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The University of Southampton
Interdisciplinary Research Excellence

Interdisciplinary Research is evolving

Published: 1 October 2015

We have introduced dynamic changes to allow new University Strategic Research Groups (USRGs) to develop.

The success of our USRGs is well known. The University started developing its Interdisciplinary Research Strategy in 2003 when 3 research groups: NanoScience, Life Sciences and Neuroscience (originally called SoNG) were created. It was clear by 2008 that institutions submitting interdisciplinary proposals were succeeding in their funding bids and, led by Professor Phil Nelson, PVC for Research and with Professor George Attard as Director, more USRGs, joined the original 3. They were: Maritime, Health Technologies, LWEC, Ageing and Lifelong Health, Work Futures, Energy, Complexity and Digital Economy. As with the first three, each of these groups was assigned yearly funding of £10,000 and an Interdisciplinary Research Coordinator, based in RIS, providing support to its activities. By 2012, the Interdisciplinary website was in full swing;  and it had become apparent that when these groups gained strength, changes happened. The Maritime USRG had by now become Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute and the and Life Sciences USRG had become the Institute for Life Sciences. Professor Guy Poppy had succeeded George Attard as Director and LWEC had become Sustainability Science at Southampton. Two more USRGs: Population Health and Computationally Intensive Imaging had appeared.

Discussions about how to sustain support to these groups and how to allow new groups to evolve had been ongoing at the twice-yearly USRG Chairs’ meetings and in 2014, when Professor Judith Petts succeeded Phil Nelson as PVC Research, the discussions focused on achieving a sustainable answer to this challenge. It was decided to introduce a cap on funding and coordinator support, of five years, in order to free resources for more new groups. In the way that successful USRGs do, Several of the groups were evolving naturally towards other affiliations at this point – Digital Economy merged under the umbrella of the Web Science Institute, Nanoscience merged under the umbrella of the Zepler Institute and Neuroscience and Health Technologies joined the IfLS.

A competition to find three new USRGs was launched in June 2014 and garnered ten excellent proposals. In order to continue sustaining this process there will be an annual opportunity for groups to enter the competition so that as existing USRGs evolve, new ones can be created. New USRGs will be given a three-year period of tenure, with an optional extension of a further two years' funding and support, subject to demonstration of progress towards agreed KPIs, and future development plans. Each USRG will receive an annual budget of £10,000, plus coordination support and collaboration management from the IDR teams based within Research and Innovation Services (RIS). Applications will be assessed by a sub-group of REAG chaired by Professor Judith Petts, PVC Research and Enterprise.

Competition was tough but the three new groups were chosen. Autonomous Systems is chaired by Professor Jim Scanlan with Co-Chairs Professors Hywel Morgan, Damon Teagle, Alex Rogers and Geraint West; Dr András Sóbester and Dr Peter Wilson. Its work will include exploring ways in which interdisciplinary collaboration can succeed in providing effective and low-cost autonomous sensing systems which can be used to tackle societal challenges like climate change, pollution and sustainable food production.

Network for Antimicrobial Resistance and Infection Prevention (NAMRIP), is chaired by Professor Tim Leighton with Co-Chairs Professors William Keevil, Robert Read, Rob Eason, Dr David Voegeli, Dr Yuan Huang, Dr Robert Howlin and Dr Emma Roe. The group will tackle the challenge posed by antimicrobial resistance (AMR). The urgency of this challenge is encapsulated by this, from the UK Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy ‘… AMR cannot be eradicated but a interdisciplinary approach involving a wide range of partners will limit the risk of AMR and minimise its impact for health, now and in the future.’

Clean Carbon is chaired by Dr Lindsay Armstrong with Co-Chairs Dr Robert Raja, Dr Pier Sazio, Professor Tim Leighton and Dr Juerg Matter. The group will focus on various environmental factors throughout the full cycle for reducing CO2, such as advancements in energy production technologies; natural CO2 cycles; CO2 mitigation using carbon capture, storage and utilisation; societal, ethical, economical and political issues; and adaptation to climate change.

From the strongest field yet - ten submissions were received -  two more USRGs emerged out of 2015's competition:

MENSUS Chaired by Professor Ling Wang and:

NEXUS Science Chaired by Professor Paul Kemp and Dr Joel Smethurst.


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