Review of the year
A selection of news and events from August 2017 to July 2018.
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.
Students excel in international Hyperloop competition
An Edinburgh student society called HYPED took part in the final of a prestigious contest to design a revolutionary new form of transportation, known as Hyperloop. First proposed by billionaire inventor Elon Musk, the futuristic system is intended to transport passengers over land in pods travelling at around 750mph in a near-vacuum tube.
HYPED was the only team from the UK to reach the final of the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition II. They joined 24 other teams at the event in Hawthorne, California.
Elsewhere, HYPED’s commercial team was successful in the Hyperloop One Global Challenge, which tasked teams with developing detailed plans for the world’s first Hyperloop system route. HYPED’s proposed route from Edinburgh to London was chosen as one of just 10 winners.
Investing in social improvement
The University invested £1 million in a new partnership with Big Issue Invest, the social investment arm of The Big Issue Group, one of the world’s most recognised social enterprises and home to the award-winning street magazine.
The money will go in to Big Issue Invest’s Social Enterprise Investment Fund II, which supports social enterprises and charities that are finding innovative solutions to social problems, such as homelessness, social exclusion and youth unemployment. It is the largest financial investment in social enterprise ever made by a UK university.
“As a university, we believe that it is our responsibility to use our financial power to deliver a positive impact for society,” said Lesley McAra, Assistant Principal Community Relations.
Africa-led research tackles infectious diseases
A new initiative was announced with the aim of allowing teams of scientists from Africa and the UK to pool their expertise to find solutions to the problems of infectious diseases and emerging epidemics across Africa.
Through the £7 million initiative – named Tackling Infections to Benefit Africa, or TIBA, after the Swahili word to cure infection – researchers will seek to develop better treatments for conditions such as malaria and sleeping sickness, and better prepare for epidemics such as Ebola. Teams in Africa will be supported by experts in infectious disease and global health at Edinburgh.
“We are working closely with governments and drivers of health policy, to ensure recommendations from research are taken up and the people of Africa can benefit from our collective findings,” said Professor Francisca Mutapi, Tiba Deputy Director at the University.
Keeping ice loss on the radar
Researchers developed new high-resolution maps of the land beneath the West Antarctic Pine Island Glacier. The maps are developed from a survey, the most detailed to date, carried out during the Antarctic summer of 2013 to 2014 by a team on snow vehicles equipped with radar sensors, which surveyed around 1,500 square kilometres of ice.
“Detailed understanding of this diverse landscape, and how that will impact on ice melt from Antarctica’s fastest disappearing important glacier, will give us valuable clues as to how warming in this region will impact on global sea level,” explained Dr Robert Bingham, from the School of GeoSciences.
The study was led by the University in collaboration with the British Antarctic Survey, the Universities of Swansea, Exeter and Aberdeen, and partners in the US and New Zealand.
A bright future for new institute
An anonymous donor pledged £10 million to support the University’s new Edinburgh Futures Institute, which brings together researchers from across the University with other partners to tackle major issues across the world. The gift will help transform the city’s former Royal Infirmary into a state-of-the-art home for the Institute.
Vice-Principal Professor Dorothy Miell, Head of the College of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences, said: “The world is experiencing major changes: climate volatility, political discontent, advances in artificial intelligence, economic upheavals. We need different ways of thinking about these issues and of devising new solutions. Edinburgh Futures Institute will make that difference.”
The development, due to be completed in 2021, will include a public piazza, garden spaces and a multi-functional space for events and lectures.
Initiative boosts financial growth
The University announced that it will play a key role in a new body, FinTech Scotland, which aims to promote sustainable economic growth in Scotland. The partnership involves the Scottish Government, the private sector and the University. It will be hosted by Edinburgh Innovations, the innovation management service of the University.
The FinTech Scotland team will focus on bringing together a number of key drivers for growth, including the ideas of entrepreneurs and innovators, the resources of the financial sector, and the economic and social objectives of the public sector.
Dr George Baxter, Chief Executive Officer at Edinburgh Innovations, said: “We’re proud to play a role in the establishment of FinTechScotland as we pursue Edinburgh’s ongoing strategic commitment to the delivery of skills and talent in this sector.”
