January 2013 press releases

Queen’s to inspire future researchers as part of £3.5M initiative

School pupils in the Magherafelt and Newtownabbey areas are to be among the first to benefit from a new £3.5 million national School-University Partnerships Initiative (SUPI) launched today by Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts.

As part of the initiative Queen’s University Belfast has been awarded £146,000 of funding by Research Councils UK  to work alongside pupils from 34 schools, over the next three years, to promote pupil’s interest in cutting edge research and to help raise their aspirations.

The first stage of the programme will see researchers work with six schools in the Magherafelt area and ten schools in the Newtownabbey area on projects addressing a number of key societal issues, including the future role of creative technologies.

A second project will consider national borders and issues including multiculturalism, globalisation, identities and nationhood.  The third project will address problems of global concern – energy, water, food, environment and sustainability, while the final project will take pupils on an interactive journey from patient symptoms to clinical diagnosis, disease biomarker discovery, drug development and back to the patient for treatment.

The initiative also aims to engage teachers in ways that have maximum impact on teaching quality and learning and offer early career researchers opportunities to develop their transferable skills through training and by working with school students.

Principal Investigator, Professor Tom Millar, Dean of Engineering and Physical Sciences at Queen’s said: “It is crucial that society equips its young people with the necessary skills to tackle the global challenges which are increasingly impacting upon all our lives. I am therefore very pleased to welcome this award from RCUK which will see Queen’s researchers offer a range of exciting, hands-on projects to engage pupils, and give them a glimpse of how science, technology, engineering and the humanities are changing our future.

“Our ultimate goal at Queen’s is to inspire our young people and to show them that their future is a future they can help create.”

Welcoming the announcement Mrs Deirdre Gillespie, Principal, St Mary’s Grammar School, Magherafelt said: “We are delighted to support this project which offers exciting and innovative opportunities to facilitate engagement between our students and Queen’s researchers. It will enhance the educational and personal development opportunities of our students and I have no doubt it will have positive, far-reaching impacts not just on their time in school but also in their future career.”

Mr Lex Hayes, Principal, Glengormley High School, Newtownabbey, added: “This programme will help to demystify research and research careers and demonstrate more clearly to some of our young people that University and research can be for them. It will help bring the curriculum to life by linking it to real life research and researchers who can play a key role in motivating our students and raising ambition.”

David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, commented: “Maintaining a good supply of scientists and researchers is vital to our economy and society, but to do this we need to draw talent from as wide a pool as possible. That is why the School-University Partnerships Initiative is so important. It will help to encourage young people from all backgrounds to pursue a career in research by connecting them with the UK's world class academic community.”

Professor John Womersley, RCUK Champion for Public Engagement, said: “The quality of the proposals we received for this initiative was outstanding, and I am very excited about the impact these projects will have. By helping schools and universities to get together in a structured way with clear goals, we aim to encourage quality interactions between students and researchers in a broad range of disciplines. Hopefully this will inspire young people of all backgrounds to engage with and potentially pursue a career in research.”

Schools in the Magherafelt area participating in the programme include Kilronan Special School, Magherafelt High School, Rainey Endowed School, Sperrin Integrated College, St Pius X College and St Mary’s Grammar School.

Schools participating in the Newtownabbey area include Belfast High School, Glengormley High School, Hazelwood Integrated College, Hill Croft School, Monkstown Community School, Jordanstown Schools, Newtownabbey Community High School, Newtownabbey Educational Guidance Centre, Rostulla School, Thornfield House School and Outreach Services and Northern Regional College

For media enquiries please contact Claire O’Callaghan on +44 (0) 28 9097 5391 or 07772649694 or at

Top of Page

Are we dying of embarrassment? Barriers to visiting GP may prevent early cancer presentation

Dr Anna Gavin

According to a study involving academics at Queen's University Belfast over a third of people surveyed in Northern Ireland (34 per cent), do not present to their doctor immediately on noticing a cancer symptom because they are worried about wasting the doctor’s time.

The study, published in the British Journal of Cancer this week, was carried out by the International Cancer Benchmarking Partnership (ICBP), which examined differences in cancer awareness and beliefs between Northern Ireland, England, Wales, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Sweden. 

Along with their international colleagues, researchers from Queen's Northern Ireland Cancer Registry in the University's Centre for Public Health wanted to find out whether survival rates for a country might be influenced by the population’s cancer awareness and beliefs.

The study reveals that almost a fifth of people in Northern Ireland (18 per cent) reported embarrassment as a barrier to going to see the doctor upon noticing a cancer symptom. This was significantly higher than in all other jurisdictions surveyed, with as few as six per cent reporting embarrassment as a factor in Denmark.

A higher proportion of people in Northern Ireland (30 per cent) also stated they were worried about what the doctor might find, compared to 20 per cent in Norway. Only 11 per cent of those surveyed in Northern Ireland were aware that cancer risk is generally much higher among older people in comparison with Australia, 16 per cent; Denmark, 25 per cent; Norway, 29 per cent and Sweden, 38 per cent.

Speaking about the importance of the study’s findings, Dr Anna Gavin, Director of Queen's Northern Ireland Cancer Registry, said: “The good news for Northern Ireland is that overall, the study reported a high level of general knowledge regarding many symptoms and signs of cancer among people living here, with Northern Ireland participants recognising 8.53 out of a possible 11 symptoms for cancer, with only Canada doing better than us.

“What is of concern, however, is that while 90 per cent of people in Northern Ireland agreed that ‘cancer can often be cured’, only 70 per cent disagreed with the statement ‘a diagnosis of cancer is a death sentence.’ This is important because there is evidence to suggest negative attitudes can be linked to delayed presentation.

