March 21, 2024, by Rob Ounsworth

Shape the future of research: a call for your big ideas 

I am delighted to share some resounding successes with you, while also updating on news of how the university is continuing to support our research community and remains absolutely committed to the delivery of world-class research. 

Our sector is facing big financial pressures and Nottingham is not alone is reviewing how to respond and overcome short and medium-term challenges, while continuing to plan for a sustainable future and grow our international reputation for excellence and innovation. 

In the current climate, it is only right that schools and research groups should review spending and ask if it represents value for money. But the overarching message to all our researchers remains the same: stay alert and responsive to opportunities for funding, continue to seek out and build partnerships and collaborations. And where external funding applications require match-funding from the university – don’t hesitate! Keep school and R&I colleagues informed, seek guidance on where relevant match-funding or support is available, and keep applying. 

We will continue to support you wherever possible. This commitment underpins our ability to support the winners of prestigious awards such as UKRI Future Leaders. In the latest round, Dr Joanne Cormac from the School of Humanities and Dr Peter Harvey from the Schools of Chemistry and Medicine, who are both Nottingham Research Fellows, were awarded £1.1m and £1.6m respectively. Here, Pete reflects on his UKRI Future Leaders fellowship and time as a Nottingham Research Fellow. 

Help shape future research at Nottingham: call for big ideas 

Investing in exciting research and supporting our inspiring people means looking ahead. What will be the next big ideas that will drive change and transform society over the next ten years? 

We want to look beyond existing areas of research strength at Nottingham to find the next big ideas with the potential to change the world. We also want to think differently about who leads major funding applications and initiatives, enabling new voices to come forward with ideas and ensuring they have access to the support they need to succeed. 

How can you get involved? 

Please submit your ideas via this short online form or contact the Research Growth team via email. Once we receive your idea the team will contact you for a chat. 

What are we looking for? 

We’re looking for big, long-term challenges and people who are trying to do something new and different.  

  • Your idea will appeal to people beyond your current research area or group and developing it further may require co-ordination across a number of schools or faculties 
  • Your idea won’t be “business as usual” – and ultimately its scale will be bigger than a single grant application or paper 
  • It’s an area where Nottingham isn’t already in a position of research leadership: you may have won some funding and published a number of papers, for example, but there’s no national/international research centre – yet! – in this area 
  • There’s potential for this research area to grow, for example through alignment with funder/government/international priorities, potential for external funding, and budding partnerships and impact activities 

How will my idea be supported? 

Depending on your needs, we’ll provide support in: 

Building networks 

  • Linking to professional and support services 
  • Engaging with funders and partners 
  • Navigating the funding landscape, linking you to pump-priming funding to help initiate activities and helping plan a strategy for external funding 
  • Research development support to help with major funding applications 
  • Exploring mentoring, training and professional development needs 

In my previous role at the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, we ran a similar Big Ideas initiative, which identified exciting, adventurous and potentially transformative ideas. 

 I am sure our research community will also generate a number of big ideas to help shape the next generation of research and innovation priorities for Nottingham. 

Engaging with Europe 

Nottingham has a strong track record with securing prestigious Marie Sklodowska-Curie Post-doctoral Fellowships. Seven fellowships were awarded by the European Union to university researchers last time. There’s scope for more success as we prepare for the next round, which has a deadline of 11 September 2024. Support and guidance on applications include a virtual summer school in early May, when supervisors and perspective fellows can find out more about the scheme. 

Our EU Strategy Group is meanwhile seeking academic input from across all faculties to guide our strategic response European opportunities, including Horizon Europe. Information events are being run on European Research Council calls, with deadlines at end of August for the Advanced Grant and deadlines for the Starting, Consolidator and Synergy Grants to be confirmed towards the end of 2025. 

