Early career neuroscientists network at successful GW4 event

Specially designed by and for those in the early stages of their neuroscience career, this popular one-day event returned on 5 June 2017 with expert talks, networking opportunities and poster prizes

The GW4 Early Career Neuroscientist Day brings together postgraduates and post-doctoral researchers from Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter universities to discuss best practice, share experiences and hear from experts in their field. It provides the perfect forum for open discussion and collaboration.

This year’s event welcomed 90 delegates to Cardiff University’s Hadyn Ellis Building for a day of talks and break-out sessions focusing on everything from scientific techniques and alternative careers to cellular neuroscience and public engagement.

exeter-studentexeter-studentPlenary lectures were delivered by Professor Marcus Munafo of University of Bristol, who spoke on ‘Scientific Ecosystems and Research Reproducibility’, followed by world-leading dementia expert Professor Clive Ballard, of University of Exeter, who explored the benefits and challenges of a career in clinical neuroscience.

Speakers from Cardiff University included Professor Adrian Harwood and Professor John Aggleton, former President of the British Neuroscience Association (BNA).

During the event, delegates enjoyed a varied range of research posters in the atrium as students presented their neuroscience projects and key findings.

Representatives from a wide range of academic and public engagement organisations, including the Green Man Festival and Pint of Science festival, also gave talks throughout the day.

“Helping to bring together researchers from several world-leading research intensive Universities to celebrate ground-breaking neuroscience was a real privilege,” said Hayley Moulding, an ECND committee member and postgraduate student in the School of Medicine.

“This event provides a space for early career researchers to network, ask questions and learn more about what’s on offer in the field. It informs future collaboration and decisions at any stage of your career.”

“We are delighted to see the GW4 Alliance gaining in strength each year, and we would like to thank everyone who supported this fantastic day. I can’t wait to see which city hosts it next!”

You can still join in the conversation on Twitter using #GW4Neuro.

GW4 Alliance to unveil cutting-edge microscopy facility

The shared facility will lead to a better understanding of human health and disease at a molecular level

The GW4 Alliance will open a £2.3 million shared facility for cryo-microscopy on 1 September 2017 at the University of Bristol.

The facility will provide researchers across the Great West region with a suite of state-of-the-art microscopy and analysis tools, enabling them to better understand the molecular processes responsible for cell function or malfunction.

It is hoped that the shared GW4 facility will accelerate new insights into human health and disease, and will attract the world’s most talented scientists to collaborate with the leading universities in the region.

The facility has been established following awards from Wellcome and co-investment from the universities of the GW4 Alliance, and will be housed in the Life Sciences Building at the University of Bristol, as part of the Wolfson Bioimaging Facility.

Professor Christiane Berger-Schaffitzel, University of Bristol said:

“We are absolutely thrilled that this joint effort by Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter came to fruition. Electron cryo-microscopy is a game-changer for molecular biology today, and our new facility will be instrumental for accelerating cutting-edge research projects of many scientists in the South West and Wales.”

Professor Philip Ingham FRS FMedSci HonFRCP, Director of University of Exeter’s Living Systems Institute said:

“The establishment of this state of the art facility will be crucial in maintaining the position of GW4 institutions at the forefront of biomedical research.  Cryo-electron microscopy is revolutionising the field, transforming the way we analyse the molecular components of living systems. We are very grateful to Wellcome for their support, without which this initiative would not have been possible.”

GW4 Director Dr Sarah Perkins said:

“We are delighted to support the cryo-EM facility which will provide researchers across with access to a multi-user cryo-microscope with a cutting-edge detector, and a suite of analysis tools. This facility will put the Great West on the map as a centre of excellence for structural biology research and equipment and we hope it will further encourage collaborative working across the GW4 Alliance and beyond.”

The facility will be unveiled at an opening ceremony on 1 September 2017 by GW4 Chair of Board, Professor Nick Talbot (Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research and Impact, University of Exeter), and Director of Science at Wellcome, Dr Jim Smith.

The event will showcase the state-of-the-art capabilities of the GW4 Facility for High-Resolution Electron Cryo-Microscopy and will bring together leading experts in life sciences from across the GW4 Alliance to discuss research ideas and collaboration.