“Further work is required to understand and address barriers to people presenting with symptoms which could be caused by cancer. We need to raise awareness of cancer as a curable disease and of its higher levels in older people.”

Researchers also revealed that in Northern Ireland there is lower awareness of symptoms such as unexplained persistent pain, coughs, hoarseness, tiredness, sores that do not heal and night sweats, and that those groups with lower symptom knowledge included men, the very elderly and those with primary level education only.

The study was carried out in partnership with Cancer Research UK, Ipsos MORI, and in Northern Ireland, the Public Health Agency, and the team surveyed 19,079 men and women aged 50 including 6,965 in the UK of which 2307 were in Northern Ireland.


Media inquiries to Lisa McElroy, Senior Communications Officer. Tel: 028 90 97 5384 or email  

Top of Page

First telecoms project announced under US-Ireland R&D Partnerships

US Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs,Dr. Kerri-Ann Jones has visited Newry to announce the first telecommunications project to be funded under the US-Ireland R&D Partnership. Forming an alliance between the USA, Ireland and Northern Ireland, its aim is to promote collaborative innovative research projects which create value above and beyond individual efforts. The latest project, known as WiPhyLoc8 will aim to develop a novel means of more accurately locating people using WiFi and help address a wide number of security WiFi problems. It is a collaborative project between Queen’s University Belfast, Rice University, Houston, and University College Dublin. The £318K project has also the support from one of the world’s largest programmable hardware companies, Xilinx and Queen’s University’s spin-off companies, Analytics Engines Ltd. and TOM Ltd.

Pictured right at the announcement of the first telecommunications project under the US-Ireland R&D Partnership are: L-R: Prof Alan Marshall, Queen's University Belfast, Dr. Killian Halpin US-Ireland R&D Partnership Steering Group Co-Chair (Ireland), Assistant Secretary Dr Kerri-Ann Jones, US State Dept and US-Ireland R&D Partnership Steering Group Co-Chair (US), Dr Christopher Bleakely, University College Dublin, Prof Roger Woods, Queen's University Belfast and Prof Fabian Monds US-Ireland R&D Partnership Steering Group Co-Chair (Northern Ireland).

Top of Page

From discovery to recovery: public invited to meet Queen’s world-leading researchers

Members of the public are being invited to Queen’s University on Wednesday evening (30 January) to meet and hear from the people behind some of the biggest medical breakthroughs of recent times.

World-leading experts in conditions which affect thousands of people in Northern Ireland, including prostate cancer, sight loss in older adults, acute lung injury, and cholesterol and heart disease, will speak about the impact their work is having on patient outcomes in a special evening research showcase Medical Research at Queen’s: Discovery to Recovery in Riddel Hall.

The University recently launched Beyond, an ambitious fundraising campaign to raise £140m over the next five years for projects which will increase and enhance the impact Queen’s makes on society and the economy, locally and internationally. Wednesday’s free event offers members of the public an opportunity to hear at first-hand how existing medical research projects being led by Queen’s teams are already making a difference. Guests will then have the opportunity to address questions to the panel of speakers.

Speaking on Wednesday evening will be from Queen’s School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences include Professor Joe O’Sullivan, representing the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology, who will speak about his team’s research into prostate cancer; Professor  Ian Young, representing the Centre for Public Health, who will discuss his work to reduce heart disease; Professor Danny McAuley, of the Centre for Infection and Immunity, who will share his work to find new ways to treat failing lungs and Professor Usha Chakravarthy, of the Centre for Vision and Vascular Sciences, who will outline how her research work into age-related macular degeneration can help to reduce sight loss.

Speaking about the event, Scott Rutherford, Director of Research and Enterprise at Queen’s, said: “We often read the headlines about the ground breaking research in so many spheres that is taking place at Queen’s and this free event is an opportunity to hear more from the people behind the headlines and about their work that impacts upon our everyday lives. Queen’s University is paving the way in world-class research and this event offers a fascinating opportunity for people to see what is going on right on their doorstep in the world of health research.

The event Medical Research at Queen’s: Discovery to Recovery is free and open to the public and takes place in Riddel Hall, Queen’s University, Stranmillis Road from 6pm until 7.45pm.  All are welcome, but to secure a place please email

For media inquiries please contact Lisa McElroy on 028 90 97 5384 or 07814 415 451 or

Top of Page

Queen’s and NSPCC publish Northern Ireland’s first child death and serious injury review
Minister of the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, Mr Edwin Poots MLA pictured at Queen’s University for the launch of the first ever review of abuse cases related to child death or serious injury in Northern Ireland.  Pictured with the Minister is the Vice-Chancellor of Queen's University Professor Sir Peter Gregson (centre), Principal Investigator of the report Dr John Devaney from the School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work at Queen’s (far right) and co-author of the report Dr David Hayes from the School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work at Queen’s.
Minister of the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, Mr Edwin Poots MLA pictured at Queen’s University for the launch of the first ever review of abuse cases related to child death or serious injury in Northern Ireland. Pictured with the Minister is the Vice-Chancellor of Queen's University Professor Sir Peter Gregson (centre), Principal Investigator of the report Dr John Devaney from the School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work at Queen’s (far right) and co-author of the report Dr David Hayes from the School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work at Queen’s.
Minister of the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, Mr Edwin Poots MLA, (L-R) the report authors Dr David Hayes from Queen's University, Dr Lisa Bunting from the NSPCC, Principal Investigator  Dr John Devaney and Dr Anne Lazenbatt from Queen's.
Minister of the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, Mr Edwin Poots MLA, (L-R) the report authors Dr David Hayes from Queen's University, Dr Lisa Bunting from the NSPCC, Principal Investigator Dr John Devaney and Dr Anne Lazenbatt from Queen's.

