Jessica Corner

July 28, 2022, by Rob Ounsworth

Reflecting on my time at the University of Nottingham

Research update from Professor Dame Jessica Corner

As this will be my final update I have taken the opportunity to reflect on my time at the University of Nottingham.

At the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee hearing to approve my appointment as Executive Chair of Research England, I was posed questions on setting priorities and funding for research – how to balance the immediate and massive challenges facing society with the need for long-term, fundamental research.

I reflect on these challenges and all we have achieved together in a personal look back on my time at the university.

Meanwhile, back to business as usual – as ever, I am delighted to share with you research and knowledge exchange news from across the university.

Research fellowships – welcoming our new cohort

Helping to interview prospective Nottingham and Anne McLaren research fellows has been one of the most rewarding things I have done at Nottingham.

My thanks to colleagues, including Research and Innovation’s Catherine Jew and Professor Lucy Donaldson, APVC for the Researcher Academy and Researcher Career Development, whose dedication has been so essential  in so far attracting more than 100 talented academics to Nottingham to provide the research leadership pipeline of the future.

We were delighted to be able to restart programme in 2021 after a pause due to the pandemic and following the conclusion of interviews in March 2022 our gender-balanced, diverse new intake includes four from the Faculty of Engineering, one from Arts, seven from Medicine and Health Sciences, three from Science and two from Social Sciences.  Some 56% of our appointees are external, with candidates joining us from Oxford, Cambridge, Max Planck Institute, Exeter, Queen Mary University of London and University de Liege.

The latest recruitment round starts shortly, with an expression of interest deadline in early October – updates to follow on our fellowships pages, where you will find new profiles of inspirational fellows.

Research culture and our renewed research strategy

Research culture remains a hugely important priority and while we have made good progress we recognise there is much to do. Our aim is to further enable change in your environment, rather than drive change from the top.

To support this, the findings from our survey and workshops so far will inform a series of ‘test and trial’ working groups.

We would love you to be part of these small groups, working with colleagues from different parts of the university and from different job families, levels and backgrounds, which will be supported to identify a manageable project inspired by the six dimensions explored in the survey:

  • Inclusiveness
  • Development
  • Leadership
  • Agency
  • Collaboration and Support
  • Behaviours

We don’t expect to change our research culture overnight, but we are interested in trying out small things that might scale up and we want to learn more about how we can help people find their own agency to support a positive culture from the ground up.

Register for ‘test and trial’ working groups

Sign up for research culture activity updates

The last in the current series of research town halls took place this week, with colleagues finding out more about progress towards renewing the university’s research strategy and transforming our research culture.

Research culture project leads Professor Lucy Donaldson and Professor Lynda Pratt have also discussed what research culture is and thank everyone who has so far contributed to helping us shape a more inclusive and supportive research environment.

We are committed to making the findings of the research culture survey and workshops freely available on the research culture pages in the autumn, once all analyses are complete and have been shared with faculty and school leadership teams.

Flexible Interdisciplinary Research Collaboration Fund 

We are committed to addressing the key challenges of our age through collaborative and interdisciplinary research that brings together academics from across subject areas.

I am delighted to share news of the 2021-22 Flexible Interdisciplinary Research Collaboration Fund awards, which support this aim by helping to establish innovative, interdisciplinary partnerships and build new collaborations between existing teams across the university with the vision to include external partners. We welcome the formation of new interdisciplinary partnerships in the future, which may include addressing one or more of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which are core to the university strategy.

Find out more about the fund and the initial 18 projects

Preparing for emerging UK policy on European research funding 

The UK Government policy paper, Supporting UK R&D and Collaborative Research Beyond European Programmes, is a welcome move to reduce uncertainty over our association with Horizon Europe.

The paper sets out important transitional measures (including actions with the aim of ensuring no wasted proposals) and longer term strategic plans that will have real impacts on our core business, and while these policies are not set in stone, it is vital that the university uses this information and any other intelligence to prepare for the future.

While the paper restates association as the goal, it currently seems an unlikely prospect. We will know more of the future direction once a new prime minister is elected but for now it is imperative we prepare for any changes to the funding landscape.

I wrote to our research leadership anticipating publication of the policy paper, and following its publication, I am now keen that all scenarios are addressed. As a component of our international research strategy which was recently approved by Research Committee, we’ll seek to ensure our university’s agile response to emerging UK Government policy with respect to the UK’s association to Horizon Europe or a ‘Plan B’ alternative.

Details will follow but for now it is important that our researchers remain alert and responsive to opportunities to establish and build collaborations with partners in Europe and continue to apply for forthcoming Horizon Europe funding calls, whatever the political outcome.

Power Electronics and Machines Centre officially opens

Vice-Chancellor Professor Shearer West welcomed more than 150 guests to the official opening of the Power Electronics and Machines Centre (PEMC) on Jubilee Campus, which is home to the largest such group of researchers in the world and sits at the heart of the university’s commitment to establishing Nottingham and the East Midlands as a hub for the translation of net zero technologies from research bench to real world solutions.

