University and alumni news
The latest news from the University, including McEwan Hall and St Cecilia's redevelopment work; Big Leap campaign; and forming the Alan Turing Institute.
McEwan Hall redevelopment work
The iconic McEwan Hall, scene of graduations, exams and other unforgettable events for more than a century, is undergoing major redevelopment work.
The hall, built between 1888 and 1897 through the largest single private donation in the University’s history, from the brewer Sir William McEwan, has long been in need of repair, and while undertaking those works the University is restoring the building to its original status as a major asset for both the University and the city of Edinburgh.
The first stages of work during 2015 included the restoration of external stonework, improvements to the building’s foundations and the remedying of damp problems at ground level. What was previously the basement will be opened up to create a new entrance hall and visitor spaces, which will have a modern glazed entrance pavilion within a new circular amphitheatre. A new corner stairwell will provide access to all levels for the first time.
“This sensitive restoration project will recapture the building’s former glory to create an incredible venue at the heart of the University’s estate,” says Gary Jebb, Director of Estates. “Continued investment in our estate is vital to provide outstanding facilities for students, staff and the wider community.”
The redevelopment addresses longstanding issues that have left the building underutilised, including limited accessibility. New ventilation and heating systems are being installed to improve both efficiency and comfort for the building’s users. Better humidity control will also help preserve the hall’s celebrated organ, which underwent a major restoration in 2014.
Bristo Square was closed in 2015 for relandscaping. This will include tree planting, more social space and improved accessibility. The monument outside the hall, which commemorates its opening in 1897, has been temporarily removed, to be restored and returned when the work is complete. Graduations in 2015 took place in Edinburgh’s Usher Hall, as they will in 2016.
The restoration project is due to be completed in early 2017, at a cost of £33 million. A campaign to raise funds to contribute to the costs has been launched, with the opportunity for supporters to have their names permanently recognised in the fabric of the building.
St Cecilia's Hall Revitalised for Greater Public Access
One of the University’s hidden treasures, St Cecilia’s Hall, is being reinvigorated to reflect its status as Scotland’s oldest purpose-built concert venue and home to a globally important collection of historical musical instruments.
Now nestled between the bars and restaurants of Edinburgh’s Cowgate, St Cecilia’s Hall was built in 1763, since when it has played many roles. In its recent history as part of the University, it has been home to a unique collection of instruments, and its oval-shaped auditorium has hosted many classical concerts.
A £6.5 million project to restore and improve the building will enable the long-term preservation of the collection and create a truly public venue and museum. Refurbished galleries will provide a fitting home for more than 800 items from 5,500 in the St Cecilia’s Hall and Reid Concert Hall collections.
The hall will re-open in autumn 2016 with a wide-ranging programme of concerts and other events. While the hall is closed, outreach projects are showcasing some of the historical instruments at schools and community groups.
St Cecilia’s Hall will be the centre for excellence for the display, study, performance and enjoyment of historic musical instruments
Quest for memories
The University is seeking oral histories of St Cecilia’s Hall. The team would especially love memories of the venue as a dance hall and concert hall in the 1940s to 1960s.
Take a Big Leap for a Good Cause
If a leap year can be considered to provide a bonus day, how to put it to good use? The University’s Big Leap campaign encourages students, staff and alumni to do something extraordinary with their extra 24 hours, by raising money for good causes while also having fun.
The University has organised several mass-participation events, including a fire walk, a record-attempt bake sale, concerts and dances, but participants are also encouraged to organise their own events in support of the Big Leap appeal.
As a charity, the University is putting forward six of its own projects that benefit the local community or wider society as suggested beneficiaries of the Big Leap – though the campaign is about raising funds for any good cause, not just the University’s projects.
The six “spotlight” causes offer a wide choice, and many fundraisers may have a personal reason for supporting one or other of them. The six are: Access to Sport, the Anne Rowling Regenerative Neurology Clinic, the Free Legal Advice Centre, the Hope Park Counselling Service, the Muir Maxwell Epilepsy Centre, and the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies.
