University frameworks: Scotland plans?

Thursday 22nd March 2012
University of Bristol, architype horse power for economy growth

Pioneering scientific research and innovative application of discoveries can help add the necessary traction for the UK’s economic recovery according to Professor Eric Thomas, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bristol, the most recent institution to join the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s (EPSRC) group of framework universities.

The Framework Universities comprise:

 ▪ University of Bristol
 ▪ University of Cambridge
 ▪ Imperial College London
 ▪ University of Leeds
 ▪ Loughborough University
 ▪ University of Manchester
 ▪ Newcastle University
 ▪ University of Nottingham
 ▪ University of Oxford
 ▪ University of Sheffield
 ▪ University of Southampton
 ▪ University College London

 Professor Thomas (right), describing the role universities can play in the drive for growth in a short film posted today on EPSRC’s website  said: “Technologies are driven out of universities and into the economy. I am absolutely clear that this is a knowledge economy, I am absolutely clear that what is needed is high added value, intellectual, creative skills. We are producing the skilled people that this economy needs.”

The 12 universities between them account for over 50% of EPSRC’s funding. Working closely together, it aims to identify best practice that can be communicated to other universities to maximise EPSRC funding. The next 11 strategic universities in terms of research funding drawn from EPSRC hold a further 30% of the portfolio.

The Strategic Universities comprise:

  • University of Bath
  • University of Birmingham
  • Durham University
  • University of Edinburgh
  • Queen Mary, University of London
  • Queens University Belfast
  • University of St Andrews
  • University of Strathclyde
  • University of Surrey
  • Swansea University
  • University of Warwick

EPSRC is involved in over 20 areas of expertise at Bristol and has funded six Centres for Doctoral Training. David Delpy, (left) EPSRC’s CEO, said: “EPSRC is working very closely with its framework and strategic partner universities to support research projects and researchers that are innovative, internationally excellent and have impact both scientifically and strategically.  There has never been a more pressing imperative for the academic community to stimulate new thinking and new applications.”
The new film highlights some of the groundbreaking research projects being carried out at Bristol.   These range from dynamic holography, the bi-stable helix (for a wing or ladder) synthetic molecule chemistry,  the Bristol photonic computer investigating the complex chemistry of carbohydrates on the surface of cells and their role in diseases such as cancer and cystic fibrosis.

Professor Jeremy O’Brien, (right) who used a £1.5M EPSRC Challenging Engineering Award to set up the Centre for Quantum Photonics at Bristol several years ago, said: “The EPSRC award has allowedus to establish a research centre that is specifically focused on translating research into real technologies. For example, in collaboration with a mobile phone manufacturer we have patented and prototyped a system that could enable people to use their mobile phones to securely communicate with a bank teller machine, which could generate a secure key to use later to make a purchase.
“The potential of these technologies is extremely far reaching; there have been predictions about a second quantum revolution in this century where these technologies become all pervasive.  If we had a secure system in all mobile phones the economic impact of that could be tremendous. At the other end of the scale, in terms of being able to simulate quantum systems, this can lead us to designing new pharmaceuticals, new materials or artificial photosynthesis systems.”  
The potential for the university to link with business partners is high as well, for instance the EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Composites has been looking into new materials and structures that will respond to their environments and be multifunctional.
Researchers are working with wind turbine manufacturer Vestas to develop blades that are more efficient and the team are also studying examples of complex natural structures such as the skeletons of deep-sea silica sponge which is being used to inspire future aircraft fuselage design.

Professor Paul Weaver, director of the Advanced Composites Centre for Innovation and Science (ACCIS)’s Centre for Doctoral Training, said: “The work we have been doing in cooperation with sponsors would not have gone ahead had it not been for the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training. The grants from EPSRC have helped us introduce students with a science or mathematics background to core engineering skills. The cohorts go on to work on projects that have direct links to partners as well as blue skies research.”

  Professor Thomas concluded “The strength of being a framework university is that it establishes an environment in which the university can plan investments in engineering and physical sciences on the basis that EPSRC is a strategic partner in this venture.” 
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