The building is also home to the Government-funded Driving the Electric Revolution Industrialisation Centre – Midlands, which is developing innovative technology and manufacturing processes for advanced electrical machines and drives to support the UK’s net zero ambitions, and houses the 20MW UK Electrification of Aerospace Propulsion Facility, which offers industry testing at a scale unrivalled by any other research centre in the world.

Farnborough International Air Show

Around  60 representatives from the Faculty of Engineering and School of Computer Science attended Farnborough, marking a decade since the university began showcasing at this major international aerospace sector event.

They showcased research demonstrators highlighting our strength in aerospace research to prospective students and businesses alike.

New £4.7m professorship boosts hydrogen expertise

Dr Martin Dornheim, an internationally recognised scientist in the field of hydrogen technology, is joining the university’s Energy Institute in September as part of a £4.7m Leverhulme International Professorship. Dr Dornheim will recruit a team of researchers and PhD students to undertake research focused on the development of novel materials for hydrogen storage and compression, compressors, and complete storage systems.

EPSRC award for engineer

The Faculty of Engineering’s Dr Hengan Ou has been awarded £279,000 by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council as part of a £1m project led by the University of Sheffield to expand our understanding of material deformation mechanisms in rotational vibration assisted incremental sheet forming as a way to improve this technique for the manufacturing of hard-to-form high strength and lightweight materials.

Industry award to develop PVC recycling

Professor John Robinson (Engineering) has been awarded over £100,000 by Halocycle Limited, a new company with a mission to develop technology for chemical recycling of PVC and other chlorine-containing plastics.

New direct air capture technology

Dr Cheng-Gong Sun (Engineering), was awarded over £909,000 by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to develop ConDAC, a new direct air capture technology. The project brings together world-leading expertise from academia and industry including the University of Nottingham, Strata Technology, Doosan Babcock, Atkins and Sizewell C to investigate how direct air capture could significantly help in delivering the UK’s net-zero ambitions by 2050.

Sweet success at Royal Society exhibition

A team from the Future Food Beacon exhibited at the Royal Society Summer Science exhibition. From tree to bar: A journey through chocolate took visitors through the process of making excellent chocolate – from viewing cocoa saplings and freshly cut cocoa pods to learning about fermentations, and getting to taste delicious chocolate.

Professor elected to Africa committee

Judy Muthuri, Professor of Sustainable Business, has been elected to the PRME (Principles for Responsible Management Education) Chapter Africa Steering Committee. Professor Muthuri represents the PRME diaspora community to advance responsible management education in Africa.

British Pain Society President elect

Dr Roger Knaggs (School of Pharmacy) has been announced as President-Elect (2023) for the British Pain Society (BPS). Dr Knaggs is the first pharmacist to be elected as president and this is a huge step forward in influencing treatment of patients who experience pain. Dr Knaggs will serve for four years as President, following his 12-month role as President Elect.

Inaugural anti-slavery commissioner in Australia

James Cockayne, an international lawyer and Professor of Global Politics and Anti-Slavery in the Rights Lab beacon, has been appointed by the Governor of New South Wales as its inaugural anti-slavery commissioner.

Physical Crystallography Prize for Dr Matthew Cliffe

Dr Matthew Cliffe (School of Chemistry) was awarded the 2022 British Crystallography Association Physical Crystallography Prize for the best recently published work by a person in the early stages of their career, whose research is expected to make a significant impact in the field.

Royal Society of Chemistry prizes for School of Chemistry

Professor Ross Denton has won the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Bader Award for the development of novel synthesis methods and catalysts based on organophosphorus and organosilicon chemistry, and their application in the synthesis of pharmaceuticals and natural products.

Dr Anabel Lanterna – Royal Society of Chemistry’s Environment, Sustainability and Energy Division Early Career Award for innovative research on heterogeneous photocatalysis, pushing boundaries towards less expensive, light-responsive, reusable catalytic processes for sustainable chemistry.

Professor Michael George – Royal Society of Chemistry’s Interdisciplinary Prize for pioneering innovations in flow chemistry, reactor engineering and reaction monitoring for continuous chemical processing.

Professor David Amabilino and PhD student Letizia Liirò Peluso – Royal Society of Chemistry’s Materials Chemistry Division Horizon Prize for chiral materials research.

Looking forward to thanking you in person

Finally, it has been a real privilege to serve as Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research and Knowledge Exchange.

For anyone wishing to reflect with me in friendship, please join me at a gathering in September, when I look forward to thanking you in person for your extraordinary contributions and celebrating our wonderful research environment and community. Look out for further details following the Discover newsletter’s summer break in August.

I sign off, not with a goodbye but with heartfelt and huge thanks to all my friends and colleagues at the University of Nottingham who made my time here so wonderfully rewarding.

My sincere best wishes

Jessica Corner's signature

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

Dame Jessica is joining Research England in October as Executive Chair, responsible for its critical role in providing more than £2 billion annually in grant funding to English universities for research.

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