“The hope is that people who have never thought of charitable donations to the University beyond an awareness of student bursaries will think ‘actually,
free legal advice, active health, or animal welfare does mean something to me’,” says Gordon Cox, Head of Integrated Fundraising.
The University aims to set a Guinness World Record for the biggest cake bake – the most cakes ever made for a single fundraising cake sale. The cake sale will take place on the “leap day” itself, 29 February, but other events take place throughout the year. Participants in the Edinburgh and London marathons, plus the annual Texas Scramble golf tournament in Ballater, Aberdeenshire, will devote their efforts to the Big Leap.
Support offered to those raising funds for University causes includes advice, online promotion and a fundraising pack, including sponsor forms. Stories of those dedicating their time to the Big Leap will be shared in a supporters’ section of the Big Leap web pages.
“If people can encourage friends and family to sponsor them and do something unique and fun, it can raise awareness and add up to a lot of money,” says Mr Cox. “It really will help people all around the world.”
Edinburgh at Core of Data Science Group
Edinburgh is one of five universities selected to form the Alan Turing Institute that aims to keep the UK at the forefront of data science.
The Institute, which was officially launched in November, is led by Edinburgh alumnus and former lecturer Professor Andrew Blake (PhD Artificial Intelligence 1984).
Professor Blake has retained his links with Edinburgh, returning to the School of Informatics as a Visiting Professor in 2006 and receiving an honorary degree in 2013. Before taking up his post at the Alan Turing Institute, he was a Laboratory Director of Microsoft Research Cambridge.
“I am delighted that I will be working so closely with former colleagues and alumni from the University of Edinburgh and the other partner organisations,” Professor Blake said on his appointment as Director.
The Alan Turing Institute, named after the man considered to be the father of modern computer science, is the UK’s national institute for data science. It is a joint venture between the universities of Cambridge, Edinburgh, Oxford and Warwick, University College London and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).
Among the first work of the Institute is a collaboration between computer maker Cray and the EPSRC using ARCHER, the UK’s largest research supercomputer, which is housed at the University of Edinburgh.
Bollywood Star gets New College Dancing
Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan got a packed New College Assembly Hall audience on its feet when he broke into his famous Lungi Dance after giving a public lecture in October.
Khan – known as the “king of Bollywood” – received the degree of Doctor Honoris Causa from the University Chancellor, HRH The Princess Royal, in recognition of his philanthropy, humanitarianism and global reach as an actor
He has appeared in more than 80 films, and his charitable work has included bringing solar power to rural villages, creating a children’s hospital ward and supporting emergency relief funds.
Khan entertained the University audience with “life lessons” drawn from the plots of some of his films, and spoke of the strong links between the University and India.
Joined by other dancers, he performed his signature Lungi Dance, which was written for his 2013 film Chennai Express – to the delight of the audience, which included many of the University’s 400 south Asian students.
150 Years of Sporting Success
Edinburgh University Sports Union is marking its 150th anniversary in 2016 with a series of celebrations, including an alumni weekend.
Many of the University’s sports clubs – of which there are 64 – will host alumni tournaments or gatherings over 5–6 March, and there will be an evening event at Teviot House in the style of a graduation ball.
In 2014/15 the University gained its best ever ranking among the UK’s higher education institutions,
achieving third place out of nearly 200, and scoring points across 87 sports.
Sporting staff and students are looking forward to the 2016 Olympic Games when once again several alumni and students are in contention for medals, including rower Katherine Grainger, swimmers Calum Tait and Corrie Scott, judokas Andy Burns and Sarah Adlington, and hurdler Eilidh Child.
The University has created a record number of spin-outs and start-ups in the latest academic year.
Students and staff created 44 start-ups and three spin-outs, bringing the total number of companies formed in the past five years to 184.
