October 2013 press releases

Queen's star-gazers measure earth-sized planet that shouldn't exist

An artist's impression of Kepler-78b (Image courtesy of TNG / A.Harutyunyan)

Astronomers at Queen's University Belfast have, for the first time, weighed and measured an Earth-sized planet outside our own solar system. Details of the breakthrough are being published in Nature – one of the world's most prestigious science journals.

The planet, known as Kepler-78b, is the smallest exoplanet, (planet outside our solar system) for which an accurate radius and mass is known, and its existence has baffled scientists.

It is just 20 per cent bigger than earth and, like Earth, has an iron core and a rocky interior. But that's where the similarities with our planet end. Kepler-78b is just one million miles from its Sun-like star (Kepler 78) – which is extremely close in astronomy terms. This means it endures intense heat, its rocks are molten lava, and it takes just eight-and-a-half hours to orbit its star, compared to Earth’s 365-day orbit. 

Dr Chris Watson from Queen’s Astrophysics Research Centre says its existence and extremely tight orbit has baffled astronomers. He said: "Kepler-78b is a scorching lava world that, put simply, shouldn’t exist. Its close proximity to its star, and how it got there, is still a mystery. What we do know is that it won't exist forever. Gravitational tides will slowly disrupt Kepler-78b, drawing it closer to its star and eventually ripping it apart." 

The planet was first identified by NASA's Kepler space mission, which has monitored 150,000 stars for brightness variations caused by planets crossing the face of their parent star. It is this variation in brightness that allowed astronomer to calculate the radius of Kepler-78b, determining its mass and composition was much more difficult – a process in which Queen’s Dr Watson played a key role. 

Dr Watson continued: "If an alien civilisation were looking at our solar-system and were to catch Jupiter transiting our Sun they would see a one per cent dip in light. When the Kepler spacecraft looked at the Kepler-78 star, it saw something much smaller - a tiny 0.02 per cent dip in starlight caused by a planet just 20 per cent bigger than our Earth. 

"The problem is, transits only give the radius of a planet, but in order to confirm what it is made of, we need to weigh it - a much more complex task. In order to do this, a team of astronomers from the UK, Europe and the USA measured the 'wobble' of the star as it is forced to orbit its common centre of gravity with the planet. Using the HARPS-N (High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher for the Northern hemisphere) instrument, based on the huge Telescopio Nazionale Galileo telescope on La Palma in the Canary Islands, we found that the orbiting Kepler-78b caused its parent star to move at a speed comparable to walking pace. From this we calculated the planet’s mass. This, coupled with its radius, allowed us to determine that Kepler-78b is composed of rock and iron – much like our Earth. But unlike Earth, the planet is much too hot to support life.” 

"This discovery is a fine example of the great diversity of the exoplanets that we are uncovering, thanks to the tremendous progress in astronomy technology and techniques. Nature seems to like conjuring up planets in the least expected places. Just five years ago this work would have been impossible. As we probe deeper and deeper we are finding that science fact in stranger than science fiction – Kepler-78b certainly fits that bill."

Dr Watson was one of three UK astronomers who worked on the HARPS-N project along with scientists from the University of Geneva, St Andrew’s University and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Queen's work on the project was funded by a science exploitation grant from the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC)

Details of their discovery will be published in Nature on Wednesday 30 October 2013, alongside research from a separate group of USA-based scientists, which confirms the findings of Dr Watson's team.

For more information on the Astrophysics Research Centre at Queen's School of Mathematics and Physics visit http://star.pst.qub.ac.uk/




Media inquiries to Claire O'Callaghan at Queen's University Communications Office on +44 (0)29 9097 5391 email c.ocallaghan@qub.ac.uk

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Queen's leads multi-million euro study to uncover Malta's past

Queen's archaeologists in Malta

A new €2.49m research study led by Queen's will help uncover Malta's prehistoric past.

The five year programme will examine the environmental and cultural background of prehistoric Malta. It will also develop strategies to ensure long-term conservation of vulnerable heritage in all island settings.

Nineteen senior scholars from Queen's, Cambridge University, the University of Malta, the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage and Heritage Malta are involved in the project.

The project will allow researchers to reconstruct the changing ecology at different periods in Malta's history by using ancient pollens and extracted tiny invertebrates including snails and insects. The analysis of these and other environmental and archaeological materials will take place in Queen's specialist 14CHRONO lab.

Other archaeological studies within the project will focus on landscapes and the remains of the ancient population. Researchers will study sites and settlements of the early Maltese to assess how the prehistoric people developed the socio-cultural resilience that sustained them during hard times. They hope examination of the early economy may identify changes in farming systems, while analysis of human bones will reveal diet, disease and population structure of the ancient Maltese.

Dr Caroline Malone from Queen's School of Geography, Archaeology and Palaeoecology, and leader of the research, said: "This exciting project will explore the changing environmental and cultural background of Malta during prehistory from the first occupation of Neolithic farmers around 5,500BC until medieval times. It will also provide us with invaluable data on how we can best protect such priceless heritage sites in the future.

"Previous studies conducted by Queen's and the University of Malta have already shown that the climate and environment were unstable during the last few millennia BC and that instability would have impacted on the lives of prehistoric societies. Our new work on a series of pollen cores extracted from across Malta will build a detailed understanding of the changing flora/vegetation of the islands."

Head of School for Geography, Archaeology and Palaeoecology (GAP), Professor Keith Bennett said: "The FRAGSUS project is an excellent demonstration of the value of the close collaborative relationships between archaeologists and environmental scientists. We are delighted to be taking the lead role in this international research partnership."

The full title of the project is Fragility and Sustainability in restricted island environments: Adaptation, Culture Change and Collapse in prehistory (FRAGSUS). The Framework 7 European Research Council grant for the work is one of only 50 awarded this year for research in the humanities and social sciences. It is the first ERC grant to include Malta.

Further information on Queen’s School of Geography, Archaeology and Palaeoecology, which is ranked in the world’s Top 100, is available online www.qub.ac.uk/schools/gap 


Media inquiries to Queen’s University Communications Office Tel: 028 9097 5320 or email: comms.officer@qub.ac.uk 

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Queen's scientists in €6m bid to find new Cystic Fibrosis treatments

Professor Stuart Elborn will lead the study at Queen's

Queen's is is a lead partner in a new €6 million (euro) global research programme to develop new ways to treat Cystic Fibrosis.

Affecting more than 10,000 people in the UK, Cystic Fibrosis (CF) is one of the most common life-threatening inherited diseases. Symptoms include repeated chest infections, the major cause of death for patients.

The new global programme, known as CF Matters, aims to develop personalised antibiotic treatments for these chest infections. The work could revolutionise the practice of antibiotic prescription and limit resistance to the drugs globally.

The study brings together renowned CF clinicians and scientists from 12 academic institutions and hospitals across Europe and the USA. It is led by University College Cork with Queen’s as a lead partner. It will involve lab-based research and clinical trials with 252 patients in seven countries, including around 40 in Northern Ireland.

Queen's lead on the study is Professor Stuart Elborn, Director of Queen's Centre for Infection and Immunity. An internationally recognised CF expert, he led the original trial for a drug which has now been approved for use by CF patients with the G551D gene mutation or 'Celtic Gene'.The drug Ivacaftor, also known as Kalydeco, treats the root cause of CF for people with the Gene.

Professor Elborn said: "When patients have a flare-up they are treated with several antibiotics but it isn’t always effective and can lead to antibiotic resistance. In this study we will use molecular next generation DNA sequencing methods to detect all the bacteria present in the sputum of CF patients and use this knowledge to determine what antibiotics should be used in individual patients.

"This personalised antibiotic treatment will be compared with standard therapy for CF patients. We will determine the patient’s immune response to all the different bacteria present in the sputum. Using models of infection we will also discover the effect of these bacteria on lung inflammation and infection. The overall impact will be to determine if all bacteria present contribute significantly to lung infection in CF patients and subsequently identify the most effective antibiotic treatment for patients infected with these bacteria."

The study will involve a team of scientists from Queen's Centre for Infection and Immunity including Professor Cliff Taggart, Dr Rebecca Ingram and Dr Sinéad Weldon and Dr Michael Tunney from the School of Pharmacy.

They will collaborate with Dr Damian Downey, Co-Director of the Regional Adult Cystic Fibrosis Centre in the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust. Dr Downey said: "This important collaborative study with our colleagues in Queen’s University will investigate the use of directed antibiotic therapy to treat lung infections. The aim of a more focused treatment plan is to limit the damage that occurs to the lung."

The CF Matters grant comes just weeks after Queen's work on managing Bronchiectasis, another chronic lung condition affecting thousands of people in the UK, was published in leading scientific journals.

The three papers by Dr Michael Tunney from Queen's School of Pharmacy and Professor Elborn, address key issues in the management of the condition, including the detection of bacteria that cause lung infection and how long-term antibiotic use to treat Bronchiectasis can result in antibiotic resistance.

Commenting on the work, Dr Tunney said: "We found that large numbers of different types of bacteria were present both when bronchiectasis patients were stable, and during a lung infection. The results clearly demonstrate that routine diagnostic techniques do not detect many of these bacteria.

"Further studies are required to better understand the relationship between the presence of the bacteria found in the lungs of Bronchiectasis patients and the severity of the condition. More research is also needed into the effects of long-term antibiotic use and development of antimicrobial resistance."

For more information on the Centre visit http://www.qub.ac.uk/research-centres/CentreforInfectionandImmunity 


Media inquiries to Anne-Marie Clarke at Queen’s University Communications Office Tel: +44 (0)28 9097 5320 or email comms.officer@qub.ac.uk

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McClay Library books its place among UK's best at national awards

The McClay Library at Queen's

The McClay Library at Queen's has won a national award for its outstanding architectural design and facilities.

The Society of College, National and University Libraries (SCONUL) Award is presented every three years to a UK library that best meets the needs of users and staff. The £50 million McClay Library at Queen’s is joint-winner of the 2013 award with The Augustine House Library and Student Services at Canterbury Christ Church University.

Named after the late Sir Allen McClay, one of Queen's greatest benefactors, the Library opened in 2009, and a major enhancement project has just been completed. It was the most significant building project at Queen's since the construction of the iconic red-brick Lanyon building in 1849.

Queen's Acting President and Vice-Chancellor, Professor James McElnay said: "The McClay Library is a landmark building for Queen's and for Belfast, and reflects the University’s commitment to scholarship, the environment and the future. With 10,000 people passing through its doors each day, the Library is an invaluable resource for all our students, providing a world-class study environment and support. This award is recognition of the building itself and also of the high quality of service delivered by Library staff."

Hailed as a model of sustainable design, the McClay Library accommodates 2,200 reader spaces and houses 1.2 million volumes. Illuminated by a multi-storey open atrium, the impressive building includes IT training rooms, a Language Centre, Library and Computer support areas and a cafe, alongside the University's Special Collections and the impressive CS Lewis Reading Room, which is accessed through a hand-carved 'wardrobe' door.

Elizabeth Traynor, Assistant Director of Library Services at Queen's, said: “The McClay Library has transformed the University's library service and more than doubled student usage. Students visit more often, stay longer and satisfaction levels have increased. Extended opening hours, an increase in self-service book issue and return, a laptop lending service, group study rooms, full disability access and roving advisors are just some of the highlights of the student support service on offer in the Library, and we are delighted that this has been recognised by the SCONUL judging panel.”

Ann Rossiter, Executive Director at SCONUL, said: "Providing access to knowledge is vital but is only one part of what an academics library does. Libraries are at the heart of their institutions and one of their most important functions is the provision of a place and atmosphere for learning. Our winning libraries offer a blueprint for how libraries can transform learning."

The McClay Library was designed by Boston-based architects Shepley Bulfinch, who had previously designed and developed major academic libraries at Yale and Harvard, and who worked in association with RPP, Belfast. This is the latest in a number of awards for the building, which received the prestigious Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors Award for Sustainability in 2010, defeating other prestigious property projects from around the world.

For more information about Library Services at Queen’s visit www.qub.ac.uk/directorates/InformationServices/TheLibrary/  


Media inquiries to Anne-Marie Clarke at Queen’s Communications Office Tel: +44(0)28 9097 5320 or email a.clarke@qub.ac.uk

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New project matches innovation with experience

Queen’s University has joined a unique cross border project aimed at matching innovative ideas to existing businesses or seasoned entrepreneurs.

The £2.56m VITAL project, which is funded by the EU’s INTERREG IVA Programme and is managed by the Special EU Programmes Body, aims to identify the best knowledge based ideas, connect them to new and existing businesses and create a positive economic impact in Northern Ireland and counties Cavan, Monaghan, Donegal, Leitrim, Louth and Sligo.

The project offers access to technology transfer and licencing opportunities and is led by Dundalk Institute of Technology, backed by Dublin City University and Queen’s University Belfast.

VITAL Project Manager Sinead Cahill, from Queen’s University’s Research and Enterprise Directorate, said: “Queen’s University is delighted to be involved in this very exciting new initiative as fostering entrepreneurship and driving innovation is at the core of what we do. VITAL recognises that not all SMEs qualify for state supported R&D schemes and acknowledges that time constraints within SMEs can often result in product development or new market exploitation being neglected. It is with this in mind that the VITAL project was designed.

VITAL has the potential to make a real difference to SMEs that have found it difficult to come up with new product concepts and technology offerings for various reasons”

Kieran Fegan, Director of the VITAL project based in the Dundalk Institute of Technology Regional Development Centre, said: “VITAL has the potential to act as a catalyst for economic growth in the border region which has struggled partly due to geographic isolation and remoteness.  It is an entirely new approach to pump-priming the border and rural economies of both jurisdictions.

“We will identify and evaluate a pool of ideas from many sources which are currently being researched and harvested and we will then identify SMEs, seasoned entrepreneurs and experienced managers with the skills and knowledge to bring those ideas onto a commercial platform through their existing businesses or their new business starts. We want to hear from individuals from throughout the region and beyond who believe they have good ideas and who don’t have the time, expertise, knowledge and networks to make them happen.”

Welcoming the project Lorraine McCourt, Director with the Special EU Programmes Body, said: “This is a truly innovative cross-border project which bridges the gap from that great business idea to its practical implementation. It will provide a holistic suite of business support interventions and tailored training opportunities that will enhance the competitiveness of all participating companies.”

Match-funding for the project has been provided by the Department of Enterprise Trade and Investment in Northern Ireland and the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation in Ireland.

Interested individuals and companies can register their interest on the www.vitalforideas.com

Media inquiries to Queen's University Communications Office, Tel: +44 (0)28 9097 5391 email:comms.office@qub.ac.uk

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Queen's Academy India

A high powered delegation from India has visited Queen's as part of the University’s initiative to develop a Queen’s Academy India (QAI).

Over the next four years the Academy will train up to 250 Indian students and university faculty to help expand the number of new, well-qualified university staff available in the North Eastern region of the country.

The initiative is supporting the Indian Government’s expansion strategy for higher education which aims to develop capacity and capability in the university sector within the country. Queen’s already has several existing partnerships in education and industry in India.

The QAI will equip students and staff from new partners Tezpur University, Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati, Assam University (Silchar), and North Eastern Hill University with PhD and Masters qualifications in research, and Postgraduate Certificates in Higher Education Teaching.

The delegation was led by Permanent Secretary Higher Education, Mr. Ashok Thakur, Professor Ved Prakash, University Grants Chairperson and Professor N.V. Deshpande, Director National Institute of Technology, Silchar and they were welcomed to the University by Professor Stan Scott, Vice-Chancellor's Envoy to India, and Dr Satish Kumar, Director, Queen's Academy India.

For further information please contact the Communications Office. Tel: 028 90 97 3091


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Queen’s University information day on hereditary cancers

Cancer researchers at Queen’s University are holding an information day for patients who are carriers of the BRCA gene mutation, which increases susceptibility to breast and ovarian cancer.

The event at Queen’s Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology (CCRCB) is open to those affected by the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, their families and anyone who wants to find out more about hereditary cancers. It is held in conjunction with BRCA Link NI, a voluntary organisation raising awareness of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.

The event is free and open to the public and will take place at CCRCB from 1.30-5pm on Friday 25 October. Speakers will include Queen’s cancer researchers and Wendy Watson, founder of the National Hereditary Breast Cancer Helpline.

Dr Gareth Irwin, Clinical Research Fellow CCRCB said: “If the BRCA gene is mutated, the protein that it makes is unable to regulate cell division, leaving breast cells susceptible to the growth of cancer. These faulty genes have a 50 per cent chance of being passed on to children of a carrier, male or female. This event is an opportunity for BRCA gene mutation carriers and their families to find out more about hereditary cancers and the work of CCRCB in the fight against cancer.”

Queen’s CCRCB is based on the Belfast City Hospital site, behind Queen’s Medical Biology Centre at 97 Lisburn Road.

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Queen’s breast cancer research wins international award

Queen’s University and the University of Stirling have won an international scientific research award for two breast cancer studies which found women working in certain occupational sectors face an elevated breast cancer risk.

The two complementary studies on breast cancer and occupational exposures by the team, including Professor Matthias Beck of Queen's University Management School, have won the American Public Health Association (APHA) Occupational Health Section’s Scientific Research Award.

Conferral of the award will take place at a ceremony at this year’s APHA annual convention in Boston USA in November. Dr James Brophy, lead investigator from the University of Stirling will collect the award on behalf of all the researchers and discuss the findings of the two studies in a presentation entitled Breast cancer and work: Why research and preventive action are needed.