More information about the launch event can be found at: http://gw4.ac.uk/all-events/symposium-and-launch-gw4-cryo-em-facility/

Established in 2013, the GW4 Alliance brings together four leading research-intensive universities: Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter, to deliver globally competitive research and build a highly skilled workforce.

GW4 network launches international Gender-Based Violence journal

Policy Press and the Centre for Gender and Violence Research at the University of Bristol, which includes a network of researchers across the GW4 Alliance, have launched a new Journal of Gender-Based Violence, the first international journal based in Europe to address this area of research.

Gender-based violence is a major issue worldwide, with one in three women experiencing violence in their lifetime.

The Journal of Gender-Based Violence will give a voice to the experiences of survivors, and will explore the impact of intersectionality with other identities, such as ethnicity, nationality, sexuality, faith, disability and economic status.

The Journal aims to publish world-class research to aid understanding of gender-based violence, and to analyse the policy and activism surrounding it. Its articles will span the breadth of gender-based violence, including prostitution, domestic abuse, ‘honour’ killings and trafficking.

The GW4 Gender-Based Violence Network was originally formed through the GW4 Building Communities programme, and has since developed independently to continue collaborative research and networking.

The editors of the Journal of Gender-Based Violence  are inviting interest from researchers working across the social sciences and related fields including social policy, sociology, politics, criminology, law, social psychology, development and economics, as well as disciplines allied to medicine, health and wellbeing.

For more information and to access the first edition of the Journal free online until 30th June, visit the University of Bristol’s Policy Press. For more information, follow the journal’s Twitter account or sign up to its newsletter.

What is your experience of evidence-based policy? GW4 community calls for feedback

A GW4 research community is calling for academics to share their experiences of evidence-based policy in order to shape a new political ‘matchmaking’ service

Researchers from all GW4 institutions and University College London are developing the UK Evidence Information Service (EIS) to facilitate information flow from academics to parliament through supporting parliamentary research services. It is hoped that this work will promote evidence-informed decision-making.

The GW4 research community has partnered with the House of Commons Library and the National Assembly of Wales Research Service with the aim to provide parliamentary research services with a single gateway to a network of academic experts in science, technology, medicine, arts and humanities, social sciences and more.

It is hoped that the service will put an end to “the ceaseless merry-go-round of failed policies and cherry-picked statistics”, says Dr Andrew P. Kythreotis of Cardiff University.

He says: “Within 24 hours of asking a question, politicians or civil servants would be placed in direct contact with specialist experts in that field. No question would be considered too big, too small, or too stupid. In short, the service would be a carefully managed matchmaker, linking the world of science and research with the world of politics.”

The GW4 research community undertook a ‘citizen study’ in 2014-15 that found that 85% of politicians would be supportive of the ‘matchmaking’ service, with many saying that the service would level the playing field between political parties in terms of their access to academic expertise.

The researchers are now seeking to refine the service through a confidential survey with a view to eventually roll it out through parliamentary research services in England and Wales.

Academics across the UK are asked to share their experiences of policy making, such as contributions to select committee hearings and think tank reports.

The survey takes approximately 5 – 10 minutes to complete and is fully confidential.

Complete the survey here: https://cardiffunipsych.eu.qualtrics.com/jfe2/form/SV_72MVwJ7jXgNCYyF

GW4 world-first supercomputer launched at national exhibition

The supercomputer, known as Isambard, is being developed by GW4 researchers in collaboration with the Met Office and Cray Inc with a £3m EPSRC award

The GW4 Alliance has unveiled the world’s first ARM-based production supercomputer at today’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) launch at the Thinktank science museum in Birmingham.

The first part of Isambard arrives at the Met Office
The first part of Isambard arrives at the Met Office

The EPSRC awarded the GW4 Alliance, together with Cray Inc. and the Met Office, £3m to deliver a new Tier 2 high performance computing (HPC) service that will benefit scientists across the UK.

The supercomputer, named ‘Isambard’ after the renowned Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, will enable researchers to choose the best hardware system for their specific scientific problem, saving time and money.

Isambard is able to provide system comparison at high speed as it includes over 10,000, high-performance 64-bit ARM cores, making it one of the largest machines of its kind anywhere in the world.

It is thought that the supercomputer, which has already received international acclaim, could provide the template for a new generation of ARM-based services.

Isambard is being assembled at its new home, the Met Office, where EPSRC and climate scientists will work together to gain first-hand insights into how their scientific codes need to be adapted to emerging computational architectures.