The first ever review of abuse cases related to child death or serious injury in Northern Ireland will be launched at Queen’s University today. The review, Translating Learning into Action, was commissioned by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) and was carried out by researchers at Queen’s University and the NSPCC.

The Case Management Review (CMR) report – the first to be produced in Northern Ireland - analysed 24 case reviews relating to 45 children which resulted in death or serious injury in the period between 2003 – 2008. While the rate of non-accidental child deaths in Northern Ireland continues to fall as a consequence of having a strong child protection system, the findings from the review offer important opportunities for strengthening the system.

Of the 24 cases reviewed, 18 dealt with the death of a child – four children who died as a result of a physical or sexual assault; six infants who died unexpectedly, for which there was no cause established; and eight young people who died by suicide or accident. The remaining six case reviews involved a range of issues, including the serious injury of a child, the standard of care of children by their carers, and how professionals worked together.

As of 31 March 2012, 2,127 children were listed on child protection registers in Northern Ireland, a decrease of 11% (274) from 2011 (2,401) but an increase of 18% (322) since 2007.

The report drew a number of conclusions:

  • The rate of non-accidental child deaths in Northern Ireland continues to fall as a consequence of having a strong child protection system;
  • The majority of the 24 case reviews commented positively on the dedication and professionalism of individual staff working with the families subject to review;
  • The children in these reports were amongst hundreds living in very similar circumstances and who were known to professionals, and the reviews concluded that it was unlikely that the children who died or were seriously injured could have been identified as being at heightened risk;
  • There is a need for services to become involved at an earlier stage with families before problems became entrenched and harder to improve;
  • Services need to stay involved for longer with some families to ensure that improvements in parenting are consolidated in the longer term;
  • Alongside providing services to reduce the risk that children may be at from physical or sexual abuse, therapeutic services to children should be provided to address the psychological harm of poor parenting;
  • Professionals should be provided with opportunities to meet together more frequently to co-ordinate assessments and interventions with children and families;
  • Senior managers across organisations must take greater responsibility for ensuring that workloads of individual professionals are manageable and commensurate with their level of experience;
  • The interface between services working with children and services working with adults who are parents (for issues such as poor mental health or substance misuse) must be improved;
  • Senior managers should ensure that staff receive regular support and supervision in dealing with what is often highly complex and emotional work.

As a result of the CMR review process public agencies have made a number of significant improvements in the way that children and their families are supported, including:

  • Improved information sharing between criminal justice and social care organisations in respect of adults who pose a serious risk of harm to children;
  • Introduction of an initiative to support medical and health professionals working in adult mental health and substance misuse services in respect of their child protection responsibilities;
  • A new structure for the receipt and management of referrals in respect of children to HSC Trusts;
  • A new regional framework across health and social services, education and criminal justice organisations for assessing the needs of children and their families;
  • The development of Family Support Hubs to ensure that families with lower level needs are quickly put in contact with services that can meet these needs;
  • Improved arrangements for the supervision and support of social workers and health visitors.

Minister of the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, Mr Edwin Poots MLA, said: “I welcome the publication of this report, the first of its kind in Northern Ireland.  It provides invaluable learnings for the protection and safeguarding of children here.  This report, commissioned by my department, reflects my continued commitment to ensuring that messages are shared with all organisations and professionals who work with children on a daily basis and who can help keep them safe.

“The rate of non-accidental child deaths continues to fall.  In my view, a strong child protection system has contributed positively to this reduction in numbers – and we owe it to future generations to continue to do what we do well, and to strengthen the system where it transpires we need to.”

Principal Investigator, Dr John Devaney, School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work at Queen’s University, said: “This is the first time a review like this has been carried out in Northern Ireland.  The overall aim has been to provide better safeguards for children by establishing the facts of the cases where children have died or been seriously injured, establishing whether lessons can be learned, identifying what those lessons are and how they can be acted upon.”

“Most of the children in these reports were already known to Health and Social Care Trusts and were not considered to be at great risk of serious harm – they were like many families known to social services.   Importantly, this research, carried out by Queen’s and the NSPCC, has highlighted a number of key findings from individual case management reviews have already led to improvements in the systems and processes for supporting vulnerable families and protecting children at risk.”

Dr Lisa Bunting from the NSPCC, said: “The very fact of Case Management Reviews, and the production of this report, signals a real commitment to continued improvement in an already robust child protection system.  There is always more to be done, and lessons that can and should be learnt, and we welcome this opportunity to effect change.

“Examination of these cases revealed that a lack of sustained intervention with children and families was sometimes an issue. Although problems in the family had, in many cases, been evident for a number of years, agencies were sometimes particularly poor at addressing the impact of chronic neglect on children, and intervening at an early stage. We need to ensure that practitioners have access to a range of appropriate interventions and services which can prevent family problems from becoming entrenched.”

The full report is available online at,365708,en.pdf

For media enquiries please contact Claire O’Callaghan on +44 (0) 28 9097 5391 or 07772 649 694 or at

Top of Page

Queen’s academic urges people to preserve local place-names
Dr Mícheál Ó Mainnín
Dr Mícheál Ó Mainnín

A leading Queen’s University academic is calling on people in Northern Ireland to help preserve their local place-names and at the same time explore their shared cultural heritage. 