Professor Matthias Beck, co-investigator on the study and from Queen's University Management School in Belfast, says: “Our studies add to the growing scientific literature pointing to the necessity to eliminate exposures to toxic chemicals in the work environment in order to prevent breast and other cancers. They also highlight the need for researchers from different areas to collaborate in order to improve our understanding of workplace hazards."

Dr James Brophy, from the University of Stirling, says: “As researchers and public health advocates we are delighted with this recognition from what is the oldest and most noteworthy public health association in the world. We believe this award will encourage a closer examination of the breast cancer risks faced by countless women employed in a host of chemical-laden industries and will advance the development of precautionary strategies.”

Professor Andrew Watterson, co-author and Head of Stirling’s OEHRG says: “This award is testimony to the relevance of such research within the breast cancer field, the work of the OEHRG and the high quality doctoral training offered by the University of Stirling.”

The selection panel for the award made its recommendation based on the two studies’ exceptional scientific merit. Dr Eduardo Siqueira MD, chair of the selection panel, said: “The findings of the research conducted by Dr. Brophy et al provide strong evidence that industry has to change the production processes used in manufacturing and agriculture to eliminate exposures to carcinogens”.

Findings from the first of the two studies – a case control study looking at over 2100 women in southwestern Ontario Canada – were published in the open access journal Environmental Health. The research found a 42 per cent increased breast cancer risk for any women employed in occupations where they were exposed to high levels of chemicals that were identified as either mammary carcinogens or endocrine disrupting chemicals.

It also observed an elevated breast cancer risk among women who worked for ten years in agriculture, food canning, automotive plastic manufacturing, metalworking and casinos or bars.

The second complementary study, published in the journal New Solutions, provided additional evidence to support the findings of the first study. It was a qualitative piece of research focused on exposures in the automotive plastics industry. It reported workers’ experiences of exposures alongside a review of industrial hygiene consultants’ reports to government and industry.

The research was funded by the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. Sandra Palmaro, CEO, Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation - Ontario Region says: “The Foundation is proud of the work that Dr. Brophy and the team have contributed towards a better understanding of the impact workplace-associated breast cancer risk has on women in Canada. The Foundation would like to congratulate the team on this very prestigious and well deserved award.”

Media inquiries to Claire O’Callaghan, Queen’s University Communications Office, Tel: +44 (0)28 9097 5391 email: c.ocallaghan@qub.ac.uk

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Queen’s scientist wins national award

A Queen’s University scientist has been named the Royal Pharmaceutical Society Science Award winner for 2013.

Brendan Gilmore, from the School of Pharmacy at Queen’s University, won the prestigious title for his outstanding research in the field of microbiology, particularly in bacterial biofilm control.  The prize recognises a scientist who, having less than ten years experience at postdoctoral level, has a proven record of independent research and published work that shows outstanding promise in the pharmaceutical or allied sciences.

Dr Gilmore’s research is focused on the study of bacterial biofilms; slimy, surface adhered bacterial communities, which are implicated in around 80 per cent of all human chronic infections. He has developed several novel approaches to destroy these bacterial communities, which are typically highly resistant to antibiotics and biocides.

Professor James McElnay, Acting Vice-Chancellor of Queen’s University, said: “Brendan Gilmore is an example of the excellent calibre of researchers at Queen’s University.  I commend him for his research in a challenging field and congratulate him wholeheartedly on this award.  We at Queen’s strive to have a global impact with the ground-breaking research carried out and this national award for Brendan is testimony to that.”

Speaking about the award, Dr Gilmore, said: “It is a wonderful, unexpected recognition of the research conducted by my group, both current and past members, to whom I owe a debt of gratitude for their hard work and dedication.  Queen’s University, as a member of the Russell Group, is one of the UK’s leading research intensive universities and I am honoured to be part of an institution which prides itself on internationally leading research, which has a real impact on people’s lives.”

Bill Dawson, Chairman of the Academy of Pharmaceutical Sciences, said: “Novel ways to control infection have been highlighted recently by the Chief Medical Officer and scientists like Dr Gilmore have a key role to play in this.  He has recently taken leadership on the Academy of Pharmaceutical Sciences focus group on microbiology and I am really pleased that this award strengthens the partnership between the RPS and APS.”

Dr Gilmore delivered his award lecture ‘From proteases to plasmas: new weapons in the war against biofilms’ at the PharmSci2013 conference in Edinburgh in September.

Media inquiries to Claire O’Callaghan, Queen’s University Communications Office, Tel: +44 (0)28 9097 5391 email: c.ocallaghan@qub.ac.uk

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Stars of 2012 London Games named as Queen’s Elite Athletes

Queen’s University has announced that Irish U23 800m champion Katie Kirk, who was selected to light the flame at the 2012 London Olympics, and Paralympic swimming finalist Laurence McGivern, are among the first ever sporting stars from Northern Ireland to have been named Queen’s Elite Athletes.

Along with five other students, they will receive a package worth up to £8,000, including a significant contribution towards fees, accommodation and international competition costs throughout their time at Queen’s. In addition they will receive individual academic support and career advice, lifestyle management, a catering and nutritional budget, expert coaching and the very best in athlete support services.

Queen’s has invested £50K in the Elite Athlete Programme, which has been designed to help Northern Ireland’s most promising sporting stars compete at the highest level in their sport, while achieving their academic goals. With entries for next year’s scheme now open, the University has also just revealed it is to expand the Programme.

The 2013 Queen’s Elite Athletes are:

  • Christopher Colvin from Armagh (Rugby) - Ulster Ravens ‘A’ Squad. Christopher is studying MSc Psychology of Performance Enhancement in Sport and Health.
  • Sammy-Jo Greer from Coleraine (Hockey) - Senior Irish Hockey Squad. Sammy-Jo is studying BA Social Anthropology.
  • Katie Kirk from Holywood, Co Down (Athletics) - Irish U23 800m Champion. Katie is studying BSc Food, Quality, Safety and Nutrition.
  • Lorcan Dow from London (Rugby) - Irish Exiles U18 Captain. Lorcan is studying BSc Psychology.
  • Caroline O’Hanlon from Newry, Armagh (GAA and Netball) – GAA All-Star and European Silver Medalist with NI Netball. Caroline is studying MSc Clinical Anatomy.
  • Tiernan Oliver from Armagh (Rowing) - Irish National Champion. Tiernan is studying LLB Law with French.
  • Laurence McGivern from Rostrevor, Co Down (Swimming) - London Paralympic Finalist S19 100m Backstroke. Laurence is studying BSc Accounting with French.

The EAP is the latest addition to a suite of over 120 sports scholarships already available to Queen’s students through its Rugby, GAA and Soccer Academies and its Ulster Bank Sports Bursary scheme. Queen’s Sport Development Manager, Karl Oakes, said: “Following Queen’s £20 million investment in sport, students studying and competing at the University have access to truly world-class facilities. As a result, Queen’s is now in a position both locally and internationally to attract the very highest achievers in sport and academia across these islands and further afield.

“The Elite Athlete Programme is one of the best on offer to truly exceptional athletes who deserve to be supported in their academic and sporting careers so they can stay on course to achieve greatness in their chosen sport. We hope to play a major role in the development of these athletes throughout their time at Queen’s and long after they graduate.” Applications are now open for current and prospective students to apply for next year’s awards. For more information on the Elite Athletes Programme visit http://www.queenssport.com//StudentSport/PerformanceSport/EliteAthleteProgramme/

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Queen’s scientists shed new light on star death
Credit: ESO/L.Calçada
Credit: ESO/L.Calçada

Astronomers at Queen’s University have shed new light on the rarest and brightest exploding stars ever discovered in the universe.

The research is published on Thursday (17 October) in Nature Magazine – one of the world’s most prestigious science publications. It proposes that the most luminous supernovae – exploding stars – are powered by small and incredibly dense neutron stars, with gigantic magnetic fields that spin hundreds of times a second.

Scientists at Queen’s Astrophysics Research Centre observed two super-luminous supernovae – two of the Universe’s brightest exploding stars – for more than a year. Contrary to existing theories, which suggested that the brightest supernovae are caused by super-massive stars exploding, their findings suggest that their origins may be better explained by a type of explosion within the star’s core which creates a smaller but extremely dense and rapidly spinning magnetic star.

Matt Nicholl, a research student at the Astrophysics Research Centre at Queen’s School of Mathematics and Physics, is lead author of the study. He said: “Supernovae are several billions of times brighter than the Sun, and in fact are so bright that amateur astronomers regularly search for new ones in nearby galaxies. It has been known for decades that the heat and light from these supernovae come from powerful blast-waves and radioactive material.

“But recently some very unusual supernovae have been found, which are too bright to be explained in this way. They are hundreds of times brighter than those found over the last fifty years and the origin of their extreme properties is quite mysterious.

“Some theoretical physicists predicted these types of explosions came from the biggest stars in the universe destroying themselves in a manner quite like a giant thermonuclear bomb. But our data doesn’t match up with this theory.

