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.

‘Great West’ region can make the UK a global leader, say Vice-Chancellors and industry leaders

Westminster event brought together government, academia and industry

South West England and South East Wales can recapture the ambitious vision of Isambard Kingdom Brunel as a hyper-connected, smart and specialist region, MPs have heard.

In a successful event at the House of Commons sponsored by Ben Bradshaw MP, representatives from leading universities, Local Enterprise Partnerships and major organisations met with politicians to discuss how they can work together to ensure that the region is recognised as an economic powerhouse in its own right, alongside the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine.

The event was organised by the South West England and South East Wales Science and Innovation Audit consortium and hosted by Vice-Chancellors and senior representatives of University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University, University of Exeter, Plymouth University and UWE Bristol.

Professor Dame Glynis Breakwell, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bath, called for leaders to be bold in their ambitions for South West England and South East Wales, led by the recent Science and Innovation Audit which she described as “the most important evaluation ever undertaken of our region’s research and industrial capacity”.

She said: “The Audit found that we can lead the UK and compete with the world in the areas of Advanced Engineering and Digital Innovation. Under the theme of Advanced Engineering, we have the largest aerospace sector in the UK and world-leading expertise in automotive, nuclear, space, marine and marine renewables and microelectronics sectors. Our region is rightly synonymous with Digital Innovation, with the second largest digital economy cluster outside London.

Our call to the UK Government is to recognise these pre-eminent strengths with focused investment and we must also capitalise on the valuable relationships forged by the Science and Innovation Audit process.”

The Audit identified that the region is home to the largest aerospace sector in the UK; the most productive and second largest (outside London) digital economy cluster in the UK; the UK’s first nuclear power station for a generation; more climate expertise than any other area worldwide; and the growth potential for the world’s first compound semiconductor cluster.

Dr Sarah Perkins, GW4 Director, spoke on behalf of the Science and Innovation Audit consortium to announce the launch of a special taskforce with the mission of making the region’s voice heard in Westminster.

She said: “The Audit provided unparalleled evidence of Advanced Engineering and Digital Innovation sectors of world-leading scale, on our doorstep. We look forward to working with the UK Government and our partners in other universities, industry and Local Enterprise Partnerships to build and strengthen the Great Western network.”

Dr Wyn Meredith, Director of the Compound Semiconductor Centre (a partnership between Cardiff University and global advanced semiconductor wafer manufacturer IQE), discussed his ambitions for the world’s first semiconductor cluster in the region, bringing the centre of gravity for this cutting-edge technology “from South California to South Wales”.

Senior representatives from major organisations in the region, including Airbus and Oracle, described how researchers and industry partners can work together to develop pioneering solutions to global challenges, and generate wealth and jobs for local communities.

The South West England and South East Wales taskforce will now work together to take forward the recommendations of the Science and Innovation Audit and to ensure that the region is recognised in Westminster as an economic powerhouse in its own right.

GW4 joins industry partners to develop ‘first of its kind’ supercomputer

The GW4 Alliance, together with Cray Inc. and the Met Office, has been awarded £3m by EPSRC to deliver a new Tier 2 high performance computing (HPC) service for UK-based scientists. This unique new service, named ‘Isambard’ after the renowned Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, will provide multiple advanced architectures within the same system in order to enable evaluation and comparison across a diverse range of hardware platforms.

The team will unveil the Isambard project at the Mont-Blanc HPC conference in Barcelona today, in front of an audience of leading academics and organisations including the European Commission.

“This is an exciting time in high performance computing,” said Prof Simon McIntosh-Smith, leader of the project and Professor of High Performance Computing at the University of Bristol. “Scientists have a growing choice of potential computer architectures to choose from, including new 64-bit ARM CPUs, graphics processors, and many-core CPUs from Intel. Choosing the best architecture for an application can be a difficult task, so the new Isambard GW4 Tier 2 HPC service aims to provide access to a wide range of the most promising emerging architectures, all using the same software stack. Isambard is a unique system that will enable direct ‘apples-to-apples’ comparisons across architectures, thus enabling UK scientists to better understand which architecture best suits their application.”

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 are delighted to collaborate with respected industry partners Cray and the Met Office on this multi-million pound project, which will benefit scientists across the UK. This is a clear example of how GW4 can harness the strengths of its universities and industrial partners across the region to produce pioneering solutions to some of our greatest global challenges.”

