University of Exeter: GW4 Generator Award: Seven collaborative research communities awarded £125k funding

Projects exploring the circular economy in building construction, net zero transport systems, and antibiotic-resistance genes are among seven research communities awarded £125,000 in GW4 Alliance funding.

The GW4 Building Communities Generator Award enables both new and existing groups across the universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter to collaborate and address new research or societal challenges.

The funding will support the research communities for six months, starting in June 2022.

The successful GW4 Generator Award 2022 research communities are:

A Pathway to Net Zero for Road and Rail
This transdisciplinary group will explore how new Net Zero travel and transport concepts can improve local and regional connectivity, supporting people and local businesses, and promoting more sustainable consumption and economic practices.

Principal Investigator (PI) Professor Liana Cipcigan, from Cardiff University, said: “The future of transport and mobility will enable the movement of people and goods through a net zero, resilient, digital, connected, accessible and inclusive system, creating opportunities, promoting innovation and sustainable development, while reducing inequalities at local, regional, and national levels. GW4 Generator Funding will help us to realise this vision by creating ways of working that enable academic expertise across all disciplines to engage more easily with stakeholders.”

Circular Economy of Timber Building
This community will assess key barriers and opportunities in the circular economy of timber buildings in the UK.

PI Dr Eleni Toumpanaki, from the University of Bristol, said: “The benefits of biogenic carbon storage together with a renewable supply chain mean that greater use of timber, and other plant-based materials, in construction is essential if the UK is to meet its net zero carbon targets by 2050. Our GW4 interdisciplinary research community will investigate the full potential of British-grown timber in the design of affordable and low-energy housing exploring current and future trends, such as climate change, in a systems thinking approach.”

GWAPES (GW4 AMR Plasmid Epidemiology and Surveillance)
The project focuses on managing the spread of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) by exploring how the genes spread on plasmids between different bacterial strains, different ecological settings, and different geographical regions.

PI Professor Ed Feil, from the University of Bath, said: “The rise of antimicrobial resistance presents an increasing public health, and economic, burden on a global scale. Generator Funding for this project will enable us to explore a key challenge, and opportunity, in AMR research; how a multidisciplinary approach to the evolutionary and epidemiological dynamics of AMR plasmids can inform targeted surveillance and intervention measures.”

GW4 Epilepsy Community
A multi-disciplinary community working together to improve understanding of epilepsies through enhanced research, modelling, diagnosis and treatment.

PI Dr James Hodge, from the University of Bristol, said: “Epilepsy is the most common primary neurological disorder worldwide, with 10% of people experiencing a seizure during their life. The formation of our collaborative research community is unique in that we will bring together for the first time a critical mass of researchers in the South West to overcome current hurdles in the diagnosis and cure of epilepsy.”

Technology-Enabled Circularity (TEC): Digitalisation and Sustainability in Manufacturing
An interdisciplinary network bringing together expertise in digital manufacturing and circular economies to build more sustainable manufacturing futures.

PI Dr Jennifer Johns, from the University of Bristol, said: “Despite the potentially significant contribution of existing and emerging knowledge of technological solutions to sustainability, and circularity in particular, there is clear need for more academic work that engages and unifies across the two areas. Thanks to this funding award from GW4, we aim to deepen our academic understandings and integrate perspectives from across the social sciences and STEM in a truly interdisciplinary network to help meet industry and policy demand for potential solutions to social and economic problems.”

The GW4 PuP Community: Performance under Pressure. Understanding Occupational Stress: Performance, Health, and Wellbeing in High-Pressure Environments
This community will bring academic experts and external partners together to deliver a step-change in police occupational stress research, tackling the negative effects of stress on police officers’ performance, health, and wellbeing.

PI Dr Rachel Arnold, from the University of Bath, said: “Occupational stress has been identified as a 21st century global health epidemic, given its links to seven out of 10 leading causes of death, and can have acute performance and productivity effects. Our overall aim is to deliver a step-change on police occupational stress research and this new funding will help us to further our community’s exploration of this pressing topic.”

Understanding Use of Agricultural Azoles and its Impact on Quality of Waterbodies and AMR
This project aims to understand use of azole fungicide in arable farmlands in Southwest England and determine its impact on quality of waterbodies and AMR.

PI Dr Dhara Malavia, University of Exeter, said: “Environmental antimicrobial resistance is an emerging global concern and agricultural azoles are one of the major contributors that have been overlooked until now. While previous studies have investigated impact of azoles in farm soils, this funding will allow us to study their presence in natural water bodies and impact on AMR which currently remains unexplored.”

Now in its third year, the Generator Award is intended to be a springboard for these communities to apply for external grants.

GW4 Alliance Director Dr Joanna Jenkinson MBE said: “The Generator Award is a core part of GW4’s commitment to build research communities at scale and across a breadth of capabilities in order to will deliver a step change in research that could not be achieved by one of the institutions alone.”

“I’m delighted to announce funding for these seven research communities, opening up opportunities for new interdisciplinary collaborations.”

The Generator Award replaced the previous Initiator and Accelerator Awards in 2020.

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