Research and innovation round-up 2022

A selection of research projects that capture our values and excellence as a University.


From confirming our place as a world-leading university with the Research Excellence Framework (REF) results to opening exciting new centres, this past year has been a particularly busy and successful one for research at the University of Sheffield.

Our campus has continued to grow through the building of new state-of-the-art facilities, including the Gene Therapy Innovation and Manufacturing Centre (GTIMC) that accelerates the development of gene therapies into life-changing treatments for patients, and the Sustainable Aviation Fuels Innovation Centre (SAF-IC), the first bespoke research centre for the development and testing of sustainable aviation fuels in the UK. We have also brought together our leading experts to tackle the cancer challenges specific to our region in a new interdisciplinary research initiative.

We have continued our dedicated and important work towards achieving the sustainable development goals on campus and impacting lives around the world.

I am immensely proud of the diverse achievements of all our researchers across the University. The research impact we've seen this year is incredibly impressive: you can explore more here but I've selected a handful of examples that demonstrate the breadth, strength and impact of our exciting research across all our faculties and flagship institutes.

Professor Sue Hartley

Vice-President for Research

Improving the efficiency of solar panels

solar panel

Although solar energy is seen as sustainable, the manufacturing process of most solar panels is energy intensive and harmful to the environment. Professor David Lidzey from the Department of Physics and Astronomy is working with Power Roll Ltd to create a new solar cell design.

The innovative design has micro-grooves that are a fraction of the width of a human hair embossed onto the surface. Not only does this simplify the manufacturing process so it is less energy intensive and cheaper to make, it also has the potential to make solar cells more energy efficient.

This research is part of our Energy Institute.

A groovy way to boost solar power efficiency

The impact of air pollution on urban ecosystems

bug on plant

Air pollution is one of the largest environmental health risks that humans face today.  According to the World Health Organisation it causes approximately seven million early deaths worldwide each year.

Dr Stuart Campbell from the School of Biosciences recreated an ecosystem to find that gases such as nitrogen dioxide could be causing cascading damage to ecosystems and devastating communities of insects. This work is part of a four-year long project to analyse how different insects are affected by, and in turn impact, air quality in an environment.

Have we turned plants against us?

Helping the voices of Afghan musicians be heard

musician playing rubab

On the morning of August 15 2021 the musicscape of Afghanistan fell silent. As the Taliban regime came back into force, musicians disappeared and fled. Dr Cayenna Ponchione-Bailey from the Department of Music is promoting Afghanistan’s flourishing orchestral music internationally.

Her participatory research project connects and supports Afghan musicians across the world by creating new platforms for exiled musicians to share their work. This involved a staged performance at the Spitalfields festival in London, where eight of the nine works performed were world premieres. 

Filling the silence

Shifting societal views of women in Latin America

children reading book

Gender equality is a human right. But across Latin America, women’s lives and opportunities continue to be limited by violence and discrimination.

Dr Lauren Rea, from the School of Languages and Cultures, is integrating women’s histories and contributions to Latin American society into the school curricula. Through a published book and a free educational platform, her research is inspiring primary school children by sharing the stories of inspirational Latin American women who helped shape the region.

Tackling gender inequality in Latin America

Keeping high-quality products out of landfill

person carrying boxes

95 per cent of returned clothing can be reprocessed and resold, but returning bulkier goods often requires additional packaging, two-person delivery services and repairs. This makes the returns process energy intensive and expensive, costing retailers in the UK around £60 billion a year and results in functioning goods being sent to landfill. 

Through retail returns management and supply chain analysis, Dr Erica Ballantyne from the Management School and Dr Jonathan Gorst work with companies to reduce waste across all operations, as well as the volume of products sent to landfill.

The hidden side of retail returns

Redefining food support in the UK


Despite the UK being one of the wealthiest countries in the world, millions of people are experiencing food insecurity.

Dr Megan Blake from the Department of Geography has developed Food Ladders, a tool to help organisations and local authorities understand local food systems. Food Ladders plays a crucial role in the UK’s responses to disaster mitigation and generating long-term strategies for more than 40 UK-wide charities.

This research is part of our Institute for Sustainable Food.

Moving beyond food banks

Improving the performance and quality of everyday products

powder explosion

For many powder brands, the quality of the product relies on the time it takes to dissolve. With years of expertise in particle processing and manufacturing, Professor Agba Salman from the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering and Director of the Diamond Pilot Plant (DiPP) improves consumer products by modifying their particles.

From helping improve sustainability in the fertiliser industry to increasing the physical stability of food powders, Professor Salman uses the DiPP for industry-sponsored projects and to provide students with real-world industry experience and knowledge.

The power of powder

Leaf-busting tech is cleaning train lines

leaves on train track

In autumn, thousands of tonnes of leaves fall onto wet railway tracks creating an effect similar to black ice on roads. This costs the rail industry approximately £345 million each year. Professor Roger Lewis from the Department of Mechanical Engineering led a team to develop a sustainable cleaning solution to this problem.

The team developed a system that uses dry ice pellets to freeze the leaves and blast them away from the railhead. Unlike current cleaning methods, this new device can be used on passenger trains allowing them to clean the tracks as they go.

Reducing train delays

Ending the stigma of sex lives in over 50s

elderly couple dancing

The sex lives of the over 50s have long been ignored. But research from the Health Sciences School is bringing the conversation back to the table.

Dr Sharron Hinchliff’s programme of work is the first in the UK to identify sex and intimacy as two key components of quality of life in older adults. Following a successful exhibition with Sheffield artist Pete McKee, Sharron’s most recent output is the UK’s first Sexual Rights Charter. The charter helps health and social care professionals, service providers and the community to develop inclusive practices and policies.

This research is part of our Healthy Lifespan Institute.

The UK’s first ever Sexual Rights Charter

A turning point for the treatment of motor neurone disease

road sign

Motor neurone disease (MND) affects around 5,000 people in the UK every year. There is currently no cure.

Dame Pamela J Shaw, Professor of Neurology and Director of the Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience (SITraN), from the Department of Neuroscience led a Phase 3 clinical trial that has been shown to slow down the progression of a type of MND.

The results of the trial showed significant improvements in patients’ symptoms, with one patient in a wheelchair later able to walk without sticks. While the treatment only applies to patients with a subtype of MND (approximately two per cent of all MND patients) this work has the potential to change the future of trials for all MND patients.

This research is part of our Neuroscience Institute.

A turning point for MND treatment

New detailed lung MRI scans without radiation

lungs scan

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computerised tomography (CT) generate images of internal tissues but do not measure how well they function. The POLARIS team led by Professor Jim Wild, Director of the INSIGNEO institute, from the Department of Infection, Immunity and Cardiovascular Disease has developed a novel type of MRI scan that is able to pick up on lung abnormalities previously undetected with routine tests.

As well as helping to define NHS practice, the groundbreaking xenon functional imaging technology helps clinicians identify early signs of lung disease, for example in children with Cystic Fibrosis and adults with severe asthma, without using radiation.

Our solution to safe, clearer scans

Digital twin a UK-first for machine tool feedback control

illustration of digital twin

A team of experts from the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) have proven the feasibility of a new digital twin technology. The team successfully produced a novel, real-time digital simulation model for feedback control of subtractive cutting operations as part of a technology portfolio related to online machining process simulation, monitoring and control.

Dr Rob Ward, AMRC industrial research fellow, believes that no-one in the UK has ever before achieved subtractive process closed loop control by real-time digital twins without the use of expensive sensors.

A subtractive digital twin

Centres of excellence

The University's cross-faculty research centres harness our interdisciplinary expertise to solve the world's most pressing challenges.