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Professor Simon McIntosh-Smith launching Isambard at the EPSRC event today

Professor Simon McIntosh-Smith, lead academic on the project at the University of Bristol said: “We’re delighted with the reaction that Isambard has received within the high performance computing community. Since we announced the system we’ve been contacted by a wide range of world-class academic and industrial HPC users asking for access to the service.

The GW4 Isambard project is able to offer a high-quality production environment for direct comparison across a wide range of architectures with class-leading software tools, and this is proving to be an exciting combination.”

Professor Nick Talbot, Chair of the Board for the GW4 Alliance and Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Impact at the University of Exeter, said: “We have been delighted to work with partners Cray Inc and the Met Office on this project, which has demonstrated how GW4’s collaborative ethos can produce truly world-leading outcomes.

Isambard exemplifies our region’s expertise in advanced engineering and digital innovation, and we hope it could provide the blueprint for a new era of supercomputing worldwide.”

Established in 2013, the GW4 Alliance brings together four leading research-intensive universities: Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter. It aims to strengthen the economy across the region through undertaking pioneering research with industry partners.

GW4 Alliance appoints new Board Member

The GW4 Alliance has appointed a new Board Member, Professor Karen Holford, as she takes up the role of Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Cardiff University. This follows the departure of Professor Elizabeth Treasure who has been appointed Vice-Chancellor of Aberystwyth University.

Karen Holford
New GW4 Board Member, Professor Karen Holford

Professor Holford led Cardiff University’s College of Physical Sciences and Engineering for five years as Pro Vice-Chancellor.

Professor Nick Talbot, Chair of the GW4 Board and Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Impact), University of Exeter, said: “We are delighted to welcome Professor Karen Holford to the GW4 Board, following the exemplary service of Professor Elizabeth Treasure.

Professor Holford brings a wealth of industry and academic experience and we look forward to working with her to further develop our vision to benefit the South West and Wales region.”

Professor Karen Holford said: “I am looking forward to joining the GW4 Alliance at an exciting time in its development. I hope to build on the fantastic work of the Board to contribute to the collaborative mission of GW4 and support ambitious research across our four universities.”

Professor Holford’s career began at Rolls-Royce where she contributed to a range of technical projects including work on the Adour and Pegasus engines. Then at AB Electronic Products, she was responsible for developing automotive products for companies such as BMW, Jaguar and Rover and was soon promoted to the role of senior engineer.

She joined the School of Engineering at Cardiff as a lecturer in 1990, becoming director in 2010.

Since moving into academia over 26 years ago, she has helped to build the now substantial international reputation of acoustic emission research at Cardiff, in particular the experimental work. This research has resulted in technology that has greatly improved the safety monitoring of bridges and other structures, and the team are now applying the same techniques to detect faults in aircraft structures.

Impact of wobbly bridges and sky-scrapers on health to be tested following GW4 collaboration

The impact of vibrations from very tall buildings and wobbly bridges and floors on people’s health and wellbeing is to be researched in a new £7.2 million government-funded national research facility.

Project began life as a GW4 research community

Simulators recreating the experience of working in a high-rise office block, walking across a wobbly bridge or dancing in a crowded stadium are to be built in a joint project by the universities of Bath and Exeter, which began life as a collaborative GW4 research community.

Despite looking rigid in appearance, tall buildings can flex in response to external forces, and strong winds can make them vibrate or sway at low frequencies, sometimes with bursts of motion at random intervals.

Studies have already indicated that very subtle building motion can be perceived by some occupants, sometimes inducing motion sickness and causing fear. The simulators will help the research team better understand how this could affect the wellbeing of some people, their work performance, or behaviour.

RUNERRHSRThe ‘VSimulators’ will not only recreate the structural motion people experience, but the surroundings, temperature, humidity, noise, air quality and even smells of buildings.

The national testing facility – located at both the GW4 member institutions of Bath and Exeter – will allow the researchers to measure not only the effect on people of vibrations from very tall buildings, but their impact in offices and condominiums, football stadiums and rock concert venues, including the impact of vibrations caused by crowds simultaneously exiting a stadium and walking across ‘wobbly’ bridges.

State-of-the-art virtual reality and human body motion capture equipment will help the team to devise solutions to mitigate impact and help designers, planners, architects and engineers in the construction or refurbishment of buildings.