Dr Mícheál Ó Mainnín, from Queen’s School of Modern Languages, is inviting people to explore the origins and history of their local place-names through, a new website launched today (Monday 21 January).

The site contains 30,000 place-names located across Northern Ireland and 130,000 historical references to townland names in particular.

Users of the new website can search for places by name, location (e.g. all names in a parish), or common strands (e.g. all names containing ‘knock’). The site also features an interactive searchable map, provided by Land & Property Services.

Building on many years of work, the resource has been produced by the Northern Ireland Place Names Project (NIPNP) after gathering evidence for the origins of county, barony, civil parish and townland names, as well as the names of major urban settlements and physical features such as rivers and mountains.

The research team used evidence from archaeology and historical records, literature and folk tradition, and local history and topography to track the development of the names. Some of these date back to the early Christian period in Ireland, while others originated in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, in the aftermath of the Plantation of Ulster.

Dr Mícheál Ó Mainnín, Director, NIPNP said: “Northern Ireland has a rich tapestry of place-names, reflecting all aspects of our cultural heritage, some of which are under an increasing threat due to urbanisation and population decline in rural areas.  We hope this new online resource will encourage people to find out more about where they live and in doing so keep their place-name alive. The new website sheds light on the complexity of our linguistic and cultural diversity, and has an important role to play in the promotion of education for mutual understanding. It is hugely important that our place-names are preserved for future generations.

“The 30,000 names in the database bear witness to all the peoples who have left their mark here over the centuries. The oldest names are of Irish origin, but the database also includes many names coined by English (e.g. Draperstown), Scots (e.g. Glarryford) and others in later centuries. The name Strangford, for example, has Norse origins and Pomeroy appears to have originated in French.

“Work on the database is ongoing. An extensive analysis of the name of every single townland and major settlement in Co. Down has been completed, and we hope to secure funding to extend that to the other five counties. We are also collaborating with similar projects in the Republic of Ireland so that people all over the world can utilise local place-name evidence in tracing their ancestry and family origins on the island of Ireland.”

Daithi McKay MLA, Chair of the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Committee for Finance and Personnel which hosted the launch, said: “Townlands and place-names are of cultural and historical importance and are reflective of our rich and diverse local history. By safeguarding and promoting place-names this project will provide a useful tool in education for mutual understanding for future generations, in addition to offering an online resource for assisting overseas genealogists in establishing family links to this part of the world which, in turn, has the potential to boost tourism.

“The Committee has been supportive of previous calls for funding for the project, which is supported by Land and Property Services, an agency within the Department of Finance and Personnel.  Indeed, the Assembly itself has recognised the value of place-names by officially including the townland location of Stormont – Ballymiscaw – in its address.”

Minister for Finance and Personnel, Sammy Wilson commented: "The Place Names of Northern Ireland website provides an interactive platform to easily access the rich history of place-names. It shows modern mapping provided by Land & Property Services alongside the vast detail of research information by Queen’s University on historic meanings of local areas and how they have evolved over hundreds of years. I would like to compliment Queen’s University on their progress with the website and am pleased that Land & Property Services have been able to contribute to this exciting project."

The new-look website at is hosted and maintained by Land & Property Services, who provided mapping for the project.

The website is being launched later today in Parliament Buildings (in the townland of Ballymiscaw).

Media inquiries to Anne-Marie Clarke, Queen’s University Communications Office on +44 (0)28 9097 5320 email

Top of Page

‘Shell-shocked’ crabs can feel pain
Common Shore crab

The food and aquaculture industries should reconsider how they treat live crustaceans such as crabs, prawns and lobsters. That’s according to a Queen’s University Belfast researcher who has found that crabs are likely to feel pain.

The latest study by Professor Bob Elwood and Barry Magee from Queen’s School of Biological Sciences looked at the reactions of common shore crabs to small electrical shocks, and their behaviour after experiencing those shocks. The research has been published in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

Professor Elwood’s previous research showed that prawns and hermit crabs respond in a way consistent with pain. This latest study provides further evidence of this.
Professor Elwood said: “The experiment was carefully designed to distinguish between pain and a reflex phenomenon known as nociception. The function of pain is to aid future avoidance of the pain source, whereas nociception enables a reflex response that provides immediate protection but no awareness or changes to long-term behaviour.

“While nociception is generally accepted to exist in virtually all animals the same is not true of pain. In particular, whether or not crustaceans experience pain remains widely debated.”

This latest study showed that shore crabs are willing to trade something of value to them – in this case a dark shelter – to avoid future electric shock.
Explaining how the experiment worked, Professor Elwood said: “Crabs value dark hideaways beneath rocks where they can shelter from predators. Exploiting this preference, our study tested whether the crabs experienced pain by seeing if they could learn to give up a valued dark hiding place in order to avoid a mild electric shock.

“Ninety crabs were each introduced individually to a tank with two dark shelters. On selecting their shelter of choice, some of the crabs were exposed to an electric shock. After some rest time, each crab was returned to the tank. Most stuck with what they knew best, returning to the shelter they had chosen first time around, where those that had been shocked on first choice again experienced a shock. When introduced to the tank for the third time, however, the vast majority of shocked crabs now went to the alternative safe shelter. Those not shocked continued to use their preferred shelter.

“Having experienced two rounds of shocks, the crabs learned to avoid the shelter where they received the shock. They were willing to give up their hideaway in order to avoid the source of their probable pain.”

Professor Elwood says that his research highlights the need to investigate how crustaceans used in food industries, such as crabs, prawns and lobsters, are treated. He said: “Billions of crustacean are caught or reared in aquaculture for the food industry. In contrast to mammals, crustaceans are given little or no protection as the presumption is that they cannot experience pain. Our research suggests otherwise. More consideration of the treatment of these animals is needed as a potentially very large problem is being ignored.

“On a philosophical point it is impossible to demonstrate absolutely that an animal experiences pain. However, various criteria have been suggested regarding what we would expect if pain were to be experienced. The research at Queen’s has tested those criteria and the data is consistent with the idea of pain. Thus, we conclude that there is a strong probability of pain and the need to consider the welfare of these animals.”

Further information on the School of Biological Sciences at Queen’s is available online at

Media inquiries to Queen’s Communications Office +44 (0)28 9097 5310 email

Top of Page

US-UK Fulbright Commission announces new award for MA in Legislative Studies and Practice

The US-UK Fulbright Commission is delighted to announce a new ground-breaking joint award with the Northern Ireland Assembly and Queen’s University Belfast. This annual award will offer an American student the opportunity to come to Belfast as a Fulbright Scholar to pursue an MA in Legislative Studies and Practice. The highly innovative postgraduate degree, based within Queen's University Belfast’s School of Politics, International Studies and Philosophy, allows participants to spend a significant amount of time at the Northern Ireland Assembly acquiring hand-on skills and inside knowledge of the legislature.
This new Fulbright award has been formally recognised by the US Presidentially-appointed Fulbright Scholarship Board in Washington DC, and will be formally announced by the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Mr William Hay MLA on Thursday 17 January 2013 at a lunchtime reception which will also be attended by the American Consul General, Greg Burton.

The US-UK programme is the most competitive of the 150 Fulbright bi-national programmes in the world. The first recipient to hold this new award, in academic year 2014/15, will have been chosen from amongst the best and the brightest American students.
This award will add to a growing portfolio of Fulbright opportunities between the USA and Northern Ireland, for incoming American and outgoing Northern Irish ‘Fulbrighters’. In academic year 2012, there were more America Fulbrighters at Queen’s University Belfast than any other university in the UK.
Speaker William Hay said: “This new award is a fantastic opportunity for a student to gain first-hand experience of political life here as well as gaining a unique insight into how the Northern Ireland Assembly works.  We look forward to welcoming the new student to Parliament Buildings and are pleased to be working with the well-respected Fulbright Commission.  This programme will further strengthen the links between Northern Ireland and the United States and we look forward to playing our part in educating the next generation of American leaders.”
U.S. Consul General Greg Burton, added: “Many Americans have greatly enriched their academic or professional experiences through a Fulbright Scholarship in Northern Ireland and we are delighted that the Fulbright Commission is building on these successes.  I applaud everyone involved in this collaborative project which will deepen our transatlantic ties and provide life-changing opportunities for those selected. “
Professor Rick Wilford the Director of the Legislative Studies and Practice program at Queen’s said: ‘The addition of a Fulbright Scholarship to the Programme is a recognition of both its quality and its growing international reputation. It helps to further strengthen the relationship between the University and the Assembly and helps both to develop their links with a key educational provider in the United States. We very much look forward to welcoming the first recipient of the Scholarship in the autumn of 2013’.
For further information contact:
Michael Scott-Kline Director, Fulbright Awards Programme 0207 498 4014 or 07708 071 970 
Penny Egan, Executive Director, 07885 398 050,

Top of Page

Attenborough and McKillop among Queen’s honorary graduates in 2013
Sir David Attenborough
Sir David Attenborough
Michael McKillop
Michael McKillop

Broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough and gold-medal winning paralympian Michael McKillop are to receive an honorary degree from Queen’s University later this year. They are among 16 people from the worlds of business, medicine, sport, academia, music and the arts being honoured by the University.

Sir David, whose landmark new series Africa is currently airing on the BBC, will be recognised for services to science and broadcasting. He will be joined by local film director and the only Northern Ireland winner of an Oscar, Terry George, who will receive an honorary degree for distinction in film and drama. He is best known for his Co Down film The Shore which won the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film in 2012.

Also being recognised from the arts will be the only woman to win the Man Booker Prize twice, writer Hilary Mantel (Wolf Hall, 2009 and Bring Up the Bodies, 2012), Dublin-born writer Colum McCann whose Let the Great World Spin novel became a best-seller on four continents and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, one of the foremost composers of our time.

London 2012 has also had an influence on those selected for honorary degrees. Glengormley athlete Michael McKillop, who won two gold medals in last year’s Paralympics, setting a new world record in the 800m T37, will be recognised for exceptional distinction in sport. Baroness Campbell, Chair of UK Sport, who was instrumental in developing a national funding strategy for key sports, many of which formed an integral part of the recent Olympics, will be recognised for exceptional services to sport.

Distinguished names from the fields of medicine and science being recognised include Robert Ingram, the former CEO of GlaxoSmithKline, and Professor Avadhesha Surolia, Director of India’s National Institute of Immunology (NII) whose work has strongly influenced immunology research internationally. Professor Jim Swindall from Queen’s world-leading Ionic Liquid Laboratories (QUILL) will be recognised for his exceptional contribution to science.

Local businessman and entrepreneur Ed Vernon will be honoured for exceptional services to business and commerce. He played a vital role in the economic development of Northern Ireland and leads the Asset Management Group of the Strategic Investment Board reporting to the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister.

Others to be honoured for good works in 2013 include: Dr Avila Kilmurray for her contribution to the community, Dr Len O’Hagan for services to business and commerce, Wejdan Abu El-Haija, the first female Dean of Engineering in Jordan, Professor David Hempton for outstanding services to history and divinity and Sir Ken Robinson, an internationally recognized leader in the development of education, creativity and innovation who is being recognised for exceptional services to education. 

Queen's awards honorary degrees to individuals who have achieved high distinction or given significant service in one or more fields of public or professional life, and who serve as ambassadors for the University and Northern Ireland around the world.

The full list of honorary degrees to be awarded is as follows:

  • Sir David Attenborough, DSc for contribution to the science and broadcasting
  • Terry George, DUniv for distinction in Film and Drama
  • Hilary Mantel CBE, DLit for outstanding distinction in literature
  • Colum McCann, DLit for outstanding distinction in literature
  • Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, DLit(Mus) for exceptional services to Music
  • Baroness Sue Campbell CBE, DSSc for exceptional services to sport
  • Michael McKillop, DUniv for exceptional distinction in sport
  • Robert Ingram, DMedSc for exceptional services to medicine and science
  • Professor Avadhesha Surolia, DMedSc for services to science
  • Professor Jim Swindall CBE, DSc for exceptional contribution to science
  • Dr Wejdan Abu-Elhaija, DSc(Eng) for outstanding services to Engineering
  • Dr Len O’Hagan CBE DL, DSc(Econ) for exceptional services to business and commerce
  • Mr Ed Vernon, DSc(Econ) for exceptional services to business and commerce
  • Sir Ken Robinson DSSc Social Sciences for exceptional services to education. 
  • Professor David Hempton, DLit for outstanding services to history and divinity
  • Dr Avila Kilmurray, DSSc for exceptional contribution to the community

For further information please contact the Communications and External Affairs Office on 028 9097 3259 or email

Top of Page

New high-quality forestry products on way using Irish timber

Researchers at Queen’s University and NUI Galway are to develop high-quality forestry products in Ireland using innovative engineering technologies.

In a new £500K million project, academics will attempt to re-engineer timber to produce products with enhanced strength and durability and create the first database containing details of all the known properties of Irish-grown timber.

The demand for increased use of sustainable materials has led to a demand for innovative timber products. They are needed to replace more traditional materials which have poorer environmental performance. Dr Annette Harte, a senior lecturer in Civil Engineering and member of the Ryan Institute at NUI Galway, and Dr Daniel McPolin, a lecturer in Civil Engineering at Queen’s University Belfast’s School of Architecture, Planning and Civil Engineering, will lead the research into methods for engineering Irish timber to produce high-performance construction products.

The project will utilise the latest technologies at Queen’s Structural and Materials research laboratory.  Dr McPolin will test the feasibility of using novel technologies such as internal reinforcement and jointing of timber components with fibre-reinforced polymer rods to manufacture advanced construction products from Irish timber. 
He said: “The funding will help exploit the great potential of this local natural resource.  It is hoped that we can create products of greater added value than traditionally seen with timber.  These new products will allow the renewable resource of timber to be used in challenging applications normally met by other materials.”

The project is funded by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Marine under the FIRM/RSF/COFORD scheme.  Queens University Belfast is a collaborating partner with NUI Galway in the research, giving the results all-island impact.

Professor Colin Brown, Director of the Ryan Institute at NUI added: “In the context of pressures on resources and the environment, innovation and resource efficiencies can go hand-in-hand with steady economic growth.”

According to Dr Martina Prendergast, Strategic Development Manager of the Ryan Institute: “As a result of securing the significant grant from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Marine, we are in a much better position to attract European funding from the EU Horizon 2020 programme to develop high quality forestry products which will be recognised around the world.”

Contact either: Dr. Daniel McPolin at for more information.

Top of Page

New lab to revolutionise cancer research and diagnosis in Northern Ireland
Professor Manuel Salto Tellez, Professor of Molecular Pathology at Queen’s and Clinical Consultant Pathologist, BHSCT
Professor Manuel Salto Tellez, Professor of Molecular Pathology at Queen’s and Clinical Consultant Pathologist, BHSCT

The opening of a new cancer facility at Queen’s University Belfast today (Wednesday, 9 January), the first integrated laboratory of its kind in the UK and Ireland, is to revolutionise cancer research and diagnosis for thousands of patients across Northern Ireland.

The new facility is a partnership between Queen’s Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology and the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust.

The opening of the Northern Ireland Molecular Pathology Lab (NI-MPL) and Northern Ireland Biobank (NIB), means oncologists are now better placed to decide on the best treatment for their patients thanks to improved diagnoses.

The improved diagnoses are as a result of solid tumour samples being examined at a molecular level. This new level of testing helps oncologists tailor individual treatments to individual patients, offering a new era of personalised medicine in Northern Ireland. It will also advance meaningful research in new cancer diagnostics and new cancer treatments.

Professor Manuel Salto-Tellez, Professor of Molecular Pathology at Queen’s and Clinical Consultant Pathologist, BHSCT said: “Each cancer is unique in its genetic make-up. Testing at the molecular level allows us to identify changes in the cancer’s genome that are associated with better outcomes, and better lives, for the patients who suffer from certain types of cancer.

“Our distinctive combination of molecular diagnostics and research under the one roof, supported by the Biobank, makes this facility unique in these islands. We are now routinely delivering a number of diagnostic tests for the patient and along with our colleagues in the Belfast Trust, and across Northern Ireland, we are taking yet more significant steps on the journey, started by our oncologists years ago, which has seen us make significant improvements in cancer survival over the last 15 years.”