“Edinburgh is emerging as the largest technology hub outside London, and at the heart of that phenomenon is the University and its enterprise scene,” says Grant Wheeler, Head of Company Formation at Edinburgh Research and Innovation, the University’s commercialisation office.
An independent study recently found that the University of Edinburgh contributes £3.3 billion to the UK economy each year. The report, by Biggar Economics, takes account of factors including the impact of research, the economic activity of students, the impact of degrees on alumni, and the effects of start-ups and spin-outs.
Clooney Pops in for a Sandwich
A small Edinburgh café that helps homeless people had a superstar moment one lunchtime in November when George Clooney dropped in, following an invitation from its co-founder, Josh Littlejohn (MA Economics and Politics 2009).
The world-famous actor and humanitarian activist was invited by Mr Littlejohn to the Social Bite cafe, which he co-founded with his business partner, Alice Thompson.
The café gives all its profits to homeless people, and operates a “suspended” coffee system, where customers can pay for a hot drink or food for a homeless person. A quarter of the workforce in the five Social Bite cafes across Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen are formerly
Hundreds of people gathered at the café in Rose Street, Edinburgh, to see Clooney, who is co-founder of the humanitarian charity Not on Our Watch.
“Having someone with such worldwide fame shine a light on our operation is a real boost not just for us but for any social enterprise,” said Mr Littlejohn. “George is brilliant guy, someone who has achieved global fame but thinks nothing of visiting a local sandwich shop to chat to the workers and discuss the issue of homelessness.”
Clooney later spoke at the Scottish Business Awards in Edinburgh, which were also founded by Mr Littlejohn.
Canada's First Science Minister
Kirsty Duncan (PhD Geography 1993) has been appointed Canada’s first Minister of Science in the new government elected in November.
Dr Duncan won a third term as Liberal MP for Etobicoke North, Toronto, in the general election, and was appointed to the new cabinet post by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
After her Edinburgh PhD, Dr Duncan taught at three universities in Canada, and was lead author for North America on the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change, which was jointly awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. Dr Duncan featured in Edinburgh Experience in the winter 2013/14 edition of Edit, saying: “I loved my time at Edinburgh, my first-class professors, and my friends, many of whom I am still in touch with today.”
Alumni Dominate Gaelic Awards
Edinburgh alumni have taken several prizes in Scotland’s second Gaelic Awards, which promote Gaelic culture.
Dr John MacInnes (MA 1953, PhD 1975) took the Best Contribution Award. Dr MacInnes, a retired researcher and lecturer at the University, is an internationally renowned collector of songs and stories in the Gaelic language and tradition.
Edit Wenelius (MSc Celtic and Scottish Studies 2015) and Jake King (MA 1997, PhD 2008), were joint winners of the Community, Heritage & Tourism Award; Liam Crouse (MA Celtic & Archaeology 2012) won the International Award; and Ceitidh Smith (MA Scottish Ethnology & Celtic 2008) won the Learner Award. The University implemented its Gaelic Language Plan in 2013.
A company founded by Paul Fotheringham (BSc Computer Science and Management Science 2000) is using 3D printing to make low-cost bespoke prosthetic limbs in the developing world.
After working in the finance sector in Hong Kong, Mr Fotheringham joined a non-profit bank in Kenya, and discovered the difficulties facing amputees in a country where prosthetics are prohibitively expensive for many people.
He founded 3D Life Prints, which uses portable 3D scanners to record the exact shape of an amputee’s stump, and manufactures perfectly fitting, simple artificial limbs using low-cost 3D printing.
A prosthetic hand, for example, which can grip through the use of a simple bicycle brake-cable mechanism, operated by moving the opposite shoulder, can be produced for $50.
3D Life Prints has worked with amputees in Malawi, Zimbabwe, Uganda, South Sudan and Myanmar. It has fitted more than 150 prosthetics.
The company is also making anatomical medical models in a collaboration with Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool.