Our Research Champions introduced the University’s new research themes as part of the Chancellor's Inauguration in October 2015.
The Champions gave short talks outlining their vision for each theme, highlighting opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration and demonstrating how research at York is helping to tackle some of the grand scientific, social and environmental challenges of our time.
Creativity: Damian Murphy
Dr Damian Murphy explained how the most unlikely of intellectual collaborations are often the most productive, drawing inspiration from the work of musician, composer and innovator, John Chowning. In Chowning’s case, his creative practice led to the discovery of an unusual means of sound synthesis that helped to transform modern music production, computer-based sound and mobile phone audio. His work left a lasting academic legacy for his host institution of Stanford University while also delivering one of their most successful-ever examples of economic impact. Dr Murphy gave examples to show how York has pioneered similar multi-disciplinary collaboration for more than 30 years. With the University at the heart of a nationwide £18 million Digital Creativity Hub, the time is right for our researchers to turn up the volume.
Culture and communication: Mark Jenner
Dr Mark Jenner investigated the many meanings and applications of culture and communication. He emphasised how this theme encompasses much of York’s world-leading research, including not only the University’s celebrated Humanities departments and centres, but also much of its outstanding social scientific and scientific research. He stressed that York has never equated culture with ‘High’ or European culture – for instance in the year that one of the period’s most celebrated aesthetes, Lord Kenneth Clark, was installed as Chancellor at York, Langwith College echoed to the guitar of Jimi Hendrix. Dr Jenner outlined a vision for greater collaboration, particularly between the Humanities and the Social Sciences, and for research which rethinks our understandings of culture and communication for the twenty-first century.
Environmental sustainability and resilience: Sue Hartley
Professor Sue Hartley addressed the big, global challenges that threaten both ourselves and our planet. From producing enough food for a growing population in the face of an increasingly unpredictable climate, to the need to develop clean, safe, sustainable urban environments for the billions of people who are flocking to cities, she showed how York’s researchers are responding to the pressing issues of our times. As leader of the N8 Agri-Food Resilience Programme, she highlighted how we are working with other northern universities to produce food more sustainably and to build resilient supply chains. Professor Hartley emphasised that we need to connect the dots between climate, poverty, energy, food and water – issues that cannot be tackled in isolation.
Health and wellbeing: Karen Bloor
Professor Karen Bloor plotted the research pathway from basic and fundamental scientific inquiry to the development and delivery of new treatments, therapies and other interventions, not only to combat illness and disease but also to improve general wellbeing. She illustrated the strength of York’s research across this spectrum, and highlighted examples of the potential benefits of working together, linking steps in the pathway to develop innovative solutions towards improved health and wellbeing, in the UK and around the world.
Justice and equality: Kate Pickett
A few years ago the gap between rich and poor was rarely mentioned in political circles. Epidemiologist Professor Kate Pickett described how York’s groundbreaking research into the damaging effects of inequality has changed this. Today, inequality is one of the most hotly debated issues around the globe. World leaders, from Barak Obama to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, have put the eradication of inequality at the top of their agendas. Professor Pickett argued that York should continue to play a key role in making social justice and equality a reality by using our incredible research strengths to drive positive social change.
Risk, evidence and decision making: John McDermid
We live in an increasingly complex, fast-changing world where the assessment of risk is crucial to good decision-making. This applies in the engineered world, including ensuring safety of air travel, and in managing risks in stock markets where billions have been lost in minutes. In other areas such as healthcare and the environment, there is extensive evidence, but care is needed in interpreting and communicating the evidence to inform decision-making. Professor John McDermid brought to light some of the challenges of this fast-moving world. He showed how York’s researchers are rising to these challenges, and to the opportunities for evolving current models and methods, particularly through taking an interdisciplinary approach.
Technologies for the Future: Thomas Krauss
Photonics expert Professor Thomas Krauss shone a spotlight on the range and depth of research that is building York’s reputation in interdisciplinary technology. He led us on an intriguing journey that took in our pivotal role in the quest for clean energy, how our bioengineers are developing crops and how they are learning to extract valuable chemicals from biomass. Professor Krauss argued that some of the most exciting research happens at the interface of different disciplines and that York is extremely well-placed to address society’s need for ‘fit for purpose’ technology.