Reporter 463, 12 March 2001

No beds, no room service, but £20m hotels will at the cutting edge of scientific research

A £20.3m grant could see ‘research hotels’ established in the University bringing together specialists from different fields and disciplines under one roof to encourage cutting edge research.

The grant is part of the government’s £1bn Science Research Investment Fund (SRIF) to encourage British scientific excellence. Divided between more than 100 universities and HE institutions across the UK, the money has been allocated via a formula based on the extent and quality of each university’s current scientific research. Leeds’s allocation reflects its position as one of Britain’s top research universities.

Exciting times – Estates Director Robert Sladdin, Tom Childs, Pro-Vice-Chancellor Chris Taylor, Mike Smith, Eric Dickinson, Bruce Yardley, Peter Dew and Julie Fisher at the boiler-house site earmarked for a new research hotel

The hotels or colleges will be a cost-effective way of providing the high quality amenities needed for cutting edge research. Its centralised facilities will promote interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary work – enabling scientists to work together more effectively and with more far-reaching results.

"The idea is to bring people together from different disciplines to create high quality focused research space, not limited to schools or departments", said Pro-Vice-Chancellor Chris Taylor. "We want to use the money in a substantive and coherent way to encourage effective research which can be translated into significant changes in understanding in a wide range of scientific fields."

The proposal is currently for two buildings, one on the boiler-house site and a second near the Biological Sciences building. The former would be primarily ‘dry’ space, housing activities in engineering, with a ‘subject facilities’ wing for informatics, human factors and social sciences. The second building would house research in the biomolecular sciences, in particular the interaction between medical and biological sciences.

Polymer dynamics bid – Tom McLeish

Space in the hotels or colleges will be allocated to projects according to the quality of the science and value for money. Reallocation of space would depend on outcomes and pressures from competing projects. The concept might also be extended to a new building on the St James’s site, as well as a fourth social sciences building on the current terrapin site.

A shortlist of 18 high quality proposals has been drawn up, all of which cross various fields of study.

One of those projects seeking space in the new research hotels involves collaboration between the Department of East Asian Studies and Leeds University Business School. The aim is to provide a focus for China-related social and business research via a specialised institute. Leeds has a long established reputation for work on contemporary China, and collaboration between both schools would enable the University to excel in this key area.

A Leeds Institute of Genetics, Health and Therapeutics would look at how diseases function, both in relation to genetic and environmental factors, and would be able to quickly transfer scientific findings to improve actual treatment of diseases such as cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s. The institute would deliver ‘gene-to-therapy’ under one roof, with the potential to provide fast improvements in the treatment of all major diseases.

Chinese business – Delia Davin

Tissue Engineering – the development of living tissue to replace or repair diseased parts of the body – is already at an exciting stage at the University, with research focused on replacements for skin and heart valves. This work could be taken a stage further with the help of SRIF funding, with the research extending to bladders, ligaments, tendons and internal surgical patches. Living tissue is an important advancement for medical science, allowing for replacement tissue which will not be rejected but which can grow and develop with the recipient.

Human genome discoveries have opened huge scientific possibilities – and competition for research in this area is fierce. A joint bid by academics in the fields of Physics, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and Chemistry would keep Leeds at the forefront of this exciting new area, creating an institute which would compete with the best US institutions, and offer important training possibilities to encourage young researchers to remain in Britain.

A centre for scientific research in music proposes to bring together computer scientists, engineers, physicists and psychologists to provide state-of-the-art resources for academics working in the fields of music technology, audio engineering and musical acoustics, to name but a few.

Genetic advances – John Findlay

Senate and Academic Development Council (ADC) will discuss the options for the SRIF bid in more detail, and all the shortlisted proposals are currently undergoing financial appraisal for ADC to consider in due course.

Applications for the funding must be submitted to HEFCE by May 31, and following review, should be confirmed by mid July. The SRIF funding will be provided from April 2002 and must be spent by March 2004.

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