Bristol Digital Futures Institute: research through a different lens

This week, we were delighted to announce the award of over £100 million in grant funding for our new Digital Futures Institute, thanks to an initial £29 million from UKRI’s Research Partnership Investment Fund and a further £71 million in match funding from some 27 companies.

The Bristol Digital Futures Institute is a great opportunity for us – and for all universities – to look at research and innovation through a different lens. The late-20th-century model involves academia working with business and technology partners on tech-driven research projects; at Bristol, and indeed elsewhere, we have believed for some time that the rapid rise and pervasiveness of digital technologies has created challenges in terms of their impact and their disruptive nature in many areas of society.

A key word for this new institute is partnership. It will be jointly led by Susan Halford, a social scientist and Professor of Sociology, and Dimitra Simeonidou, an engineer and Professor of High-Performance Networks. The large number of projects (around 30) per year that we plan to initiate will bring together our researchers in science and engineering with their peers in the social sciences and in the legal, ethical and community sectors, to create programmes on a scale that, we believe, is quite unprecedented. As you’ll see from the formidable list of local partners who have pledged support – financial, logistical, advisory – the scale is matched by the range of sectors they represent.

There will, of course, be challenges. Some of our partners have never worked outside their own sector before, so there’ll be a process of learning and absorbing each other’s values, practices and metrics of success, in order to build a foundation for true collaboration and partnership. But it’s this confluence of different disciplines in a common cause, rather than the technology, that will drive the institute’s work, and I am confident that it will lead to transformational impact in this research domain.

Co-creating the future

The institute’s physical location at our new Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus is also highly appropriate to its mission and methodology. Research won’t be confined to the University lab or offices; it’ll involve people and platforms in real settings, and we will invite members of our local community, from across all socio-economic groups, to become co-creators of this exciting future.

This is what a civic university should be doing: not jealously guarding its experts and innovators, but opening its doors to the public and creating the space for two-way conversations and collaborative projects that will make a real impact on society at large

I’m tremendously excited about the prospects for this new institute and the groundswell of support that we’ve already received for it. We’ll work hard to fulfil those prospects, and I look forward to seeing them take shape – and to being surprised by the outcomes, which none of us can entirely predict at the start of this exciting journey.

 

Research without Borders 2019

I have written before about how the extraordinary research taking place at our University seeks creative, unexpected solutions to global challenges that affect us all in our ordinary lives. This is a testament to the rich, interdisciplinary research culture we foster here at Bristol, and our drive to push the boundaries of knowledge through mutual discovery, collaboration and connections.

The University’s Research without Borders festival celebrates those members of the community who are the engines behind these collaborations and innovations: our postgraduate researchers. Often positioned out of sight from the public, they are the ones turning up each day to drive experiments, conversations and studies forward.

Research without Borders 2019 brings together postgraduate researchers from across disciplines to showcase some of the latest research that is taking place here at Bristol, and to celebrate the vital role our research students play in developing our renowned research profile.

And, perhaps more significantly, the festival aims to put this research into conversation with the wider community around us, and to create a space for connecting with our emerging generation of future researchers.

I warmly encourage anyone with an interest in asking questions, embracing surprises, and thinking creatively to attend this year’s Research without Borders events. The line-up is a fantastic multidisciplinary exploration of some of our key areas of research:

8th May: Chaired by the Cabot Institute, Bristol’s One City Plan: an interdisciplinary dialogue on a sustainable future city promises to be a lively discussion of the ambitious plan to make Bristol fair, healthy and sustainable by 2050.

9th May: Measurable humans: how good does our digital health look? held in collaboration with the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute and our newly-funded EPSRC Digital Health and Care Centre for Doctoral Training, will be an interdisciplinary exploration of innovations and challenges in the digital health sector.

15th May: Showcase Exhibition at Colston Hall, where over 50 interactive, hands-on displays featuring the work of our postgraduate researchers will take over this iconic Bristol building. The showcase event is always a highlight of the University’s calendar, with something of interest for everyone. This year, we are exploring new ways of communicating research, and have commissioned an artwork with acclaimed artist Zoe Cameron produced in collaboration with some of our students to feature as a centrepiece to reflect on what ‘research without borders’ means.

It is important to remember that the problems our academics, students and peers work on in all universities are issues that are not confined by borders – geographical, disciplinary or otherwise. Today’s complex issues affect us all in one way or another. Research without Borders is a festival which celebrates what happens when we work across borders: whether it is our researchers working across disciplines, or our academic community reaching out across to our city’s community.

I look forward to seeing many of you in attendance at this year’s events, and to hearing your own contributions and insights to the research on offer.

Record £50 million funding boost will train our next generation of researchers

I have written before on what a fantastic environment Bristol provides for research, innovation and enterprise.

But at the beginning of this week we received news from a major funder that both confirms this and allows us all to celebrate and affirm our research culture.

The Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC) has announced the outcome of the 2018 funding round for Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs)

The excellent news for us here at Bristol is that we have been awarded funding to lead a record nine of these Centres.

This is the largest number for any University in the UK and makes up 12 per cent of the nation’s total EPSRC CDT investment – providing around £50m of support to train our future researchers.

Our CDTs span robotics, data science, quantum engineering, digital health, composite materials, chemical synthesis, cyber security, aerosol science and statistics.

This is an enormous achievement and I am delighted with the confidence and support we have received from key industrial partners to equip our researchers with the skills they need to meet the industry needs.

This sector-leading success speaks to the excellence of our research of course, but also to the expertise and quality of our postgraduate research environment, built up over many years and many funding sources, to create and support these cohort-led centres.

The work of our Research and Enterprise Development team in leading this major funding bid has been vital and of the highest quality.

The Bristol Doctoral College (BDC) has also been key and will play a huge part in supporting the Centres as they set up and progress.

I am incredibly proud of this success and look forward to sharing the contributions from our CDT Research Teams in the coming months.

Celebrating the real difference our universities make

By Professor Nishan Canagarajah, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research.

Working at one of the UK’s leading universities, in a role where I regularly meet with students, researchers and peers from across the higher education sector, it’s easy to forget how extraordinary this environment is.

I use the word extraordinary, which is both accurate and perhaps a little misleading. What happens at universities is extraordinary in that they provide unique and far-reaching opportunities for people to discover, learn, collaborate, push the boundaries of knowledge and grow new ideas into ventures that drive world-leading innovation.  But it’s also ordinary in that the challenges that we work on are global and confront us all, in our everyday lives.

In the 25 years that I’ve been with the University of Bristol, I’m continually impressed and inspired by how ideas are taken to fruition, sometimes in unexpected ways and often to levels of success that have surpassed expectations – and made an impact on a vast scale.

I am immensely proud of the work of our academics here at the University of Bristol who are working with fellow researchers in more than 40 countries, improving health, alleviating poverty, driving technological innovation.

This month sees the launch of MadeAtUni, a campaign spearheaded by Universities UK that aims to highlight the enormous impact that UK universities make on our lives.

One of Bristol’s many seminal research projects is included in ‘The UK’s Best Breakthroughs: 100+ Ways Universities Have Improved Everyday Life’, produced by UUK as part of the campaign. (more…)

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