Over five years Bath and Exeter will inject £2.45 into the project, with the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) contributing a further £4.8m to create the vibration simulator in a brand new building at Exeter university, with a major laboratory refurbishment in Bath.

Pooled expertise provides new insights

Dr Antony Darby, Head of Civil Engineering at the University of Bath, said: “Just like sea sickness, our propensity to motion induced discomfort is situation and environment dependent. For example, people at a concert in a grandstand will accept completely different level of vibration than those in a hospital operating theatre.

“We now have the ability to simulate not only the structural motion, but the surroundings, temperature, noise, air quality, even smell, all of which contribute to our experience of, and tolerance to, building motion. This is a perfect complement to the pooled expertise between Bath and Exeter.”

Alex Pavic, Professor of Vibration Engineering at the University of Exeter, who was an expert adviser on the ‘wobbly’ Millennium Bridge in London and on the design of the London Olympic 2012 venues, which accommodated huge crowds, says the new testing facility will “place humans at the centre of future structural building design in the same way they are currently placed when designing cars.”

“More and more people are living and working in high rises and office blocks but the true impact of vibrations on them is currently very poorly understood and can differ depending on whether an environment is quiet or noisy, the time of the day and even whether people are moving, standing, running or walking. Humans spend 90% of their lives in buildings which vibrate non-stop, but there is still very little reliable information about the effect of structural vibration,” Professor Pavic said.

“With over 400 tall buildings planned just for London between now and 2030, and many more in the rest of the UK and worldwide, VSimulators will potentially have major influence on the design of a future multi-£trillion worldwide portfolio of buildings. It will for the first time link structural motion, environmental conditions and human body motion, psychology and physiology in a fully controllable virtual environment.”

Improving wellbeing

The facility will also help medics design rehabilitation programmes for people with problems with movement, including dementia sufferers.

Dr Vicki Goodwin, of the University of Exeter who helped design the healthcare applications of VSimulators, said: “This new world class facility will help us better understand how people move. This will help us to create supportive environments, for example for people with dementia. It will also help us develop rehabilitation programmes, including those using technology, to improve movement and ultimately wellbeing.”

Screenshot 2016-08-23 10.26.25Manufacturers of cars and aircraft already routinely simulate the impact on humans of new designs. The national research facility could enable architects and engineers to create general and bespoke design criteria for tall building design, as well as for building floors, bridges and stadiums. The facility has the backing of industry leaders planning to use it to further improve structural design.

Chris Pembridge, Director of WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff, said: “We believe that working with the research team will make a real difference to structural design where ground vibration and building movement are key challenges such as sites adjacent to vibration inducing infrastructure and in tall building design.”

Professor Kenny Kwok of the University of Western Sydney, Australia, who is a world authority on the impact of tall-building vibrations, said the new test site could help establish standards for the levels of building motion that are acceptable.

“Our recent field studies have shown that wind-induced building motion can cause sopite syndrome or early onset motion sickness. This new facility will be utilised to advance our understanding of the prevalence of sopite syndrome and its adverse effects on building occupants, and guide the formulation of acceptability criteria for building motion to address its adverse effects on occupant wellbeing and work performance,” he said.

The project originated from a GW4 research community which aimed to change the way that all structures are designed and operated within the built environment. The GW4 Alliance has invested over £2 million in the Building Communities programme to date, establishing 66 research communities which combine the complementary strengths of each GW4 institution.

GW4 Alliance responds to Spring Budget 2017

In today’s Spring Budget statement, the Chancellor Philip Hammond built on the UK Government’s commitment to the Industrial Strategy, announcing a £300m boost to support the “brightest and best research talent”, including 1,000 PhD studentships in STEM subjects, and £270 million to explore disruptive technologies such as robotics and biotechnology. The Chancellor also launched doctoral loans – the first time that this provision has ever been available for postgraduate students.

GW4 Director Dr Sarah Perkins says: It is vital that productivity and world-class research and innovation are at the heart of the UK Government agenda. We are delighted to see further recognition and support for research talent, infrastructure and skills announced today, building on previous funding outlined in the Autumn Statement and subsequent Industrial Strategy Green Paper.

