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University of York £12.5m research boost

Posted on 3 October 2003

Funding will aid leading work in health, nano-technology and neuroscience

The University of York is set to create five major new research centres, to be funded partly by £12.5 million from the Government's Science Research Infrastructure Fund.

The new centres will host research teams in Infection and Immunity, Neuro-imaging, Magnetic Resonance, Nano-fabrication and Nano-analysis, and Nuclear Physics. The £12.5 million from SRIF will provide equipment and other infrastructure support for the centres.

The new centres follow the announcement of 10 new professorships to celebrate the University's 40th anniversary in a further boost to research activity at York.

Infection and Immunity B infections such as HIV and malaria, novel vaccines against cancer, and allergic or auto-immune conditions will be the focus of research in a new Infection and Immunity unit. The Unit will employ approximately 40 people. Work is due to start early next year on refurbished laboratories for researchers from the Hull York Medical School and the Department of Biology. The Unit will give leading immunologists access to world-class facilities.

Professor Alastair Fitter, Head of the Department of Biology, said: "A functional immune system is essential to human health, and recent research has unravelled many of the intricate mechanisms that underlie its protection, but there are still many uncertainties, especially about the way immune responses are regulated. Understanding how these conditions arise is the first step in developing therapies to control or prevent them."

Neuro-imaging. The Centre will develop non-invasive methods for studying the neural activity of the brain, uniquely combining the useof MRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging, and MEG (magneto-encephalography), with eye movement recording. The Centre will significantly improve understanding of how language, vision, memory, and motor control work together to allow us to interact with the world around us. This will increase insight into childhood and adult disorders in psychological functioning.

The Centre will lead international excellence in human neuroscience, pulling together outstanding scientists and allow a particularly sensitive system to be commissioned. Neuro-science has been identified as a priority subject for study at the University and the new centre will bring together a wide range of departments including Psychology, Computer Science, Electronics and Chemistry.

A new detector development laboratory is to be built for the Department of Physics' nuclear research. Scientists at York will study the strange properties of exotic nuclei which do not occur naturally on earth. To do this they have to 'cheat' Nature and use accelerators to create nuclear reactions in which the exotic, short-lived nuclei are produced. Using the same approach they can mimic Nature and investigate the nuclear reactions which occur in stars like the sun, and which produce the energy which keeps us alive.

One of the biggest challenges in this work is that the reactions can produce millions of unwanted nuclei and so the University needs to build ultra-sensitive detection systems to select out and measure the exotic nuclei and reaction the researchers are interested in. The new laboratory will enable the scientists to design and test more sophisticated types of detector needed for this work.

A Centre for Magnetic Resonance is planned jointly by the Departments of Chemistry and Biology. The technique allows scientists to determine the structures of materials ranging from small molecules such as Taxol, (a powerful natural anti-cancer product) to large proteins such as haemoglobin. The new technology would also help develop links with local medical companies which need to understand biological systems.

The SRIF funding will provide a powerful 700 MHz nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometer, and upgrade a less powerful 500 MHz machine for projects linking the two departments, and the development of NMR methods. The high magnetic fields provided by the new instruments offer great gains in sensitivity and increase the complexity of problems that can be tackled.

A Centre for Nano-fabrication and Nano-analysis (the science of tiny particles) will provide state-of-the-art facilities for 17 academics and technical staff across at least four departments at York. Nanotechnology is predicted to grow into a multi-million pound industry by the end of the decade. The new Centre will have two key facilities - advanced scanning probe microscopy (SPM), and focused ion beam technology (FIB).

The Centre will be created jointly by the Departments of Physics and Electronics.

The proposed SPM is the most powerful available commercially, while the FIB will allow precise design, control, and fabrication of nanoscale structures B structures which are less than 0.0001mm. Projects will include a 'lab-on-a-chip'; nanoclusters for clean chemistry; nano-biology; micromachining; magnetic nanostructures; and spin-electronic materials and devices. Spin electronics is set to revolutionise semiconductor electronics by creating magnetically-controlled devices: it will combine the physics of giant magnetoresistance and the versatile characteristics of semiconductor electronics.

Contact details

David Garner
Senior Press Officer

Tel: +44 (0)1904 322153