“In a supernova explosion, the star’s outer layers are violently ejected, while its core collapses to form an extremely dense neutron star – weighing as much as the Sun but only tens of kilometers across. We think that, in a small number of cases, the neutron star has a very strong magnetic field, and spins incredibly quickly – about 300 times a second. As it slows down, it could transmit the spin energy into the supernova, via magnetism, making it much brighter than normal. The data we have seems to match that prediction almost exactly.”

Queen’s astronomers led an international team of scientists on the study, using some of the world’s most powerful telescopes. Much of the data was collected using Pan-STARRS - the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System. Based on Mount Haleakala in Hawaii, Pan-STARRS boasts the world’s largest digital camera, and can cover an area 40 times the size of the full moon in one shot.

The study is one of the projects funded by a prestigious €2.3million grant from the European Research Council. The grant was awarded to Professor Stephen Smartt, Director of Queen’s Astrophysics Research Centre, in 2012 to lead an international study to hunt for the Universe’s earliest supernovae.

Professor Smartt said: “These are really special supernovae. Because they are so bright, we can use them as torches in the very distant Universe. Light travels through space at a fixed speed, as we look further away, we see snapshots of the increasingly distant past. By understanding the processes that result in these dazzling explosions, we can probe the Universe as it was shortly after its birth. Our goal is to find these supernovae in the early Universe, detecting some of the first stars ever to form and watch them produce the first chemical elements created in the Universe.”

The full article is available on Nature magazine’s website at www.nature.com/nature/journal/v502/n7471/full/nature12569.html

Media inquiries to Queen’s University Communications Office on +44 (0)28 9097 5320 email comms.office@qub.ac.uk

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Queen’s and Tandragee concrete firm first for knowledge transfer

A partnership between Queen’s University and Tandragee concrete company Bullivant Taranto Ltd has been named Northern Ireland Regional Winner at a showcase event celebrating the success of Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs).

KTPs enable companies to work with university staff to transfer knowledge, skills and expertise into their organisation. Queen’s is currently the UK’s leading university for KTPs, with 31 partnerships ongoing across the University, more than any other UK institution. Queen’s KTP programmes are part-funded by the Technology Strategy Board and Invest Northern Ireland.

The winning KTP saw Bullivant Taranto Ltd work alongside the School of Planning, Architecture and Civil Engineering at Queen’s. Their partnership optimised the company’s concrete design, testing and manufacturing in order to reduce energy costs and minimise the environmental impact of the production process. The partnership will go on to represent Northern Ireland at the national KTP Awards in London in December.

Simon Bullivant, Managing Director of Bullivant Taranto Ltd said: “The KTP with Queen’s has exceeded our expectations, and winning the Northern Ireland Regional Award is a wonderful acknowledgement of what has already been an extremely successful partnership.

“The KTP has formed a key part of our company strategy – to develop the use of our manufacturing facilities to offer a wider range of products, and to sell these into the larger UK market. It has enabled us to re-brand, re-educate and reposition our business to maximise opportunities here in Northern Ireland and further afield. KTP has given us unrivalled access to the knowledge, expertise and technology available at Queen’s.  I would encourage any business who wants to innovate and to get involved in KTP and find out how the higher education sector can help their business grow.”

Queen’s acting Vice-Chancellor, Professor James McElnay, said: “Growing business is a speciality of Queen’s and the transfer of knowledge is at the heart of our purpose.

“Companies across Northern Ireland are becoming increasingly aware of the value of collaborating with Queen’s and the rewards it can bring. In the last ten years, Queen’s has completed KTPs with more than 220 companies, creating 350 graduate jobs and driving innovation and growth across all sectors. KTPs give companies new opportunities for growth, as well as access to new technologies, new processes and new markets. In turn, our researchers and academic staff gain a unique insight into the needs of business and industry.”

The winning collaboration was led by KTP Associate Richard Morton from Armagh who joined Bullivant Taranto Ltd shortly after graduating from Queen’s in 2010 with a Civil Engineering degree.

On average, KTP partnerships report an increase in pre-tax profits of around £240,000 per year, they create on average an additional two jobs, and see an improvement in the skills of existing staff.

Tracy Meharg, Executive Director of Business Solutions, Invest NI added: “KTP continues to offer businesses access to highly innovative support that can address key business issues and help firms to become stronger and more competitive. Collaboration is the most essential part of our knowledge base. Working in partnership, industry and academia can share and capture knowledge for mutual benefit just as Bullivant Taranto and Queen’s have discovered. I hope that many more Northern Ireland companies will take advantage of the benefits of KTP.”

For more information about KTP at Queen’s visit http://www.qub.ac.uk/home/ResearchandEnterprise/KnowledgeTransferPartnerships/

Media inquiries to the Communications Office on +44 (0)28 9097 3087 / 3087

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Global recognition for Queen’s green Mercury Removal Process

Queen’s University has been shortlisted for two international awards for the development of cutting-edge technology to remove harmful mercury from natural gas.

The Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) has shortlisted Queen’s University Ionic Liquid Laboratories (QUILL) Research Centre for both the ‘Chemical Engineering Project of the Year Award’ and the ‘Sustainable Technology Award’ for work performed in collaboration with Malaysian oil and gas giant PETRONAS.  The award winners will be announced at a ceremony to be held in Bolton on 7 November 2013.

The partnership has had huge benefits for both QUILL and the Fortune 500 company, with the technology being used to develop two full-scale commercial plants at PETRONAS gas terminals in Malaysia, which has been producing mercury-free, sales-quality natural gas since the first unit was opened in November 2011.

Being shortlisted for the IChemE awards is the latest in a string of successes for QUILL. Earlier this year, ionic liquids were named the Most Important British Innovation of the 21st Century in recognition of their potential future impact on the world, in a poll initiated by the Science Museum, beating both graphene and the Higgs boson, each of which have been recognised by the Nobel committee. In addition, Professor Ken Seddon and Dr John Holbrey, who led this project, were name the top two research chemists in the UK by Times Higher Education.

Explaining the mercury removal technology, known as HycaPure Hg™, Professor Martin Atkins from QUILL said: “Mercury is one of the biggest threats to downstream processing in the oil and gas exploration industries, so it is a huge problem for companies like PETRONAS. It contaminates natural gas, corrodes processing equipment, and compromises the safety of processing plants and the quality of the end product. The amount of mercury present can vary by the hour, which makes it incredibly difficult to manage.

“At our dedicated PETRONAS laboratory here in QUILL, we have developed a new ionic liquid which completely removes toxic and corrosive mercury from natural gas and is capable of handling the unpredictable surges of mercury in the gas stream. We took the research from concept to commercialisation in less than four years, which is twice as fast as the industry norm. The result is a unique technology which performs three times better than other commercial mercury-removal products and is much more cost-effective.”

QUILL is home to nearly 100 scientists who are exploring the potential of ionic liquids or ‘super solvents’ – salts that remain liquid at room temperature and do not release vapours. They can thus be used as non-polluting (green) alternatives to conventional solvents, and are revolutionising chemical processes by offering a much more environmentally friendly solution than traditional methods.

Professor Ken Seddon, Co-Director of QUILL said: “This latest achievement is recognition of the high calibre of research being undertaken at QUILL, and the superlative quality of our students and postdoctoral researchers. It further enhances Queen’s reputation as a global authority in ionic liquids and sustainable technology. Queen’s work on ionic liquid chemistry has a bearing on most of our lives. These liquids have enormous potential. They can dissolve almost anything, from elements such as sulfur and phosphorus, which traditionally require nasty solvents, to harmful bacterial biofilms which protect MRSA. They can also be used as lubricants, heat pumps, compression fluids – the list is endless.”

QUILL’s partnership with PETRONAS began in 2007 and has brought together Queen’s expertise in green chemistry with PETRONAS’ experience in oil and gas production.  In addition to the mercury removal process, a number of other joint projects are at a mature state of development.

For more information on QUILL visit http://quill.qub.ac.uk

Media inquiries to  Queen’s University Communications Office, Tel: +44 (0)28 9097 5320 email: comms.office@qub.ac.uk

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Queen’s named as partner in funding boost for arts and humanities students

Queen’s University Belfast has been announced as a partner in a new £11.2m investment programme creating the next generation of researchers in the arts and humanities. 

After a competitive bidding process across the UK, the Arts and Humanities Research Council has awarded Queen’s, and its partners in Newcastle University and Durham University, funding to create the new Northern Bridge Doctoral Training Partnership (NBDTP). The Partnership will fund around 157 full-time postgraduate students over five years.

The new programme will see Queen’s team up with partners across the UK, including BBC Northern Ireland, Wordsworth Trust and the National Media Museum, in addition to working with the Department for Culture, Arts and Leisure (NI) and Belfast City Council. As a result, students will now gain access to their impressive archives and collections for their research, while also benefitting from hands-on practical experience during placements at leading arts, humanities and governmental organisations.

