Review of the year
A selection of news and events from August 2015 to July 2016
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.
The James Tait Black Book Prize at the International Book Festival
The winners of the world’s oldest literary awards were announced in Edinburgh. Debut novelist Zia Haider Rahman won the fiction prize for In the Light of What We Know (Picador) and author, journalist and critic Richard Benson won the biography prize for The Valley: A Hundred Years in the Life of a Yorkshire Family (Bloomsbury). They joined a distinguished list of writers – including DH Lawrence, Graham Greene, Angela Carter and Ian McEwan – who have won the James Tait Black Prizes since they began in 1919. The winners of the £10,000 prizes were announced by broadcaster Sally Magnusson at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.
Each year more than 400 novels are read by academics and postgraduate students who nominate books for the shortlist. Rosie Nolan, a lead student reader on the judging panel, said: “As a student judge, bringing to recognition worthy works of literature restores a sense of how important it is for us all to tell our stories.. It is a true privilege to be involved.”
BiGGAR Economics report unveils University boost for economy
The Principal, Professor Sir Timothy O’Shea, said: “As a world-leading centre of academic excellence, we aim to make a significant, sustainable and socially responsible contribution to Scotland, the UK and the world. This study strongly indicates the hugely important economic role that the University of Edinburgh plays within Scotland and beyond.”
Floodlit Kelpies add dash of colour to Old College quad
Mini versions of the world’s largest equine sculptures took centre stage in the dramatic surroundings of Old College quad in October. The three metre high maquettes of the Kelpies, the rearing heads of two Clydesdale horses, were on display for a month on the Central Area campus before moving to Easter Bush. The versions are an exact 1:10 replica of the 30 metre-high original sculptures created by artist Andy Scott, located in Falkirk and forming a dramatic gateway to a new section of the Forth and Clyde Canal since April 2014.
Photographers and film crews attended the unveiling of the statues, theatrically lit in the Georgian surroundings. The quad remained open to the public each night until 9pm. Craig Martin, Leader of Falkirk Council said: “The maquettes bring attention wherever they go and their location within the University of Edinburgh will ensure that thousands of students and visitors alike will be reminded of their artistic importance.”
Fallen nurses honoured as Great War memorial is unveiled
A plaque that pays tribute to nurses who lost their lives in the First World War was unveiled at the 2015 Remembrance Day commemorations in November. The memorial brings together, for the first time, more than 500 names of British, Irish and Dominion Force nurses who died in service. Situated in Edinburgh’s Central Library, it is the result of research carried out at the University by historian, Yvonne McEwen. In her role as Director of the University’s Scotland’s War engagement project, she has collaborated with a number of partner institutions to produce this fitting tribute. She said: “Nurses in the First World War were often casualties in just the same way soldiers were. It is with the support of our partners that we have been able to create the memorial plaque, helping to share their narrative and reveal some of the hidden histories of these remarkable women.”
The Deaconess Nurses Association, Lothian Health Service Fellowship and the Royal Naval Association in Ireland are among the organisations that have supported the memorial.
Cancer study identifies genes that stop onset of leukaemia
Research by the University’s MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine and the Edinburgh Cancer Research Centre, revealed fresh insights into how to tackle leukaemia. Edinburgh scientists found that two molecules work together to stop the formation of leukemic stem cells in an aggressive type of blood cancer called acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). Cancer occurs when production of new blood cells by the bone marrow goes awry, leading to the formation of leukemic stem cells. The study shows that blocking the molecules accelerates the development of leukaemia, rather than preventing it, as previously believed. Designing new therapies that promote the activity of Hif-1alpha and Hif-2alpha could help to treat AML.
Professor Kamil R Kranc, who led the study, said: “Our discovery is a major milestone in our efforts to combat leukaemia. We now intend to harness this knowledge to develop curative therapies.”
Asylum-seeking students given help to meet costs of education
In the new calendar year, the University announced an initiative to support students who are seeking asylum.
Fully funded scholarships were provided for five asylum-seeking undergraduate students, and three postgraduate masters students received fully funded scholarships and living costs in 2016.
In addition, the University seeks to continue to support student refugees arriving in Edinburgh from Syria. £100,000 has been set aside to provide other forms of assistance, including English language support, for new students who are asylum seekers or refugees, or who have humanitarian protection status.
The Principal, Professor Sir Timothy O’Shea said: “Asylum seekers are routinely charged international fees and are not permitted to apply for any student loans, effectively placing a University education beyond their financial means. We are therefore offering one of the best packages of support for asylum seekers in the UK, delivering access that would not otherwise be possible.”
Hollywood icon Oliver Stone talks films old and new
Three-time Academy Award-winner Oliver Stone, celebrated writer, producer and director, met with University experts at an event open to the public and held in Edinburgh’s Filmhouse. During his stay, the filmmaker took part in a number of workshops with students at Edinburgh College of Art and the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures.