Explaining the difference the new facility will make to patients, Professor Joe O’Sullivan, Professor of Radiation Oncology, said: “This new Molecular Pathology facility at Queen’s will improve outcomes for patients by providing more detailed information to doctors about a particular cancer and facilitating the delivery of more individualised cancer treatment.”

Colm Donaghy, Chief Executive, Belfast Health and Social Care Trust said: “Already, over 1,000 patients in the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust have had their tumours analysed by the new laboratory. The diagnostic activity of the laboratory is under the direct governance of the Trust, making sure that it meets the highest standards of quality in healthcare. Once fully operational, several thousand people with cancer of the colon, breast, lung and skin, among others, will benefit each year from the new facility. Together with Queen’s we are developing new models that may define the way medicine will be delivered in the future.”

Queen’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Peter Gregson added: “The opening of this facility is yet another important illustration of how the research programme within Queen’s Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology is benefiting patient care in Northern Ireland. Along with our partners in the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, Queen’s is committed to ensuring that the advances made in our laboratories can continue to revolutionise patient care and bring new hope to people everywhere.”

An important new aspect of the MPL is the creation of the Northern Ireland Biobank (NIB).

The NIB provides researchers with the ability to access human tissue and blood samples for their research within a firmly regulated framework. This means that researchers can access tissue samples and progress their work at an increased pace, sharing their knowledge with colleagues across the globe.

Dr Jackie James, Scientific Director of the NIB, Senior Lecturer in Pathology and Consultant in the BHSCT, explained how it will benefit researchers at home and around the world. She said: “To carry out research that is meaningful, good quality clinical material with good quality clinical and pathological information is essential. The NIB provides all of this within a timely and strict ethical framework.”

Professor Bernie Hannigan, Director of Health and Social Care Research and Development (HSC R&D), a division of the Public Health Agency (PHA), who helped fund the NIB, said: “The Northern Ireland Biobank is evidence of the important contribution that HSC R&D funding makes to current and future research and patient care both in Belfast and across Northern Ireland.  We are delighted to support this facility as it is vital that the services patients receive are underpinned by world-class research. In addition, we are committed to the future expansion of the Biobank so that patients with illnesses other than cancer can also benefit from its innovative services.”

Professor Nic Jones, Cancer Research UK’s chief scientist, said: “This unique resource provides an example to the world by bringing together scientists, doctors and patients to make targeted treatments available sooner for cancer patients in Northern Ireland.
“Cancer Research UK is proud to support a team of scientists who have expertise in using this essential tissue resource to understand how to classify patients into groups so that they can receive the most effective treatment targeted to the faults in their DNA, and avoid unnecessary treatment with difficult side effects. We believe that nurturing world-class research in Northern Ireland will accelerate progress in research leading to increased survival from the disease.”
Charity Friends of the Cancer Centre supported the setting up of the Management Information System within the Northern Ireland Biobank. It’s Director Colleen Shaw, said: “Friends of the Cancer Centre are delighted to support the Northern Ireland Biobank by supporting  the setting up of the Management Information System (MIS). The MIS will be instrumental in supporting tissue collections for new and innovative cancer research in Northern Ireland, benefitting both the NI clinical cancer research community and future cancer patients. The charity is also committed to the future expansion of the Biobank.”

Further information on Queen’s Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology in which the new facilities are based is available at 

Media inquiries to Lisa McElroy, Senior Communications Officer, Queen’s University. Tel: +44 (0)28 90 97 5384, m 07814 415 451 or email

Top of Page

The most authoritative account of Ulster’s history launched at Queen’s

The most authoritative account of the history of Ulster ever published, including the background to the ‘Troubles’, has been launched at Queen’s University Belfast.
The new book Ulster Since 1600 brings together 23 expert authors from Ireland, Britain and North America, and is co-edited by Professor Liam Kennedy from Queen’s School of History and Anthropology.

The book surveys the history of UIster from plantation to partition, and onwards from the formation of the Northern Ireland state to the 'Troubles' of recent decades. It brings together existing historical knowledge along with new insights into the political, social and economic evolution of Ulster and its people.

Speaking at the launch, Professor Kennedy said: “The word 'Ulster' often conjures up images of conflict, sectarianism, and the peace processes. But, as this book shows, there is much more to the history of Ulster and its peoples. This book gives an insight into a society that produced an early emigration to North America, celebrated the outbreak of the French Revolution, starved during the Great Famine and in the Victorian era hosted Ireland’s first industrial city.

“Many world issues are encapsulated in small and intimate scale in the history of Ulster – overpopulation, migration, industrialisation, deindustrialisation and ethnic conflict. In this respect, the Ulster experience speaks to a much wider audience than those of us who inhabit this small piece of land.”

Speaking about how Ulster’s history continues to shape Northern Ireland, Professor Kennedy said: “History still haunts us here. A good understanding of our past can help free us, as a society, from prejudice and bigotry. A poor or distorted appreciation of history has the opposite effect and makes a shared future less imaginable. We cannot understand ourselves or others without understanding the forces that have created the divided society we inhabit.

“We are in the grip of an economic recession. Yet the economic history of the island of Ireland is one of remarkable achievements in the face of adversity, from the early formation of the linen industry to the forging of a massive industrial complex on the banks of the Lagan. This should be a source of inspiration and confidence for the future.”

Co-editor Dr Phil Ollerenshaw, from the University of the West of England said, “Ulster Since 1600 is not only a great reference for students of history, politics and social studies, but also for members of the wider public with an interest in Ulster and Irish history.”