Professor Shane O’Neill, Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at Queen’s, said: “Education and research in the arts and humanities at Queen's has long been recognised as having a significant and positive impact on people’s lives. Today, talented and well-skilled graduates with higher degrees in these subject areas are making major contributions in enhancing economic, social and cultural well-being. The AHRC’s recognition of the importance of our work, along with that of our partners universities in Newcastle and Durham, means that we can continue to attract the best research students and offer them an experience that is second to none thanks to the access they will have to some of the finest intellectuals and vibrant organisations in the country.”

Professor John Thompson, Director of the Institute for Collaborative Research in the Humanities who is leading the partnership at Queen’s, said: “This funding decision by the AHRC is a real confidence boost in the level of teaching and research available at Queen’s and our partners. The new Northern Bridge Doctoral Training Partnership will help create the academic and societal leaders of the future and strengthen the links between our universities and the cultural sector, something of vital importance for today’s society.” The AHRC has also announced that Queen’s is to be a partner in a £1.85M UK-wide Centre for Doctoral Training in Celtic Languages. Over the next five years, doctoral students will be supported across the range of Celtic Languages and have access to a training programme supported by core partners Bòrd na Gàidhlig, BBC Northern Ireland and the National Library of Wales.

Co-ordinated by the University of Glasgow, Queen’s will collaborate with the universities of Cambridge, Oxford, Aberdeen, Bangor, Edinburgh, Swansea, the University of Ulster, University of the Highlands and Islands, and the University Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies and University of Wales Trinity Saint David.

Professor Rick Rylance, Chief Executive of the AHRC, said: “This is an important step forward in delivering the best possible training and support for postgraduate students in the arts and humanities, and in developing a collaborative approach which pools expertise and expands horizons for postgraduate researchers.”

The first students recruited through the funding will begin their studies next year.

Further information on the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at Queen’s can be found online at www.qub.ac.uk/home/SchoolsDepartments/Faculties/FacultyofArtsHumanitiesandSocialSciences/

For media inquiries please contact the Communications Office 028 9097 3091

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Queen’s University in US-Ireland project to tackle Bovine Respiratory Disease
Dr. Mark Mooney from Queen’s; Dr Kieran F Drain, CEO Tyndall National Institute; Dr Eric Vogel, Georgia Institute of Technology; and Dr Alan O’Riordan, Tyndall National Institute.
Dr. Mark Mooney from Queen’s; Dr Kieran F Drain, CEO Tyndall National Institute; Dr Eric Vogel, Georgia Institute of Technology; and Dr Alan O’Riordan, Tyndall National Institute.

Queen’s University Belfast is developing new sensor technology to diagnose Bovine Respiratory Disease (BRD) – Ireland’s leading cause of calf death – as part of a new international collaborative research partnership.

The AgriSense project, involving Queen’s, the Tyndall National Institute in Cork and Georgia Institute of Technology in the USA, is a €900,000 US-Ireland R&D Partnership funded project aimed towards the application of advanced nano-sensor technology to provide low-cost, precise, rapid testing for animal health and disease applications.

The team, involving scientists from Queen’s world-leading Institute for Global Food Security and led by Dr Mark Mooney, plan to develop sensor-based diagnostic devices to enable simultaneous testing for the primary viral agents responsible for Bovine Respiratory Disease (BRD) infections, and facilitate field-side testing of animals for BRD for the first time.

BRD is recognised as the leading natural cause of death in US and EU beef and dairy herds contributing annually to the loss of over 1 million animals and in the US alone has a total economic cost to the agri-food industry of up to US $2 billion. It is envisaged that early detection and diagnosis will enable infected cattle to be isolated and facilitate more tailored treatment programmes eradicating the costly and indiscriminate use of veterinary medicines.

Novel sensors to be developed through the AgriSense project will be fabricated on disposable plastic platforms to minimise cost and with rapid result reporting could reduce disease diagnosis time by up to four weeks.

Dr Mark Mooney from Queen’s said: “This unique research partnership is an important step towards the control of BRD related infections, and will be of major benefit to farmers who incur huge losses through reduced animal performance, increased treatment costs and animal death.

“Queen’s new Institute for Global Food Security is fast becoming a world-leader in the development of novel techniques to improve animal health and secure food supply chain safety - our participation in the AgriSense project with other world leading research centres is a key component of the future research strategy of Queen’s in this area.”

Queen’s will host a project review of the AgriSense research group at an international meeting of food safety experts to be held in Belfast in April 2014. The second Food Integrity and Traceability’ Conference, organised in partnership with safefood, will showcase the latest international developments in food safety and traceability and feature experts from the Institute for Global Food Security and around the world.

Dr Alan O’Riordan, Nanotechnology Group, Tyndall National Institute said: “The AgriSense project will explore the application of nano-sensor technology to provide a low-cost yet extremely precise and quick method of testing for use in animal health and disease diagnostics. The international team will work across Ireland, the US and Northern Ireland to explore how this technology can help in the fight against BRD, with livestock testing planned within the next three years.”

Professor Eric Vogel, Georgia Institute of Technology, said: “Our system will involve complementary sensor technologies developed at Georgia Tech and Tyndall reducing false positive/negative results and achieving a more robust diagnostic device.”

The US-Ireland R&D Partnership is a tri-jurisdictional program in which the National Science Foundation, Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), Invest Northern Ireland (Invest NI) and the Department for Employment and Learning for Northern Ireland jointly fund collaborative research programs.

Media inquiries to Anne-Marie Clarke on +44 (0)28 9097 5320 email comms.officer@qub.ac.uk

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Northern Ireland receives £7 million to develop ‘Big Data’ research centre

A new £7 million research centre opening in Belfast is to use the vast amount of electronic data generated every day in Northern Ireland to lead to a better understanding of the economic and social issues affecting people's lives here.

The amount of data now produced worldwide every two days is equivalent to the amount generated between the dawn of humanity and 2003. The new Northern Ireland Administrative Data Research Centre (ADRC) will set up the infrastructure and processes that will enable researchers to analyse sub-sets or combinations of these administrative data in ways and settings that prevent the identification of individuals.

The NI ADRC will therefore help researchers and policy-makers understand and capitalise on the full potential of the vast amounts of anonymised administrative data that are generated by everyone in Northern Ireland every day. It is a joint partnership between Queen's University and the University of Ulster, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Health and Social Care Research and Development Division of the Public Health Agency (HSC R&D Division).

David Willetts MP, Minister for Universities and Science, announced the new Centre as part of a £64 million investment across the UK to strengthen the country's competitive advantage in Big Data. He said: "Every day the world creates 2.5 quintillion bytes of data – equivalent to over 150,000 iPads worth of information. The power of computing in analysis of massive and mixed datasets will transform science and industry in the UK and through the creation of the Big Data network and the ADRNs, we hope to be well placed to take competitive advantage of this great technology."

Dr Dermot O'Reilly, from the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences at Queen's is the Director of the new Northern Ireland Centre. He said: "We now live in a Big Data era. This is a very exciting opportunity to unlock the full research potential of the vast amounts of valuable and existing anonymised administrative data that is routinely collected everyday. By joining different administrative datasets we will be able to provide a better understanding of the social, environmental and health issues that affect people’s lives and to contribute more robust evidence to inform policy development and evaluation. For example, from linked education, training and employment data we hope to be able to inform policymaking decisions in relation to the factors influencing social mobility."

Professor Hugh McKenna, Pro Vice Chancellor (Research and Innovation) at the University of Ulster, said: "Researchers from epidemiology, engineering, social sciences and psychology at the University of Ulster are looking forward to working with colleagues from Queen's University, NISRA and other organisations on this important initiative. This builds on our current work on big data within cloud computing and Project Kelvin.

"Having the potential to analyse a large amount of anonymised data presents an exciting opportunity for scientists in Northern Ireland to undertake research that has economic, cultural and social impact nationally and internationally."

The new Northern Ireland Administrative Data Research Centre (ADRC) will be one of four centres across the UK and will be part of the UK Administrative Data Research Network.

Professor Paul Boyle, Chief Executive of the ESRC, said: "We are delighted to have played a leading role in the development of the national ADRN that will strengthen the UK’s competitive advantage in Big Data. The core aim of the ADRN is to facilitate linkage of routinely collected administrative data, thereby stimulating opportunities for innovative research and policy-making. There will be benefits for researchers, government, local communities and the public – indeed, there is the potential for a revolution in our ability to answer a host of questions that were previously intractable."

Welcoming the announcement Professor Bernie Hannigan, Director of Health and Social Care R&D, said: “Countries, regions and people can benefit tremendously from research on the information that is collected routinely by our public services. Some of the data have just traditionally been stored, but now, through the ADRNs, our public service providers can use the information to improve their work.”