“One of our key aims as a research alliance is to develop a highly skilled workforce through Doctoral Training Programmes and we therefore welcome the increase in PhD studentships in STEM subjects and the vital introduction of financial support for doctoral researchers.

“The recent Science and Innovation Audit identified a clear need to upskill the workforce in our region so that we have the right people in place to fulfil high-tech jobs in emerging industries. We are committed to bringing together universities and businesses to develop new training environments that nurture research leaders of the future.

“While we welcome the measures announced today we call for the Government to back up their commitment to ‘local industrial strategies’ with strategic place-based investment. We would urge the Government to continue to recognise the distinct strengths of our region in Advanced Engineering and Digital Innovation and support the opportunities for investment as outlined in the Science and Innovation Audit.

“The Chancellor rightly recognised that tackling the “productivity challenge” starts with local knowledge, and we believe that our region is in a prime position to deliver on this challenge through collaboration and by harnessing our world-class research and industry strengths.”

The GW4 Alliance leads the Great West taskforce to champion science and innovation in the region. The taskforce brings together representatives from academia, industry and local government and delivered the South West England and South East Wales Science and Innovation Audit.

The Great West taskforce is preparing a response to the Industrial Strategy Green Paper to highlight the opportunities for the region.

Latest funding call announced for GW4 research communities

GW4 Alliance has announced the latest funding opportunity for collaborative research communities across its four universities. Applicants have until 31 May 2017 to submit their applications for the Initiator Fund (for new projects) and Accelerator Fund (for existing research communities).

The programme continues to build on the substantial success of GW4’s 66 research communities, which have produced pioneering findings to date, including producing biofuels from algae, addressing schools intervention in self-harm and harnessing quantum technology to secure personal finances.

The latest call retains the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) focus from the previous round and both Accelerator and Initiator applications will be expected to adhere to both the existing Building Communities Fund criteria as well as focusing their efforts on Official Development Assistance (ODA) compliant activity to enable communities to develop in line with the GCRF priorities.

We anticipate approximately 80% of the funding to be awarded to projects that meet the GCRF criterion, with 20% available to exemplary projects that do not have a clear GCRF fit.

Professor Nick Talbot, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Impact) of the University of Exeter and Chair of the GW4 Board, recently wrote for the GW4 blog about the value of our research communities: “Each GW4 university has distinct research and innovation strengths, and by bringing these together in a collaborative research community we can develop new solutions and technologies to apply to some of society’s most pressing issues.”

This call is open now and will close 31 May 2017, with projects expected to begin in early-July.

Please see Building Communities Programme Guidelines for further guidance on how to apply.

Next funding call: Initiator Round 9 and Accelerator Round 8

We anticipate a further round of funding which will open in July 2017. This will continue to focus on ODA compliancy and GCRF priorities but will expect Initiator applications in particular to match to the new Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF). We anticipate that the details of this funding call will be confirmed at the end of March but potential applicants are encouraged to start preparing for this now.

GW4 announces new research communities tackling global challenges

GW4 has announced awards for seven new research communities which will tackle global challenges from water security to brain injury.

This brings GW4’s total investment in its Building Communities programme to £2 million across 66 communities which combine the complementary research strengths of each GW4 institution.

GW4 research communities have produced pioneering findings to date, including producing biofuels from algae, improving Alzheimer’s diagnosis and harnessing quantum technology to secure personal finances.

The GW4 Alliance’s new projects will explore topics including antimicrobial resistance, energy, healthcare, data intensive research, water security, STEM education, brain injury and photonic biomimetics. The projects bring together world-leading scholarship across STEM, Arts and Humanities and Social Sciences disciplines.

The latest call for the GW4 Alliance’s Initiator fund required applicants to focus their efforts on Official Development Assistance (ODA) compliant work, in line with the Global Challenges Research Fund.

Professor Nick Talbot, Chair of the GW4 Board and Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of Exeter (Research and Impact), said: “We are delighted to announce seven new GW4 research communities funded by the GW4 Building Communities programme. In the latest round of the programme we have supported our existing communities whilst establishing new communities to address the Global Challenges Research Fund priorities.

Each of the seven research communities launched today will develop pioneering solutions to vital challenges in health, societal and environmental fields. By working together, we can carry out world-leading research at scale that would be impossible for a single institution operating on its own.”

The next funding call for the GW4 Alliance’s Building Communities programme will be announced soon.