The GW4 Isambard project exemplifies university-industry collaboration and the world-leading capability of the South West England and South East Wales region in digital innovation, in-line with the findings of the recent Science and Innovation Audit.

“At Cray, our mission is to help our customers solve the most demanding technical and scientific problems, and we are constantly evaluating new technologies that can help achieve that,” said Adrian Tate, director of Cray’s EMEA Research Lab. “We are excited to be a part of this important collaboration with GW4 and the Met Office as we work together to explore and evaluate diverse processing technologies within a unified architecture. By building a Centre of Excellence with GW4 and technology partners, we expect deep insights into application efficiency using new processing technologies, and we relish the opportunity to share these insights with the UK scientific community.”

Paul Selwood, Manager for HPC Optimisation at the Met Office said: “The Met Office is very excited to be involved with this project, which builds on existing collaborations with both Cray and the GW4 Alliance. This system will enable us, in co-operation with our partners, to accelerate insights into how our weather and climate models need to be adapted for these emerging CPU architectures.”

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.

About GW4 Alliance

From the creative arts to the physical sciences, the GW4 Alliance has world-leading scholarship, infrastructure and faculty. The GW4 Alliance has a combined turnover of over £1.8bn, employs over 8,000 staff and trains over 23,000 postgraduate students. The GW4 Alliance aims to cultivate the regional economy, develop a highly skilled workforce and build a research and innovation ecosystem for the South West and Wales.  For more information about GW4 see http://www.gw4.ac.uk/ or follow @GW4Alliance.

About the South West England and South East Wales Science and Innovation Audit

GW4 Alliance, University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), Plymouth University, key businesses and Local Enterprise Partnerships across the South West England and South East Wales developed the Science and Innovation Audit (SWW-SIA) for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. The report found that the region can lead the UK and compete with the world in advanced engineering and digital innovation.

For more information see http://gw4.ac.uk/sww-sia/

About the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

As the main funding agency for engineering and physical sciences research, our vision is for the UK to be the best place in the world to Research, Discover and Innovate.

By investing £800 million a year in research and postgraduate training, we are building the knowledge and skills base needed to address the scientific and technological challenges facing the nation. Our portfolio covers a vast range of fields from healthcare technologies to structural engineering, manufacturing to mathematics, advanced materials to chemistry. The research we fund has impact across all sectors. It provides a platform for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone’s health, lifestyle and culture.

We work collectively with our partners and other Research Councils on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK. http://www.epsrc.ac.uk/

A successful start to 2017 for GW4 Board

2017 is off to an auspicious start for GW4 Alliance as Board Members were recognised with royal commendations and a new appointment.

New Year Honours

Professor Hywel Thomas, Cardiff University’s Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research, Innovation and Engagement received a CBE for his ‘outstanding’ contribution to academic research and service to higher education.

Professor Thomas leads Cardiff University’s research activities and its engagement with innovation, including commercialisation and the broader economic impact of the University.

His research interests cover a wide range of geoenvironmental issues, from coupled multiphysics/geochemistry flow problems in soils and rocks, through to sustainability issues in general.

Professor Thomas has Board level responsibility for the Communications and Connectivity workstream for GW4 Alliance.

University of Exeter’s Provost, Professor Janice Kay, was also awarded a CBE for services to higher education.

Professor Janice Kay has led on student experience for more than 14 years at the University of Exeter. In this time Exeter has become a sector leader in the student experience as recognised by consistent top rankings the National Student Experience Survey and a rise through the national league tables.

Vice-Chancellor appointment

Cardiff University’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Elizabeth Treasure, has been appointed Vice-Chancellor of Aberystwyth University, following an outstanding contribution to Cardiff University over 21 years.

She became the University’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor in 2010 with responsibility for key areas including projects in strategic planning, resources and sustainable development as well as staffing and estates. Professor Treasure will take up her new post at Aberystwyth University in 2017.

Professor Dame Glynis Breakwell, Chair of GW4 Council, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bath said: “The New Years’ Honours List recognised a range of colleagues across all the GW4 Universities for their contribution to academic research and services to Higher Education. On behalf of GW4 Council, I would particularly like to congratulate GW4 board members Professor Thomas and Professor Kay. As she leaves to take up her new role at Aberystwyth University, I would also like to thank Professor Treasure for her contribution to the success of the GW4 Alliance from the outset.”