Media inquiries to Claire O’Callaghan, Queen's University Communications Office, Tel: +44 (0)28 9097 5391 email: c.ocallaghan@qub.ac.uk

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Queen’s University appoints new Vice-Chancellor

Queen’s University Belfast’s next President and Vice-Chancellor will be Professor Patrick Johnston, the University announced today. Professor Johnston, who is Dean of the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences at Queen’s, will take up post early in 2014.

His appointment was approved this morning at an additional meeting of Senate, Queen’s governing body. Professor Johnston becomes the 12th Vice-Chancellor in the University’s 168-year history.

Queen’s Pro-Chancellor Sir David Fell, who chaired the appointment panel, said: “I am delighted to announce the appointment of Professor Patrick Johnston as our new President and Vice-Chancellor.  Professor Johnston, a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences, is an outstanding academic with a distinguished record of achievement.  Throughout his career, he has led transformational projects, and combines vision with a determination and passion to deliver change which will benefit society as a whole.

“As one of the world’s foremost experts in cancer research, he has shown extraordinary leadership in making Queen’s and Northern Ireland a truly innovative world-leading centre for medical research.

“I know that as President and Vice-Chancellor he will be an inspirational leader for the whole University and that exciting times lie ahead. I wish him every success.”

Speaking about his appointment, Professor Johnston commented: “This is a proud day for both me and my family and I thank Queen’s University for choosing me to be its next President and Vice-Chancellor.  I very much look forward to leading this distinguished institution and working alongside its exceptional staff and students. It is an honour and privilege to be given this opportunity to further develop and enhance the reputation and standing of Queen’s.

“In an environment that throws up many significant challenges, both at home and abroad, Queen’s objective is to become an international leader in both education and research.  I will work tirelessly to achieve this objective, which will bring benefits not only to the University but to the local economy and to everyone who lives in Northern Ireland.”

Professor Johnston, originally from Derry/Londonderry, is married with four grown-up sons. Since 2007, he has led the development of a new international Medical School at Queen’s and a world-leading Institute of Health Sciences. He is also former Director of the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology at Queen’s.

In 2012 he was recognised for excellence in medical science when he was elected to the Fellowship of the Academy of Medical Sciences.  Also in 2012 he accepted a Diamond Jubilee Queen’s Anniversary Prize awarded by Her Majesty The Queen, for the University’s leadership of the Comprehensive Cancer Centre and its achievement in reducing cancer mortality rates in Northern Ireland over the last decade.

Professor Johnston was also appointed chair of the Translational Research Group of the Medical Research Council (MRC) in 2012. Last week, he was awarded the 2013 international Bob Pinedo Cancer Care Prize, recognising his pioneering work in translating discovery science for the benefit of cancer patients. He also currently serves on the Cancer Research UK (CR-UK) Science Executive/Advisory Board.

In addition to his academic work Professor Johnston is also a founder of Almac Diagnostics, with its headquarters based in Northern Ireland.

Media inquiries to Kevin Mulhern, Head of Communications and External Affairs at 028 9097 3259/07813 015431 or k.mulhern@qub.ac.uk

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World-renowned cancer scientist lands top job

Professor Patrick Johnston, Dean of the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences at Queen’s has been announced as the University’s 12th President and Vice-Chancellor and will take up post early in 2014.

Speaking about his appointment, Professor Johnston said: “This is a proud day for both me and my family and I thank Queen’s University for choosing me to be its next President and Vice-Chancellor. I very much look forward to leading this distinguished institution and working alongside its exceptional staff and students.”

A globally-recognised cancer specialist, Professor Johnston, born in 1958, has always been a high achiever. A past pupil of St Columb’s College, Derry, he received his MB BCh degree in Medicine with distinction from University College Dublin in 1982. In 1987 he obtained a Fellowship at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), USA, where he began further clinical training in Medical Oncology. He was promoted to senior investigator status at NCI in 1991.

In 1996 he was appointed Professor of Oncology at Queen’s, became the Director of its Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology, and is currently Dean of Queen’s School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences. Here he has led the development of a new international Medical School and a world-leading Institute of Health Sciences.

Over the past 20 years his research has focused on the understanding of mechanisms of cancer resistance to therapeutic agents. This has resulted in a number of prestigious landmark publications, over 20 patents and more than £95 million in grants being secured from research and philanthropic bodies including: Cancer Research UK, the Medical Research Council (MRC), Atlantic Philanthropies, the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety and the National Institute of Health. In addition to this work he is also a founder of Almac Diagnostics, which has its global headquarters in Northern Ireland.
In 2012 there was significant recognition for his achievements. He accepted a Diamond Jubilee Queen’s Anniversary Prize from Her Majesty The Queen for the Queen’s University-led Comprehensive Cancer Centre and its success in reducing cancer mortality rates in Northern Ireland over the last decade - and he was elected to the Fellowship of the Academy of Medical Sciences.

And last week he was awarded the 2013 international Bob Pinedo Cancer Care Prize, honouring his pioneering work in translating discovery science for the benefit of cancer patients.

Professor Johnston was also appointed chair of the prestigious Translational Research Group of the Medical Research Council (MRC) in 2012. He currently serves on the Cancer Research UK (CR-UK) Science Executive/Advisory Board.

Originally from Derry/Londonderry, Professor Johnston is married with four grown-up sons and is the first internal candidate to be appointed President and Vice-Chancellor of Queen’s since Sir Peter Froggatt in 1976.

Media inquiries to Kevin Mulhern, Head of Communications and External Affairs at 028 9097 3259/07813 015431 or k.mulhern@qub.ac.uk

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Johnston Joins Distinguished List of Academics

Professor Patrick Johnston will be the 12th Vice-Chancellor of Queen’s University, joining a distinguished list of academics, each of whom has made a lasting contribution to the University and to Northern Ireland.

The first Vice-Chancellor – and one of the most significant figures in the history of Queen’s – was the Reverend Thomas Hamilton.  Appointed Principal of the then Queen’s College in 1889, he became Vice-Chancellor when the College was awarded university status in 1908 and he served in this role until 1923.

He guided the University through a period of change and expansion – setting the standard for his successors as a highly successful fundraiser.  Hamilton launched a major campaign urging the Government to increase its grant to Queen’s and he appealed to the public for endowments.  Some things never change.

His energy and commitment laid the foundations for the young University which continued to expand under the Vice-Chancellorships of classicist Sir Richard Winn Livingstone, political economist Sir Frederick Ogilvie and historian Sir David Keir.

Keir’s successor, Sir Eric Ashby – later Lord Ashby of Brandon – was to play a major role in giving Queen’s a reputation on the national stage.  He had a legendary reputation for identifying and nurturing academic talent and in those golden years of the 1950s Queen’s grew in size and prestige. 

His national standing was so high that when he left Queen’s in 1959 it was to become Master of Clare College, Cambridge, the first appointment in centuries of someone outside the College.  He was also the only Queen’s Vice-Chancellor to serve as its Chancellor, a role he held from 1970 to 1983.

Like his predecessor, Sir David Keir, Ashby is commemorated by a landmark building that bears his name – the striking Ashby Building on Stranmillis Road. 

Dr Michael Grant, a renowned classicist, was chosen to follow Ashby.  He was succeeded by physicist Sir Arthur Vick, described as one of the most able administrators to hold the post.  It was during his tenure, from 1966 to 1976, that the first signs of what he called the “economic blizzard” sweeping universities began to appear. 

These grew increasingly chilly during Sir Peter Froggatt’s 10 years in office but with ability, integrity and good humour, he guided the University through a period of great financial upheaval for the higher education sector.

It fell to his successor, Sir Gordon Beveridge, to lead Queen’s during one of the most challenging periods in its history.  He took office at a time when the University was facing a serious financial crisis, controversy over its fair employment practices and the challenges of managing increased student numbers.

By the time of his retirement in 1997 Queen’s was in a healthy financial position, had developed and enhanced its commitment to equality issues, becoming an exemplar in this field, and successfully celebrated its 150th anniversary in 1995.

His groundwork in helping Queen’s adopt a more strategic approach to its key aims was continued under Professor Sir George Bain, who saw it as his mission to help the University realise its full potential. Under his leadership, the University implemented far-reaching restructuring and investment programmes. He also launched the £150 million Campaign for Queen’s – then the most ambitious fundraising exercise in its history – to ensure the best possible university experience for current and future students.

Professor Sir Peter Gregson, who took up post in 2004, led the University into the Russell Group of the UK’s top research-intensive universities in 2006 and to the title of UK Entrepreneurial University of the Year in 2009. He also led the development of formal strategic international partnerships between Queen’s and leading universities around the world, notably in the United States, India, Malaysia and China. He stood down in July of this year to take up a new post as Chief Executive and Vice-Chancellor of Cranfield University.