Committing to a low carbon future
The University announced its plan to complete its transition out of fossil fuel investments within three years. The decision, approved by the University’s ruling body, the University Court, follows the commitment made in 2016 to become carbon neutral by 2040.
Edinburgh is at the forefront of research internationally on climate change and the technologies and policies to mitigate the effects of climate change. It has already invested more than £150 million in low carbon technology, climate-related research and businesses that directly benefit the environment since 2010.
“Climate change is one of the world’s biggest challenges,” said Professor Charlie Jeffery, Senior Vice-Principal. “Over the past few years, we have thought hard about how to respond to that challenge. This change in our investment strategy is a vital step on that journey.”
Supporting Modern Apprentices
Young people who are gaining a foothold in the world of work at Edinburgh marked their achievements during Scottish Apprenticeships Week in March.
The Modern Apprenticeships initiative enables young people to earn while they acquire the skills they need to succeed in their chosen career. It is a structured programme leading to a qualification accredited by the Scottish Qualifications Authority.
Scottish Apprenticeships Week is a celebration of the benefits that apprenticeships bring to businesses, individuals and the economy.
Each Modern Apprentice receives on-the-job training, often alongside further education. Laura Ferguson (pictured), a Modern Apprentice in Mechanical Engineering in the University’s School of Informatics, who also spends part of her week at Edinburgh College, said: “I feel very involved and supported in my apprenticeship. When I am learning new skills, I enjoy the way that these are shown and explained to me.”
Success at the Commonwealth Games
Elite athletes with University links helped Scotland to its most successful overseas Commonwealth Games, in Australia. Leading sportsmen and -women took nine medals, including gold, silver and bronze awards, at the Games.
University swimmers and divers excelled in the pool, claiming a total of eight medals in a number of events, while a silver medal was won in the 400-metres hurdles.
Sport science student Grace Reid (pictured) became the first Scottish female diver to win a medal at the Commonwealth Games, taking gold in the one-metre springboard diving.
“Our Gold Coast representatives have been truly inspiring,” said Jim Aitken, Director of Sport and Exercise at the University. We hope their achievements will encourage everybody to become more involved in sport at some level and to reap the rewards it can bring.”
A new sculpture and buildings unveiled at Easter Bush
The sculpture forms the centrepiece of the entrance plaza to a new hub for staff and students, the Charnock Bradley building. The building is home to the Roslin Innovation Centre, which provides laboratory and office space for animal and veterinary science start-up companies, a gym and the Easter Bush Science Outreach Centre.
Her Royal Highness, who is Chancellor of the University and Patron of the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, also opened the School’s newly expanded equine hospital.
Creating a home for student wellbeing
Work began on a new £8 million health and wellbeing hub for students in Bristo Square. The building will see Edinburgh’s Student Counselling and Disability Services brought together with the medical practice and pharmacy for the first time. The building will provide an accessible entrance, a calming wellbeing lounge and consultation rooms.
The Edinburgh University Students’ Association fed into the design process for the new Wellbeing Centre. “It is crucial that students are able to access support while at university and we are excited to see this project going ahead,” said Esther Dominy, 2017 Vice-President (Welfare) of the Students’ Association.
The centre, scheduled to open in late 2019, is part of a £200 million investment over the next eight years in student facilities, which will include expanded learning spaces, a major new student centre and enhanced sports facilities.
Health and wellbeing
Friends’ holiday photos give social media users the blues
A survey of Facebook users showed that 90 per cent of people are likely to feel low when they see friends’ travel posts. Researchers from the Universities of Edinburgh, Exeter and Falmouth, and Stockholm School of Economics analysed data from more than 800 people aged18 to 70 in anonymous online surveys and telephone interviews.
Users born before 1980 said that travel envy motivated them to book a holiday while those born after 1980 were more likely to go on a digital detox or feel motivated to do other things to improve their mood, such as online shopping.
Lead Researcher Dr Ben Marder at the University’s Business School said: “These findings show how those somewhat idyllic posts by friends on social media are likely to make us feel sad in our own lives and take measures to make us feel happier.”