Ulster Since 1600 has taken five years to put together. Seven of the book’s 23 authors are Queen’s academics, and many others have links to the University.

The book is dedicated to former Queen’s lecturer and holocaust survivor, the late Dr Max Goldstrom. Born in Germany in 1929, as a child Max Goldstrom was sent to the safety of Britain as a refugee on the Kindertransport initiative. He spent the remainder of his childhood in a Jewish hostel in Leeds after losing his parents and five brothers and sisters in the holocaust. After pursuing his education through evening classes, he embarked on a distinguished university career as an historian and lectured at Queen’s for over thirty years from the 1960s.

Professor Kennedy said: “As we approach Holocaust Day on 27 January, the book launch provides a poignant opportunity to remember Dr Goldstrom and his valuable contribution to our understanding of the social and economic history of Britain and Ireland.”

Ulster Since 1600 is available from all major book stores priced £37.00 (available for £19.99 at the launch event).

Media inquiries to Jane Veitch on 028 9097 5310 or email

Top of Page

Public invited to join Queen’s astronomers for Jupiter Watch

Queen’s University is inviting members of the public to use a range of powerful telescopes to view Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system, on Tuesday evening (8 January 2013).

In association with the BBC, as part of Stargazing Live 2013, the free event takes place from 6pm to 9pm, in front of Queen’s landmark Lanyon building.
Professional astrophysicists from Queen's, and amateur astronomers from the Irish Astronomical Association, will be on hand to help locate the planet and explain what is being seen.

Visitors can expect to view the cloud tops of a planet 11 times the diameter of the Earth and 318 times as massive. Also visible will be Jupiter’s four largest moons - Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.

Dr Chris Watson, lecturer in extrasolar planets and low mass stars at Queen’s, said: "If the weather is good we'll be looking at Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system, using a range of telescopes mainly provided by the Irish Astronomical Association.

“Even though Jupiter will be almost 400 million miles away at the time, this enigmatic gas giant is so large that we will still be able to clearly see clouds in its atmosphere, along with its four largest moons that were first discovered by Galileo over 400 years ago. Of course, astronomers will be on hand to explain what you are seeing. This event was very popular last year and we hope many more keen stargazers will join us at the front of Queen’s on Tuesday evening."

If inclement weather leads to the event being cancelled, a public lecture will be held by Dr. Chris Watson of Queen’s Astrophysics Research Centre, entitled Jupiters around other stars, starting at 7pm.

Visitors will be led to the Larmor Lecture Theatre. Further information on the free event is available online at
For further information please contact: Claire O’Callaghan, Queen’s Communications Office. Tel: 028 9097 3087 or

Top of Page

Queen's research gives fresh hope to couples with 'unexplained infertility'

New research from Queen’s University Belfast has uncovered the cause of infertility for 80 per cent of couples previously diagnosed with ‘unexplained infertility’.

At present some 50,000 couples require fertility treatment across the UK each year, with the figure reaching one million worldwide. Up to one third of these couples are diagnosed with unexplained or idiopathic infertility. This means that, using current tests, neither partner has been diagnosed with any detectable problem.

Published in Reproductive Biomedicine Online, and carried out by Professor Sheena Lewis from the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences at Queen’s, the new research reveals 80 per cent of couples with unexplained or idiopathic infertility in the large study of 239 couples have a detectable cause known as high sperm DNA damage. 

The new study is the first of its kind and will lead to better treatment for these couples, saving them time, money and heartache.

Explaining the research, Professor Lewis said: “The majority of couples experiencing problems with fertility are able to receive an explanation for their infertility. These causes range from low sperm count, poor sperm motility in the man to blocked fallopian tubes or endometriosis in the woman. Once the causes for infertility have been established the appropriate course of assisted conception treatment can be undertaken.

“For almost one third of couples, until now, there has been no obvious cause for infertility and these couples are given the diagnosis of ‘unexplained fertility’.  These couples often invest a lot of time and money in fertility treatments like intrauterine insemination (IUI) unlikely to be successful. In our study we have now had a breakthrough which explains the cause of infertility for many of those couples.  Now that we have found the cause of infertility for these couples suitable treatments can be tailored for them which will direct them straight to the best treatment and increase their chances of having a baby.”

The study also has a second major finding.  It is the first study to show that the chances of having a baby after IVF is closely related to the amount of DNA damage a man has in each of his sperm. A little damage is normal (under 15 per cent per sperm), as is seen in the sperm of fertile men. But if the damage reaches clinically important levels (high sperm DNA damage more than 25 per cent per sperm) it will reduce the couples’ chances of a family, even with some forms of fertility treatment.  These findings are the latest in a series of studies performed by the internationally recognised male fertility research team based at Queen’s Centre for Public Health involving over 500 couples.

The research was carried out using a unique test for male fertility called the SpermComet™.  Professor Lewis said: “We at Queen’s have developed the SpermComet™, which is a unique test for male infertility that measures damaged DNA in individual sperm – providing all couples with specific information about the causes and extent of their infertility.  This test can predict the success of infertility treatments and fast-track couples to the treatment most likely to succeed, leading to reduced waiting times and improved chances of success.

“With one million couples worldwide requiring fertility treatment, these new research findings will give many fresh hope of having a family.”
Professor Lewis, in partnership with Queen’s venture spinout arm, QUBIS, has now set up a company called Lewis Fertility Testing Ltd which is already marketing the test. For more information visit

For media inquiries please contact Claire O’Callaghan on 028 90975391 or email

Top of Page