Media inquiries to Kevin Mulhern, Head of Communications and External Affairs at 028 9097 3259/07813 015431 or k.mulhern@qub.ac.uk

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Queen’s part of new £19.5 million UK network for social science training

Queen’s University Belfast is one of only 15 institutions from across the UK to have been selected to take part in a new £19.5 million programme addressing the critical shortage of social scientists with the quantitative skills needed to evaluate evidence and analyse data.

The £1.5 million secured by Queen’s is one of the largest awards made across the UK as part of Q-Step, a national programme designed to promote a step-change in quantitative social science training.

The 15 universities selected to take part will form a network of Q-Step Centres, charged with developing new courses in quantitative social science, work placements and pathways to postgraduate study. Expertise and resources will be shared across the higher education sector through an accompanying support programme, which will also forge links with schools and employers, experimenting with new ways of teaching and creating work placements. At Queen’s, four new lecturers will be recruited, including a social statistician. Over the course of the next five years, the programme will see new bursaries and awards for students undertaking quantitative pathways, new research placements with public and private sector partners, a joint Honours degree in Sociology and Quantitative Research and quantitative methods embedded in new and existing modules in Sociology, Criminology, Politics, Social Work and Social Policy degrees.

Professor Mike Tomlinson, Head of the School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work, at Queen’s, is leading the Q-Step programme. He said: “The fact that Queen’s has been selected as a Q-Step Centre is great news for Northern Ireland as access to a pool of graduates with quantitative skills is a key aspect of rebuilding our economy. Providing people with the means to understand, analyse and criticise data produces social science graduates who are highly sought after in a broad range of careers including business, charities, politics, academia and the public sector.”

Universities and Science Minister David Willetts said: “Evaluating and analysing data is an essential part of science education and we need more people with these important skills. Q-Step will deliver an exciting programme, increasing the number of skilled graduates in quantitative social science. By sharing expertise and resources across the education sector, this programme is a step in the right direction to give students the skills they need and help employers build long lasting relationships with universities.”

Q-Step is one of the largest partnerships in recent times between a research council, a funding council and a private foundation, focussed on undergraduate social science education in the UK. It was developed as a strategic response to the shortage of quantitatively-skilled social science graduates. It is funded by the Nuffield Foundation, the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). For more information go to www.nuffieldfoundation.org/q-step

Sharon Witherspoon, Director of the Nuffield Foundation said: “The number and high standard of applications for Q-Step funding demonstrates a shared recognition that the weakness of quantitative skills training in much social science matters – and shows there is a shared commitment to do something about it. With a network of fifteen universities across the UK, as well as an emphasis on building links with schools and employers, we now hope to build the critical mass necessary to promote a real step-change in skills over the long term. 

Professor Paul Boyle, Chief Executive of the ESRC said: “I am delighted that ESRC will be working in partnership with The Nuffield Foundation and HEFCE in funding the Q-Step Centres. ESRC is committed to enhancing quantitative methods skills for social scientists at all stages of their careers and we believe these centres will generate new cohorts of highly skilled students. I am confident that both universities and students will benefit in the long term from the funding and support given from today.”

Chris Milward, Associate Director of HEFCE said: “We are pleased to support this step-change in activity, which will yield a new generation of social science graduates who are fit for the future. The centres will work closely with university outreach activities to stimulate early interest in quantitative skills. This approach builds on evidence from recent research and puts flesh on HEFCE's commitment to continue to address risks to subjects following the higher education reforms. We look forward to working with the Q-Step Centres and other institutions to extend the benefits widely across the sector.”

The other Q-Step partners across the UK are: University of Bristol, Cardiff University, City University London, University of Edinburgh, University of Exeter, University of Glasgow, University of Kent, Manchester Metropolitan University, University of Manchester, University of Oxford, University of Sheffield, University of St Andrews, University College London and the University of Warwick. For further information on Q-Step at Queen’s visit http://www.qub.ac.uk/schools/SchoolofSociologySocialPolicySocialWork/Q-StepCentre/

Media inquiries to Communications Office. Tel: 028 9097 5384

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‘Troubles’ surgeon to tell all in the United States

Belfast surgeon and Queen’s University Professor Roy Spence is set to tell US medics about his experience of treating hundreds of victims of the Northern Ireland ‘Troubles’.

Professor Spence in addressing several thousand US surgeons will reflect on his time working through ‘The Troubles’ and also reflecting on the latter years of more peaceful times.

He will deliver the prestigious I.S Ravdin Lecture in Washington on 7 October. This has never been offered to a surgeon in Ireland before.

A surgeon for 35 years in Northern Ireland throughout most of the country’s conflict, which came to be known as ‘The Troubles’, Professor Roy Spence, OBE, JP, MD, LLD (Hon), FRCS, (Edin, Irel), FRCS (End, Glas) (Hon), will reflect on his professional life during this time period when he presents Reflections of a Surgeon in Troubled Times.

From the late 1960s until 1998, when the Troubles ended with the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, more than 3,600 were killed and more than 47,500 were injured in 36,900 shootings and 16,200 bombings. Professor Spence will discuss how those incredibly tough circumstances brought advances to trauma practice in Northern Ireland.

Professor Roy Spence, said: “I will pay tribute to my colleagues in vascular surgery who used  shunts in injuries to limb arteries and veins caused by gunshot wounds and, in particular, the unique injury knee-capping in Northern Ireland. I will recall the work of colleagues in neurosurgery who proposed early ventilation of patients with gunshot wounds of the head and the replacement of missing skull fragments, caused by bullets, with titanium plates.”

In the second part of his lecture Professor Spence will discuss the changes to cancer services in Northern Ireland. He will discuss the Campbell re-organisation, the excellent data produced by the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry at Queen’s (Professor Spence is the Chairman of the Council of the Cancer Registry), the work of Cancer Focus (Professor Spence is Chairman of Cancer Focus) which raises £3 million per year for cancer research and to support services for cancer patients and their families.  He will present the cancer data of the Registry showing significant improvement in cancer survival in Northern Ireland over the past 15 years.

Professor Spence will also pay tribute to the cancer research led by Professor Johnston, Dean of School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences at Queen's University, who has been instrumental in the building of research centres at Queen’s which led to the award to the University of the Queen’s Anniversary Prize by Her Majesty the Queen in 2012.

Finally, Professor Spence will acknowledge the leadership shown by Senator Mitchell and President Clinton in the Peace Process and also to Northern Ireland’s First and Deputy First Ministers, who as the Peace Process matures, have allowed Northern Ireland to attract bright clinicians and scientists from all over the world to work in Belfast to improve the outcome for all patients.

Media inquiries to Claire O’Callaghan, Queen’s Communications Office. Tel: +44 (0)28 9097 5391 or email c.ocallaghan@qub.ac.uk

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Queen’s lecturer wins national teaching prize

A Queen’s University lecturer has been named the 2013 Economics Network Best New Lecturer.

Dr Chris Colvin, a lecturer in economics at Queen’s University Management School, won the national teaching prize in recognition of exemplary teaching practice that encourages understanding of and interest in economics.

The award, judged by the Conference of Heads of University Departments of Economics, is designed to recognise the best economics lecturer working in the UK who is less than three years in first post.

Speaking about his award, Dr Colvin said: “I am honoured to have received such recognition for my work.  Queen’s is devoted to excellence in teaching and learning and I am delighted that my contribution to that has been recognised in this way.  I intend to continue to deliver world-class economics education here at Queen’s.”

Professor Rob Gilles, Head of the Queen’s University Management School, said: “We are absolutely delighted that Chris’s excellent work in the classroom has been formally recognised in this way.  Through his innovative teaching and assessment methods, Chris has really made economics come alive in the classroom.  Students have been very receptive to the approaches he has taken and to his overall enthusiasm and passion for the subject area.”

The Economics Network supports the higher education economics community and aims to enhance the quality of learning and teaching in economics higher education. It does this by developing and disseminating teaching resources, undertaking research into economics education, running training events and conferences and recognising outstanding teaching though an annual awards scheme.

Dr Alvin Birdi, Undergraduate Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Law at the University of Bristol, who coordinates the Economics Network, said: “The judging panel was impressed by how well-thought out Chris’ industrial economics module was both in terms of teaching and assessment. In particular, Chris stood out compared to the other nominees because of the range of innovative teaching methods he uses, making an exceptionally engaging and effective economics module, worthy of an award.”

Chris teaches second-year and final-year undergraduate students at Queen’s University Management School as part of its rigorous up-to-date economics programmes which have a proven track-record of preparing students for graduate study and careers in areas such as management, consultancy, financial services, teaching and public service.

For more information about Dr Chris Colvin and Queen’s University Management School visit http://www.qub.ac.uk/mgt/

Media inquiries to Claire O’Callaghan, Queen’s University Communications Office, Tel: +44 (0)28 9097 5391 email: c.ocallaghan@qub.ac.uk

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Finding collaborative answers to global issues

Studies into the lives of working class people in Northern Ireland, who should have a say over our natural resources and the use of public space for contested identities are just three of the many top topics be showcased at Queen’s this week.

