the University.
The funding will support three key programmes of research: how genes determine the healthy development and function of systems in the body; infectious diseases in farmed animals; and the role of genetic, environmental and dietary factors that affect livestock growth.
Edinburgh wins the Scottish Boat Race
Edinburgh rowed to victory over Glasgow rivals in the Scottish Boat Race. The annual rowing competition, held on the River Clyde, is the third oldest boat race in the world.
Edinburgh took the trophy after winning all seven of the races: the Graduates Race; Men’s Beginner VIII; Novice Women’s Race; Men’s 2nd VIII; Women’s 2nd VIII; Men’s 1st VIII and Women’s 1st VIII. Rowers included beginners, alumni, and senior men and women from Edinburgh University Boat Club.
The Boat Club, which celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2017, is one of the biggest sports clubs at the University with 230 members. It is one of only a handful of clubs in the UK to host a high-performance programme supported by the organisation British Rowing. The programme was awarded in recognition of the club’s excellent track record nurturing world-class rowers.
Innovation celebrated at Inspire Launch Grow Awards
The 2017 Inspire Launch Grow (ILG) Awards were held in the University’s Informatics Forum. The annual awards recognise University staff, researchers, students and alumni who have started a business or social enterprise or turned their research into a business opportunity. Prize money worth a total of £20,000 was awarded to winners of the Innovation Cup, Emerging Innovation Award, the Social and Environment Award and the Enterprise Award.
Grant Wheeler, Head of Enterprise Development at Edinburgh Innovations, commented: “The entrepreneurial talent here at the University is among the best in the UK and this is reflected in the quality of this year’s entries to the ILG awards. The presence of so many successful companies that started here at the University, during the Principal’s term of office, highlights the first-class support that we provide to the student and staff network.”
At the event, the Principal, Professor Sir Timothy O’Shea, was awarded with a Marty the Robot from Robotical, a previous ILG Innovation Cup winner, as a thank you for his support of ILG over the years.
Dementia prevention hopes raised by £1.9m boost
A £1.9 million investment in dementia research was announced. The project – known as the TriBEKa Consortium – aims to give a clearer understanding of the first factors that determine risk of dementia. It brings together experts led by the University, the Barcelonabeta Brain Research Centre and Sweden’s Karolinska Institute. The funding came from the US-based Alzheimer’s Association and a donation from an anonymous international charitable foundation.
As part of the project, researchers will study the brain using positron emission tomography and magnetic resonance imaging. Participants in the study will also take part in memory tests, and family history and lifestyle assessments.
Professor Craig Ritchie, Director of the University’s Centre for Dementia Prevention, said: “As brain changes that cause dementia happen many years before symptoms, we have an opportunity to prevent progression before people are affected. TriBEKa puts us in a unique position to understand how we might do this.”