We have 66 European proposals submitted or in draft form with the EU, with more in the pipeline. Many of these are collaborative with consortium partners across Europe. As ever the key message is to continue to engage with colleagues at European institutions and industry and to be ready to respond to Horizon Europe Pillar II ‘top-down’ opportunities. Academics are encouraged to talk to their local research support team or to EU Strategic Research and KE Development Manager Matt Rackley in R&I for any queries about Horizon Europe funding or support. 

University secures five centres for doctoral training  

The university has been awarded five centres for doctoral training (CDTs) by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, which will bring in around £10.3m to Nottingham. 

This accomplishment underscores our commitment to fostering cutting-edge research and providing unparalleled opportunities for the next generation of researchers and innovators.   

The university will lead a CDT in Resilient Chemistry, directed by Professor Pete Licence, in partnership with Nottingham Trent University, and co-lead on four CDTs, which are focusing on engineering and pharmacy and led by other institutions: 

BIONET (Bio-based negative emissions technologies) CDT –Professor Hao Liu and Dr Eleanor Binner will lead the University of Nottingham’s participation with the NET2Zero CDT. 

Innovation for sustainable composites engineering CDT – Nottingham lead is Dr Lee Harper  

DigitalMetal CDT - Professor Tanvir Hussain 

CDT in Accelerated Medicines Design & Development – Professor Snow Stolnik-Trenkic. 

Cancer Grand Challenges award 

Scientists led by Professor of Oncology Nigel Mongan are part of a global, interdisciplinary team who will be taking on cancer inequities, thanks to a Cancer Grand Challenges award. 

The SAMBAI team is one of five world-class, global teams of researchers to be selected to receive funding from Cancer Grand Challenges, co-founded by Cancer Research UK and the National Cancer Institute in the US. The SAMBAI team, which is dedicated to studying populations of African descent in Africa, the UK and the US, will receive up to $25m over five years to take on the challenge of cancer inequities. 

Professor Ben Ollivere recognised by NIHR as champion of excellence

Professor Ben  Ollivere of the School of Medicine has been appointed  as a National Institute for Health Research  Senior Investigator.

This prestigious award is to prominent NIHR-funded researchers who make valuable contributions to health research and innovation in the UK. 

Ben is Professor of Orthopaedic Trauma in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, where he serves as Associate Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Knowledge Exchange.  He is also head of Trauma, Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine in the School of Medicine.   

Collaboration scoops Manufacturing Technology award 

A multi-site collaboration between the University of Nottingham, Loughborough University and Coventry University is celebrating after winning the “Manufacturing Technology” category at the Collaborate to Innovate (C2I) Awards. 

The Midlands Centre for Data-Driven Metrology, led by the Facuty of Engineering’s Professor Samanta Piano, has developed “a single-click automated manufacturing metrology demonstrator” that integrates new technologies, custom-code, machine learning, and digital manufacturing trends to improve speed, reduce costs and enhance quality inspection. 

Rare Diseases Research Network 

Our new Rare Disease Research Network is bringing together more than 50 academics across schools and faculties, with interests ranging from fundamental research into the biological mechanisms of rare diseases to clinical trials for new treatments. 

The network will help researchers and clinician colleagues make new connections and raise the profile of important work taking place at Nottingham. One in five cancers are classed as rare, with around 3.5 million people in the UK and 300 million worldwide living with a rare condition. The network highlighted its mission for Rare Disease Day. 

PGRs: tell us why you chose postgraduate research 

Postgraduate research students are a core part of our research community. So it’s important to make the experience of applying to become a PGR the best it can be. The Researcher Academy is asking PGRs to share their experiences and the choices they made in taking up postgraduate research at Nottingham. There’s a £100 Amazon voucher up for grabs in a prize draw for those who complete the survey – and you will help us make the PGR recruitment journey better for everybody. 

 PGR survey – please spare 10 minutes to complete this if you are eligible; supervisors – please share the link with your PGR students. 

With thanks and best wishes 

Professor Tom Rodden
Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Knowledge Exchange