The ground-breaking event, which takes place from 5-7pm in the Great Hall at Queen’s on Wednesday 2 October celebrates the social and economic relevance of major research projects currently being undertaken in the University’s Institute for Collaborative Research in the Humanities and tries to come up with answers through collaborative means.

Director of the Institute, Professor John Thompson said: “We are engaged in research that confronts current and next-generation real world issues. This relates to where we have come from, how our individual and community ideas and prejudices are formed, how we model our behaviours, attitudes, and our creativity and how we live together and where we think such beliefs, attitudes and prejudices will take us in the future.

“Much of the joy provided by Humanities research and teaching is that there are no easy or absolute answers to the kinds of research issues we are trained to raise and the uncomfortable questions we perpetually ask about matters that must be confronted in any civilised society.  In short, we simply cannot legislate, force feed, or starve out of existence, the kinds of difficult research questions and uncomfortable dilemmas Humanities scholarship always asks of the world.” 

Three of the combined research projects include:

  • Work by Dr Michael Pierse, which focuses on representations of the lives of working-class people in the North of Ireland throughout the twentieth century. It aims to explore working-class experience in everyday life through its appearance in cultural forms, such as poetry, drama, fiction, song, memoir, television and film.
  • Dr Fabian Schuppert, who in times of anthropogenic climate change and general environmental degeneration asks the question of who should control the extraction, use and consumption of natural resources is a hotly debated issue. This research project aims to define normative principles for just and sustainable natural resource governance.
  • Dr Dominic Bryan’s research focuses on the use of public space in the context of contested identities in Northern Ireland.  He has undertaken significant research into the management of civic space in Belfast, contests over the right to parade and the demarcations of public space using flags and emblems.

Media inquiries to Queen's University Communications Office on 028 9097 3087 or comms.office@qub.ac.uk

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Queen’s scientist to target Cystic Fibrosis superbug

Queen’s University Belfast is to lead a £139,000 study into the way cystic fibrosis patients are affected by a superbug that destroys lung function.

The research, funded by the Cystic Fibrosis Trust will investigate how the immune cells of cystic fibrosis patients are infected when they contract Burkholderia Cepacia (B.cepacia). The superbug can colonise in people with cystic fibrosis causing serious lung damage.

The two-year study will be coordinated by Professor Miguel Valvano, Chair of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases at Queen’s Centre for Infection and Immunity. There are around 500 people living with cystic fibrosis in Northern Ireland, and the B.cepacia bug affects around six per cent of people with the illness.

Professor Valvano said: “We have reached a point in which it may be possible to directly identify molecules that can help immune cells, especially those that engulf bacteria to deal with the intracellular B.cepacia. Our research effort will be focused on developing the appropriate procedures that will enable us to screen libraries of chemical compounds to find molecules that can help cystic fibrosis patients’ immune cells clear invading bacteria.”

Professor Valvano aims to develop a better understanding of how cystic fibrosis affects the normal functioning of cells and how B.cepacia disrupts cell breakdown in people with cystic fibrosis. The second stage in the project will involve developing a quick and efficient way of testing large numbers of compounds with a view to finding a drug that can effectively treat B.cepacia.

Dr Janet Allen, Director of Research at the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, said: “Professor Miguel Valvano is one of the world’s leading experts in this field. His molecular research aimed at dissecting key bacterial components that directly interact with host cells to cause infections is internationally recognised.

“A key part of the Cystic Fibrosis Trust’s research strategy is supporting research aimed at finding new ways to treat chronic infection and inflammation in people with cystic fibrosis. In people with cystic fibrosis certain bugs are able to turn the body’s immune system against itself by disrupting the normal processes for dealing with invaders and causing harmful levels of inflammation. They are also very difficult to treat because they are able to block conventional antibiotics.”

Media inquiries to Anne-Marie Clarke at Queen’s Communications Office Tel: +44(0)28 9097 5320 or email a.clarke@qub.ac.uk or Louise Banks at the Cystic Fibrosis Trust on +44(0)208 290 7912 / +44(0)7989 436 204 or email: louise.banks@cysticfibrosis.org.uk

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Queen’s University takes top honours at 25k Awards 2013

A Queen’s University Belfast team which is developing a range of novel medical diagnostic tests has been named the overall winner of the 25k Awards 2013.

In addition to being named overall winner Queen’s also won three out of the four individual categories on the night.

The prestigious annual 25k awards, which are sponsored by Bank of Ireland, are made under the NISP CONNECT entrepreneurship programme, which is based at the Northern Ireland Science Park in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter.

The Queen’s University team, ProAx-SiS, won the overall 25k award for the development of their test which will enable routine monitoring of patients with chronic conditions such as cystic fibrosis, either within the clinic or at home.

ProAx-SiS has developed small molecule, peptide-based inhibitors (Protease-Tags), which serve both as a means to trap active proteases and to provide a visual readout of their presence in biological samples, with applications to protease biomarker identification.

Category winners in the Bank of Ireland UK sponsored 25k Awards, were:

  • Bio Tech: ProAx-SiS, Queen’s University, sponsored by Warner Chilcott.
  • Clean Tech: ADFerTech, Queen’s University, sponsored by Dow.
  • Software & Digital Media: Liopa, Queen’s University, sponsored by Intel.
  • Hi-Tech: Eye-C-3D, University of Ulster, sponsored by IBM.

The awards, were presented last night at a packed VIP gala ceremony in the iconic Titanic Belfast building, next to Northern Ireland Science Park in the city’s Titanic Quarter.

Scott Rutherford, Director of Research and Enterprise at Queen’s University Belfast, said: “We work closely with our partners in the region, including the NISP Connect team, to support the commercialisation of our world-leading research and to deliver impact within Northern Ireland and beyond.  Once again, I am delighted with the number of teams from Queen’s who secured places in the 2013 finals and to have secured our third winner in a row at these prestigious awards. It illustrates clearly that Queen’s has huge breadth and depth in its research base and I offer my warm congratulations to the ProAx-SiS team in securing the top honours”.

Steve Orr, Director of NISP CONNECT, said: “Congratulations to ProAx-SiS for an innovation which shows great commercial potential - this is an exciting time for the team, and for all the category winners and finalists.

“The £25k Awards offer a showcase for regional research talent to display world-class innovations, as well as providing a valuable training and development process as they move beyond the initial stages of business development.

“NISP CONNECT programmes are designed to inspire, encourage and nurture local technology entrepreneurs during conception, growth and improvement stages, and to continue that process to help them reach their goals.”

Ciaran McGivern, Head of Business Banking Northern Ireland, Bank of Ireland UK, added: “Developing innovative ideas that have market potential is at the core of Northern Ireland’s mission to create a more vibrant private sector.

“If we are to make this mission a reality we not only need academia and industry to collaborate but we need commerciality to be part of the equation - to ensure that ideas with real potential can be developed into success stories.

“Bank of Ireland UK is proud and delighted to support the NISP Connect 25k Awards again this year. We wish this year’s winner, ProAx-sis and all the finalists every success in the future and look forward to working with them all closely.”

Other finalists in the 25k Award included: Jenarron Therapeutics (University of Ulster); Digitease (University of Ulster), Inkintelligent (Queen’s University), Columbus (Queen’s University), Xpress LF (Queen’s University), Nite Rider (University of Ulster).

Media inquiries to Claire O’Callaghan, Queen’s Communications Office. Tel: +44 (0)28 9097 5391 or email c.ocallaghan@qub.ac.uk

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Queen’s students win international Undergraduate Awards

Two Queen’s University Belfast students have been named category winners in the 2013 Undergraduate Awards, the only international, pan-discipline academic awards programme in the world.

The awards celebrate and support the world’s brightest and most innovative undergraduate students, by recognising their best coursework and projects.

Simon Gallaher from Helen’s Bay won in the Historical Studies category with an essay entitled, “Why was Klan violence effective as a means of conservative opposition to Reconstruction?” Amy Burnside from East Belfast won the Literature category with her essay, “An Examination of Gender Relations in James Joyce’s Ulysses”.

The essays were selected from almost 4000 submissions in more than 180 colleges and universities across the world. The winners in each category were selected by an international judging panel, made up of academics and industry experts. Winners will attend The UA Global Summit, taking place in Dublin in November . Professor Shane O’Neill, Dean of Faculty Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at Queen’s said: “To be recognised as winners in the 2013 Undergraduate Awards is an outstanding achievement for both Simon and Amy. This is a highly prestigious international competition, and their selection as winners in the Historical Studies and Literature categories is testament to their outstanding scholarly talents. Their teachers at Queen’s are very proud of their achievements and we know that they will be excellent ambassadors for the University at the Summit for all the winners, to be held in Dublin in November.

The awards programme has been operating in Ireland since 2009 and globally since 2011 and encourages inter-disciplinary and international co-operation between students.

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