Research initiative brings fillip to North

March 30, 2007

Investment in energy and molecular engineering centres will boost job and career options. Tony Tysome reports

New research opportunities are expected to open up with the launch of five new research centres in the North of England.

Senior academics involved in establishing the centres, which will be run by the N8 consortium of northern universities, have forecast that the initiative will bring about fresh opportunities for original research, collaboration with industry, research funding and jobs.

The launch last week marked the appointment of directors to head research centres for energy, sustainable water use, ageing and health, molecular engineering and regenerative medicine. The centres will be backed by £6 million from three northern regional development agencies as part of the Northern Way strategy to boost the region's economy.

David Secher, chief executive of N8, told   that the centres would become a focus for exploring research themes, in collaboration with industry partners, in subject areas where the participating universities were already strong.

One of the key benefits was the ability to attract significant investment and grant funding by creating critical mass with the pooling of expertise in these areas.

Professor Secher said: "Increasingly, you need large research groups to secure significant sources of funding, as money tends to be distributed in large packages. So the creation of a critical mass of researchers in the themes we have chosen will play an important role in helping us find this kind of funding."

For researchers, this was likely to bring about more jobs and enhanced career opportunities in the N8 universities - Durham, Lancaster, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield and York, he added.

"We have recognised from the beginning that collaboration will be successful only if it benefits individual researchers. This initiative offers them a vehicle for highlighting and publicising their work and a framework for easier access to industry partnerships," he said.

Trevor McMillan, pro vice-chancellor for research at Lancaster, said the large number of universities involved in the research centres meant themes could be explored by experts from a broad range of disciplines.

"In the case of water, for instance, we can look at the theme from an environmental, social and engineering perspective," he said.

Richard Jones, joint director of research for engineering and physical sciences at Sheffield University, who has been appointed director of the molecular engineering research centre, said: "We have every confidence that we will be able to attract larger sums of money for these projects. That should mean lots of research posts being created," he said.

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