Jessica Corner

August 28, 2020, by Rob Ounsworth

Re-establishing and growing our research capacity as we return to campus

COVID-19 update from Professor Dame Jessica Corner

I am delighted to share with you news that around 100 buildings have now reopened on our UK campuses. Thanks to a remarkable and concerted team effort, we are on course to achieve an ambitious goal of reopening nearly all our research buildings and facilities by early September.

Buildings such as the Business School (North and South) on Jubilee Campus, and Humanities, Coates, Pope, Law and Social Sciences and the Engineering and Science Learning Centre on University Park Campus are among those reopening in the coming days to help us reach this milestone.

Our community is very grateful to the dedicated teams who are working so tirelessly towards our recovery. Some research activity is in the early stages of resuming, other areas are making significant progress and while there is still work to do, we should be proud of what we have achieved in a few weeks.

It is also heartening that growing numbers of research staff are back on campus to help welcome new and returning postdoctoral researchers and students for the new academic year.

Rebecca Shaw, Project Manager with the Faculty of Engineering’s Gas Turbine and Transmissions Research Centre, is the latest colleague to share her experience of returning to campus – including some useful tips on coping with protective glasses fogging up while wearing face masks!

Library reopenings 

Greenfield Medical Library in the Medical School and Djanogly Learning Resource Centre at Jubilee Campus reopen their doors for selected services on Tuesday 1 September, bringing the total number of open libraries to four.

Both libraries will offer book returns, printing, online scanning requests and Click and Collect access to print items on the shelves. Djanogly Learning Resource Centre will be the first library to also offer browsing of the shelves and 50 individual silent study spaces.

Our Library staff processed over 9,000 book returns and 1,500 Click and Collect requests since late July.

Visit the Libraries website for the latest schedule, opening times and updates.

Building our research capacity

Our recovery teams and the University’s leadership are also looking beyond returning to our research spaces and we are actively adapting our procedures and practices to the challenge of an extended   period of COVID-affected working. We must look at how to re-establish and grow our research capacity while ensuring that everyone remains safe, while exploring how to make our world-class facilities and expertise as accessible as possible to industry and other partners across society.

Lockdown has forced us to deliver research and knowledge exchange in new ways, and in a post-COVID world we will continue to innovate, embrace technology and adopt more agile and inclusive ways of working.

In the shorter term, fieldwork is taking place where researchers and their line managers complete full safety risk assessments. Although international travel restrictions are easing, the global pandemic is ongoing and no travel is risk-free. The University is drawing up updated guidance on international travel in line with Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice. It is recognised that work with human research participants is a significant proportion of our research activity. The health and safety of research volunteers remains paramount and further guidance on ways in which this can be undertaken can be found in this document on the Health and Safety workspace

Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Andy Long outlines how our community is adapting to the challenge of returning to campus in his latest blog. You can find more information on such health and safety measures on our Recovery webpages, and next week Vice-Chancellor Professor Shearer West will update on our roadmap for the return to our new normal.

Our COVID-19 research

News that scientists at the Universities of Nottingham and Nottingham Trent are to begin clinical trials for a DNA vaccine is a truly significant moment in the fight against COVID-19.

Lindy Durrant, Professor of Cancer Immunotherapy and Chief Scientific Officer at Scancell Holdings plc, is leading the team of scientists who have won funding from Innovate UK, as part of UK Research and Innovation’s response to COVID-19, to progress to Phase I clinical trials.

Virologists at our Centre for Research on Global Virus Infections, gene therapy scientists at the new Biodiscovery Institute, and Nottingham Trent’s John van Geest Cancer Research Centre are collaborating with Scancell, a developer of novel immunotherapies for the treatment of cancer, on the project. The first tests in human volunteers are expected to begin next year, with the potential for the DNA-based injection to be scaled up for a global vaccination programme against COVID-19.

Experts from the University’s School of Life Sciences have meanwhile found the early spread of COVID-19 could have been prevented if initial case definitions had been less stringent and extensive community testing had been in place sooner. In the new study, experts including Professor Jonathan Ball retrospectively tested routine respiratory samples taken from patients at a Nottingham teaching hospital dating back to early January 2020.

Such breakthroughs underline our expertise and determination to make invaluable contributions to the national and global response to this crisis.

COVID-19 and our expert commentary

Our academic expertise has placed Nottingham at the forefront of commentary around the globe during the coronavirus pandemic. From January to August 2020, the media team in External Relations has tracked an increase in broadcast audiences to 1.35bn and more than doubled print and online audiences to 104bn.

Professor Ball, whose work with the media was recognised with a Vice-Chancellor’s Medal (see below), and Keith Neal, Emeritus Professor in the Epidemiology of Infectious Diseases, are among our go-to experts. They have been joined in the media spotlight by Dr Rachel Tarlinton from Veterinary Medicine and Sciences Dr Chris Coleman, Assistant Professor of Infection Immunology Professor Will Irving and John Gathergood, Professor of Economics, among many more.

Many thanks to all the colleagues who are helping to raise the profile of research and the value of informed scientific insights in these challenging times.

