Research projects demonstrate interdisciplinary innovation

Heriot-Watt Crucible participants with BBC Radio 4 broadcaster, Quentin Cooper (3rd from right) at the Heriot-Watt Crucible II programme, Our Dynamic Earth, Edinburgh

Heriot-Watt Crucible research projects

The first six collaborative research projects to be funded from the new Heriot-Watt Crucible Interdisciplinary Project Fund were announced at Heriot-Watt on Monday 12 March.

The successful projects involve 21 early career researchers from a wide range of academic disciplines including marine ecology, materials science, nanotechnology, photonics and quantum physics. While the majority are led by lecturers at Heriot-Watt University, two projects also include researchers from the Moredun Research Institute and the University of Edinburgh, institutions with whom Heriot-Watt is building on-going research collaborations. Each project combines at least two or three disciplines and is expected to mark the start of promising new research directions for the researchers involved.

Chair of the Selection Panel, Professor Gavin Gibson, School of Mathematical and Computer Sciences, said: "We were very impressed by the breadth of subject areas represented in the project proposals we received, with many partnerships combining expertise from disciplines that don't routinely talk to each other in order to come up with really innovative ideas".

Interdisciplinary Project Fund

The Heriot-Watt Crucible Interdisciplinary Project Fund was established by Heriot-Watt University's Deputy Principal for Research and Knowledge Transfer, Professor Alan Miller. It aims to encourage researchers who have completed Heriot-Watt Crucible to pilot some of the potential interdisciplinary research collaborations they have explored during the course of their research leadership programme. The fund is sponsored by a grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council which promotes bridging between academic disciplines and the development of the next generation of research leaders.

Congratulating the recipients of the first Heriot-Watt Crucible interdisciplinary project funds, Professor Miller said: "I am greatly encouraged by the way the participants of this programme have established working relationships to come up with innovative ideas for new research that bridges traditional boundaries".

The research projects

The Heriot-Watt Crucible Interdisciplinary Projects selected to be funded in March 2012 are:

  • Towards mid-IR "optical" fibre sensors for in situ ocean acidification research  
  • Games for quantum research  
  • Probing the optical properties of emulsions with micro-structured fibre probes - a new sensor platform for food science applications  
  • Using integrated novel 3D techniques for complex flow field modelling around coralline algae  
  • Investigating the human health hazards posed by ingested nanomaterials  
  • Developing colour - exploiting femtosecond laser inscription technology to create structural colour and pattern

Project mentors

In addition to winning financial support from the fund for their projects, the successful teams have also each been assigned a senior research leader from another academic discipline as a mentor to offer them advice and guidance as their projects progress. The Heriot-Watt Crucible project mentors Professor Gavin Gibson, School of Mathematical and Computing Sciences; Professor Duncan Hand, Director of Research, School of Engineering and Physical Sciences; Professor Dorrik Stow, Director of Research, Institute of Petroleum Engineering; Professor Peter Woodward, Head of the Institute of Infrastructure and Environment, School of Built Environment; and Professor Murray Roberts, Director of the Centre for Marine Biodiversity and Biotechnology, School of Life Sciences; and Professor Alan Miller, Deputy Principal, Research and Knowledge Transfer.

Project participants

Commenting on the success of their respective interdisciplinary research projects in the competition, Heriot-Watt Crucible participants, Dr Sebastian Hennige, School of Life Sciences said: "The Heriot-Watt Crucible has given us a fantastic opportunity to learn about other disciplines and research areas at Heriot-Watt, and the interdisciplinary projects formed from this will let us explore new, exciting and complimentary avenues of research which we may not have otherwise considered"

Dr Robert Thomson, School of Engineering and Physical Sciences said: "The Crucible certainly opened my eyes to the broad diversity of leading expertise that we have, both within Heriot-Watt and at institutes such as the Moredun. It provided the perfect platform for generating and exploring new ideas for interdisciplinary collaboration with young academics from areas that that I rarely interact with. For example, until the Crucible I had never considered working with either a marine biologist, or a textiles' academic. Through the Crucible grant, we now have some seedcorn funding which will enable us to take forward some of these ideas, a fact that I am very excited about."