Comment: Life-changing discoveries made here could change world for better

Professor Dave Petley, Vice-President for Research and Innovation at the University of Sheffield, discusses the four new research flagships which will provide innovative solutions to the world's greatest challenges.

By Professor Dave Petley, 09.05.18. Originally published in Sheffield Telegraph.

Oman greenhouse launch

At the University of Sheffield, we want our city to be known across the globe as a place which provides innovative solutions to the world’s greatest challenges.

That is why we have launched four new flagship institutes, which build on some of our recognised areas of research excellence and the pioneering work already taking place.

The University of Sheffield’s Energy Institute, Healthy Lifespan Institute, Neuroscience Institute and the Institute for Sustainable Food bring together multidisciplinary teams of researchers passionate about making a difference.

Our new institutes will tackle the rapidly increasing global epidemic of multimorbidity, in which people live with two or more serious medical conditions; develop affordable and clean energy sources that are safe, secure and sustainable; improve the lives of patients and families affected by devastating neurological disorders; and develop new ways to sustain and improve the world’s future food supplies.

Tackling such complex issues means undertaking research that addresses societal challenges, and taking the outcomes of academic research and turning them into real-world solutions. And, as a university deeply rooted in our city, we want Sheffield people to play a part in, and benefit from, our life-changing discoveries.

A fantastic example is the work being led by the Institute for Sustainable Food, which is committed to finding ways to address the challenges of feeding the growing global population. Our researchers have been working on projects in Oman and refugee camps in Jordan using cutting-edge technologies to help crops grow. But they have also been applying this research here.

At a disused primary school in Tinsley, our researchers created an urban farm that uses hydroponics to grow crops. Not only will the farm provide fruit and vegetables for local people, but we expect it will provide training for unemployed or low-skilled workers, and an educational environment.

Our city is already known worldwide as the home to the Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience, led by Professor Dame Pamela Shaw, an inspirational academic clinician who has dedicated her career to understanding neurodegenerative diseases. Building on this work, she will lead the Neuroscience Institute, which will support over 100 neuroscientists and their teams to harness advances in neuroscience and improve the lives of patients affected by devastating disorders such as motor neurone disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

These researchers will benefit from the revolutionary MRI-PET Sheffield Scanner being built at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital thanks to a £2 million campaign supported by our students, staff, alumni and friends. The facility will also increase the number of clinical trials we can undertake.

The Energy Institute, home to more than 300 of the best minds in energy research, is finding low-carbon solutions to the world’s biggest energy challenges. Researchers are already working to create a model of Sheffield’s energy and resource usage to collect data about the way our city functions. This will allow us to create a detailed understanding of the distribution of energy use - including which buildings lose the most heat, and where solar energy can be most effective.

Our University is also committed to improving the health of local people and reducing health inequalities. The Healthy Lifespan Institute is the first in the UK focussed on preventing age-related illness throughout a person’s life. Led by Professor Ilaria Bellantuono and by Professor Alan Walker, who chaired the Sheffield Fairness Commission, it brings together medical and social experts. They will work with more than 130 experts to combine medical approaches with evidence-based social policy to develop strategies on improving health by preventing multimorbidity and age-related frailty.

We are privileged to have a wealth of world-class expertise and state-of-the-art facilities and are in a unique position where we can bring together international experts with the vision to make change happen.

However, we know finding effective solutions will not happen solely in our University. These institutes will engage with partners, industry, government and people directly affected in the region, the UK and internationally. Together, we have an opportunity to find new answers to complex problems and change the world for the better. And we are proud these solutions will be made in Sheffield.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​