Research and a sustainable future

The unprecedented impact of the pandemic underlines the crucial role of research in addressing  complex global challenges. We remain committed to delivering solutions that are sustainable and will build greater resilience here in the UK and societies across the world.

The UK’s commitment to carbon neutrality by 2050 is supported by Trans-Mid, led by Professor of Mechanical Engineering Alasdair Cairns and Professor of Electrical Machines Chris Gerada, which aims to bring together Nottingham, Coventry and Birmingham universities with transport and technology partners to establish the Midlands as a ‘supercluster’ for net zero transport technologies.

Trans-Mid is now through to the second round of UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) flagship Strength in Places Fund, and will be able to apply for a further longer-term investment of £10-50m later this year if the early stages of development are successful.

Our international partnerships and expertise in Earth observation technologies has secured funding from the UK Space Agency. Professor Doreen Boyd of the Rights Lab is working with partners in the UK and Uganda to tackle human trafficking in the east African country, while School of Geography colleagues Dr Betsabe de la Barreda-Bautista and Professor Giles Foody are harnessing satellite technology to help Mexico monitor the impact of rotting seaweed on its coastline.

Professor Nicola McLelland’s international reputation in the field of German studies has meanwhile been recognised with the award of the prestigious Grimm Prize, which is funded by Germany’s Foreign Office. As well as the €10,000 award, Nicola will receive funding for a research stay in Germany.

University of Nottingham Malaysia

Dr Siu Yee New and Dr Wan Yong Ho have each been shortlisted in the Science, Technology and Digital category for the Women of the Future Awards, South East Asia, for research in fighting cancer and raising understanding of the disease.

University of Nottingham Ningbo China

In a project funded by the Ministry of Science and Technology of China, researchers led by Dr Chengbo Wang, Director of Magnetic Resonance Imaging Research Centre at UNNC, are expected to introduce the world’s clinically available whole-body rotatable MRI.

Our international partnerships

A new Anglo-Indonesian alliance, including the universities of Nottingham, Warwick and Coventry, together with those at Institut Teknologi Bandung, IPB University and Gadjah Mada University in Indonesia, has been established to share expertise in a bid to build global resilience against pandemics, the climate emergency and natural hazards. The UK-Indonesia Consortium for Interdisciplinary Sciences aims to become a beacon for knowledge exchange between the two countries.

Digital research

Digital Research is continuing drop-in webinars. Upcoming sessions are on OneNote for research, process automation, and research data repositories. More information and links to the webinars

A new strand of work is helping researchers make best use of digital notebooks. A trial is under way in the School of Chemistry. The Digital Research Methods Team is also offering support around Anaconda and Jupyter Notebooks, two free tools for enhancing the reproducibility and reliability of your data analysis. Watch this two-minute introductory video

Funding to help you work with small businesses

Funding is available to help our academics to engage and work with small and medium-sized businesses. The Small Business Engagement Award is available to all academics and offers up to £4,000. The award helped Dr Holly Blake, Associate Professor of Behavioural Science,  generate evidence to secure a £100,000 extension grant for an industry-based research study. Find out more and how to apply.

UKRI funding for costed research grant extensions 

Following confirmation from UKRI of funding for costed grant extensions, plus approval for the re-purposing of existing grants, eligible grant holders are being contacted by Research and Innovation with an immediate priority and focus from UKRI on grants ending before 31 March 2021.

UKRI has also sent information to a number of grant holders/PIs about the survey that must be completed for COVID-19 UKRI Final Year Doctoral Student extensions.  This appears to have been sent to some grant holders/PIs who haven’t had any previous UKRI correspondence about PGR extensions and whose grants are outside the period under consideration.  If you have unexpectedly received correspondence from UKRI about this survey please contact Jane Wellens, Head of the Graduate School.

Vice-Chancellor’s medal winners

Our researchers are among the staff and students recognised by Professor Shearer West for outstanding service to the University.

In case you missed the announcement earlier in the month, please see a list of winners, including:

Hitendra Hirani, EU Programme Manager for the Institute of Aerospace Technology, who has tirelessly promoted the University’s multi-disciplinary research expertise

Dr Rob Lambert, a lecturer in Environmental History, Tourism and the Environment and University Environmental Ambassador

Steve Morgan, Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Co-Director of the Centre for Healthcare Technologies, who has helped develop a device that has transformed burns assessment in children

Jeannette Woolard, Professor of Cardiovascular Physiology and Pharmacology, who has pioneered the delivery of a truly innovative and multidisciplinary approaches to research

Professor Rachel Gomes, in recognition of her groundbreaking research into water processing as well as public engagement.

Finally, I would like to extend congratulations to researchers who are making an impact at early stages in their career. Four of our first year Sustainable Chemistry CDT students who have spent their time during the University closure creating a website containing teaching resources around the circular economy.

I do hope the bank holiday weekend will provide a little respite and some time to unwind, reflect and recharge batteries ahead of the new academic year.

Best wishes

Jessica Corner's signature

Professor Jessica Corner
Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Knowledge Exchange




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