IGFS is one of three dedicated Global Research Institutes (GRIs) at Queen’s, with a remit to bring researchers from different disciplines, schools and faculties together with external researchers from around the world on a scale that enables them to address major, societal challenges and generate world-leading research. Thus, a strong, interdisciplinary research (IDR) environment is at the heart of IGFS.
Equally important is the emphasis on working with external stakeholders, from industry partners to government regulators, to ensure strong, real-world impact. This dual emphasis on academic excellence and social/economic impact is illustrated by the fact that IGFS is guided by both an International Scientific Advisory Board (ISAB) and an Industrial Advisory Board (IAB).
Research income has tripled in recent years, with £59M investment in the past seven years, for example, from diverse sources, including EU, UKRI, National Institutes of Health USA (NIH) and Science Foundation Ireland (SFI).
During this time, research and academic staff numbers have also risen steadily, with FTE staff more than doubling (now sitting at 72.8). Numbers of PhD students have tripled in the same time period. Strategic, senior academic appointments have been made to bolster expertise in key areas – systems biology, digital innovation, global-change biology, nutrition and food integrity. A Director of IDR,Professor Aedin Cassidy, was recently appointed to further catalyse this area.
Queen’s was named ‘UK’s Most Entrepreneurial University’ in 2019 and 2020 (Octopus Ventures Entrepreneurial Impact Report) for its record in commercialising research.
IGFS follows suit with a strong culture of spinouts, KTPs and DTPs with industry partners. IGFS is currently developing a dedicated space adjacent to its new building as an enterprise hub to strengthen the enterprise dimension.
Researchers interact closely with local industry through the £5M Agri-food QUEST Competence Centre and internationally via the €400M EIT-Food (European Institute of Innovation and Technology). IGFS has also secured 5 x BBSRC Industry Partnerships and 1 x BBSRC Link award, 13 KTPs and more than 18 case-studentships with industry partners.
Key figures from IGFS meet regularly with the Industrial Advisory Board (IAB) to discuss strategic direction and developments, including shared research. IGFS has also recently appointed a number of honorary 'Professors of Practice' from the business community to further strengthen the academic-enterprise interface.
Pictured, (left) Professor Chris Elliott and (right) Professor Nigel Scollan with (middle) Declan Billington, CEO of Thompson & Sons feed mills and former Vice-Chair of the NI Food and Drink Association (NIFDA)
Completed in 2019, a new 12,000m² £39M state-of-the-art research facility has created a new home for IGFS, accommodating 500 research staff and students, alongside the School of Biological Sciences. This rich teaching and research environment maximises interaction between staff in breakout areas, further reinforcing the drive towards inter-disciplinary research (IDR).
Further investments include the ASSET Technology Centre – designated a ‘Centre of Expertise’ by the Food Authenticity Network (UK DEFRA, 2020) and having industry accreditation (rare for a university lab) ISO/IEC 17025 (2019).
ASSET comprises an analytical chemistry/mass spectrometry research hub (£10M); specialist proteomic and biosensor facilities (£2.5M); and a dedicated research facility investigating innovative cold-plasma technology to reduce chemical and antibiotic use in the food chain (AgriPlas), the first of its kind in Europe (£0.4M).
IGFS is leading several projects in the innovation strand (£200m) of the Belfast Region City Deal and is an integral partner in a planned Global Innovation Institute (£60M investment as part of the Belfast City deal, 2021-36), providing an unparalled opportunity to apply digital technologies to address major societal challenges in health, food security and environmental sustainability.
IGFS is also involved in the ‘NI Diamond’ initiative, an ecosystem in which government, business, society and the knowledge base work together pooling goals, funds, risks, responsibilities and competencies in agri-food. In parallel, IGFS is working towards an all-Ireland agri-food hub to consolidate expertise in food integrity on the island.
Links with UK (and other) government agencies have been significantly bolstered in the areas of food safety, food fraud and public health in the wake of the Elliott Review, commissioned by the UK government after the 2014 horsemeat scandal and led by Professor Chris Elliott OBE of IGFS.
The Elliott Review delivered eight recommendations, which were accepted and acted on by the UK government, chief among which were the establishment of the:
(i) National Food Crime Unit, covering England, Wales and Northern Ireland
(ii) Scottish Food Crime and Incidents Unit
(iii) Food Industry Intelligence Network
Pictured (l-r), Professor Chris Elliott IGFS; Former UK Health Secretary, Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP; Professor Stuart Elborn QUB
IGFS enjoys collaborations with a wide range of partners from industry, government and other research institutions.
Foremost among these is a formal, Strategic Alliance with the Agri-Food Biosciences Institute (AFBI) in NI, seeking to accelerate building and sharing capacity, both in infrastructure and people, addressing key challenges in agriculture and food, and supporting policy, industry and society.
A similar arrangement is in place with the £30M Austrian Competence Centre for Feed and Food Quality, Safety & Innovation.
Find out more about our partnerships. Pictured, Dr Elizabeth Magowan, Director of Sustainable AgriFood, AFBI
A group of PGRs, Post-Docs, academic and support staff recently formed a School and Institute green-impact team, initiating a number of activities and events, including a successful climate-change seminar series.
The volunteers have also developed a wormery – a first for Queen’s! - to help reduce food waste generated by users of our building and make compost to fertilise green spaces aimed at improving biodiversity around campus.