At the evening event, Edinburgh academics Dr Jonny Murray and Dr David Sorfa joined Stone on stage to gain insight to his artistic and political motivations and his thoughts on how the film industry has changed throughout his thirty-year career.
Professor Chris Breward, Principal of Edinburgh College of Art, said: “We are delighted to be able to host Oliver Stone’s visit to the University of Edinburgh. His groundbreaking work resonates across all of our world-leading film-based programmes and speaks to broader student and staff interests in politics, biography, documentary and the power of the media. In collaboration with the Filmhouse we are especially pleased to be able to introduce a true Hollywood Great to Scotland and the city of Edinburgh.”
Students offer free vet care for homeless people’s pets
In early March a group of vet students opened a free clinic for the treatment of pets belonging to homeless people in Edinburgh. The All4Paws clinic offered free vaccines and medications, advice on behaviour techniques and basic supplies for animals, such as winter coats, collars, leashes, toys, beds and food. Owners were also encouraged to sign up for The Dogs Trust Hope Scheme, which provides microchips and free spaying and neutering.
All4Paws was coordinated by students Biana Tamimi and Calla Harris. Biana, a fourth-year student at the ‘Dick Vet’ said: “We hope to provide those who have very few options for their pets with the best care possible. At the moment there are hardly any services in Edinburgh that support the pets of those that are homeless, but they deserve the same veterinary care and attention as any others.”
The initiative was made possible thanks to fundraising from the local community and donations, which have included supplies from Dechra Veterinary Products and Virbac.
Milestone in historic hall revamp marked with musical twist
In April musical instruments from the University’s world-class collection heralded the half-way point in a £6.5 million renovation of St Cecilia’s Hall, Scotland’s oldest purpose-built concert hall.
Construction workers, University students, staff and project supporters gathered on site for a unique acoustic recital of 19th-century contrabass serpent, performed by musician Tony George. The copper serpent is a descendent of the cornet, and gets its name from its long cone, which is bent into a snake-like shape.
The Georgian venue will reopen in spring 2017, when the University’s historic collection of musical instruments will be brought together for the first time to be displayed in St Cecilia’s modernised gallery spaces. Jacky MacBeath, Head of Museums, said: “The topping-out ceremony was a wonderful opportunity to celebrate reaching a landmark moment in St Cecilia’s Hall’s renovation. The performance was a fitting tribute for the project and gave our students, partners and contractors the chance to experience some of the world’s finest instruments that will be on public display in the near future.”
Erasmus+ awards open doors overseas
The University announced exciting news regarding funding for overseas opportunities. Edinburgh was awarded more than 20 per cent of the entire UK fund for this year’s Erasmus+ International Credit Mobility initiative. Record numbers of University students and staff have taken advantage of international exchanges, as well as record numbers of places being supported at Edinburgh for incoming staff and students.
Established in 2014, the €14.7 billion Erasmus+ programme provides work and study options for students and staff in non-EU countries. The programme in the UK is managed by the British Council, which has allocated £4.3 million to 44 projects in 2016/17.
Emily Maxon, Executive Director of the Office of International Programs, Universidad de San Andres, Buenos Aires, Argentina, said: “We are thrilled to be collaborating with University of Edinburgh on the International Credit Mobility grant funded through Erasmus. This generous grant will allow some of our very best students the chance to study at Edinburgh, a life-changing opportunity which they would otherwise not have.”
Ancient rocks yield hard facts on the safe storage of CO2
Researchers in the School of GeoSciences revealed vital findings from the most complete analysis of its kind. A study of 76 ancient geological pools of CO2 in America, Europe, Asia and Australia identified key criteria for storing gas safely and effectively.
Their research will inform development of technology known as carbon capture and storage (CCS), in which CO2 from power stations is held deep underground, to prevent emissions contributing to climate change. The findings provide further evidence that this approach is secure in the long term.
Dr Johannes Miocic, lead researcher on the study, said: “Lessons for safe CO2 storage can be learned from nature, which has been containing greenhouse gas securely for millennia.”
The study, published in the International Journal of Greenhouse Gas Control, was supported by the European Community and the Scottish Centre for Carbon Capture and Storage.
Dolly fans flock to pay tribute to star sheep 20 years on
On the twentieth anniversary of the birth of Dolly the sheep, the first animal to be cloned from an adult cell, by Edinburgh scientists, members of the public shared their reflections on the world-changing event in 1996. The project aims to record people’s ongoing hopes for what the research might achieve as well as their personal memories of Dolly.
Dolly’s birth turned scientific thinking at the time on its head. She proved that cells from anywhere in the body could be made to behave like a newly fertilised egg. The breakthrough offered hope of therapies for a wide range of diseases.
Professor Sir Ian Wilmut, who led the team that created Dolly, said: “When Dolly was born we knew that we had achieved something extraordinary. But I don’t think any of us would have predicted the level of public interest in our research, or that people would still be enthralled by Dolly and her legacy.”
Twenty years later, researchers at Roslin are building on this legacy by using the latest gene-editing technologies to improve the health and welfare of farmed animals.