University of Leicester creates knowledge hubs to tackle issues of local and global importance

Posted by pt91 at Nov 18, 2011 02:20 PM |
New investment will boost knowledge economy and bring benefits of research to the region

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 18 November 2011

Jpeg images of three new research professors available from

The University of Leicester has today announced it is establishing three major new research centres that will bring new investment to the region and tackle local as well as global issues.

The three new Research Centres are being created in the fields of Medical Humanities; Landscape Interactions and Change; and Bioengineering. The new centres reflect the University’s commitment to research excellence and will mean that Leicester will be known for its expertise in these areas.

The East Midlands will form the ‘laboratory’ for areas of research ploughing the benefits of world-class intellectual rigour directly back into the local community.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir Robert Burgess said: “I am delighted to be able to announce the appointment of three new Research Professors who will develop high quality Research Centres in the University.  I anticipate that the new Research Centres will make a real difference to Leicester and its standing nationally and internationally in the areas selected.  They will enable the University to attract further high profile staff, research teams and postgraduate students alongside providing opportunities for developing links with external partners.”

Each centre will be headed by new Research Professors who will take up their roles in January 2012. Professor Steve King in History, Professor Heiko Balzter in Geography and Professor Rodrigo Quian Quiroga in Engineering have been appointed to the new roles.

Steve King 200Steven King, Professor of Economic and Social History will be leading the Medical Humanities Research Centre.  Bringing together researchers from different departments,  the Centre will be concerned with the ways in which patients, individuals or families have sought to confront illness, disability and decay and their understandings, representation and consumption of the scientific and medical knowledge that underpins therapeutic practice over the period between the seventeenth and the twenty-first centuries.

Professor King said: “This new Centre will place the University of Leicester at the forefront of local, regional and national debates about the generation, use and popular understandings of scientific and medical knowledge. In turn, this will allow us to participate in but also shape wider debates and policy discussions centring on issues such as: What are the acceptable limits of patients rights? Are there limits to the treatments that doctors can or should provide? Why have we lost our understanding and acceptance of risk when it comes to taking medicines and prolonging lives; And why are we so afraid to die?”

CGB4101Heiko Balzter, Professor of Physical Geography will be leading the Centre for Landscape Interactions and Change which will undertake fundamental research that helps solve the problems of global biodiversity loss, water scarcity and flooding, and threats to food security. 

Professor Balzter said: “The new research centre will investigate the impacts of the changing water cycle on ecosystems. Satellite observations can not only show us how the land looks like from space, but also give important information on changing rainfall  patterns, soil moisture and forest fires, to name a few examples. The prolonged drought spells that we have experienced in the Midlands (and other parts of the UK) this year have caused many problems. We have seen unprecedented forest fires. Farmers had to watch as their crops suffered from lack of water. And in private gardens some less hardy plants did not survive the summer.

“With global climate change we expect to see more extreme weather events, such as droughts, floods and extreme temperatures. Our new research centre will develop better methods to study what these events mean for the landscape. We have to prepare for climate change impacts. People and organisations should think about how our landscapes can be made more resilient against these impacts.

“We will study two important landscape types. Locally, we will carry out a research programme on the Welland river catchment and its tributaries in the East Midlands. In these agricultural landscapes we want to study ways to ensure clean water supply all year round. Land management has to take account of landforms, the water and nutrients in the landscape to enable sustainable harvests. With a changing water cycle, land managers have to reconsider how the land is managed.

“In another study area we will continue to measure the greenhouse gas emissions from the Wicken Fen wetland restoration project in East Anglia. The National Trust and other organisations have laid out ambitious plans to create one of Europe’s biggest wetlands there, stretching all the way from Wicken to Cambridge. Initial data suggest that the wetland restoration not only preserves biodiversity but also reduces greenhouse gas emissions. This is a secondary benefit that needs to be fully rewarded.

“Globally, we will study savannah ecosystems in Africa and South America and how they respond to human pressures and climate change. Because savannahs cover vast areas worldwide and are limited by water, they are very important for the global balance of the planet. If the savannahs started to release more greenhouse gases into the air, they could add to the global warming problem. On the other hand, if they absorbed more greenhouse gases from the air they could help us combat climate change. Savannahs are one of the least well understood biomes on Earth.”

Dr Rodrigo Quian Quiroga 200Rodrigo Quian Quiroga, Professor of Bioengineering will lead the new Bioengineering Research Centre which aims to develop a world-leading interdisciplinary research programme to get major insights into the understanding of brain functioning.  One of its main areas of research will be the study of how neurons give rise to complex brain functions.

He said: “We will be working at the interface between the hard and the life sciences in areas of large relevance to the general public.

“This new research centre will provide further insights on how the brain works; how neuronal populations give rise to incredibly sophisticated brain processes, like recognizing a familiar face or creating a new memory.  Besides the development of this research, a key objective is to create a world-class Bioengineering Centre, building up from our current strengths and collaborations in this area. The Centre will be a very active an interdisciplinary environment aiming at making major breakthroughs into the understanding of different biological problems.”

The new appointments are part of a competition to find ten new Research Professors and to build upon existing research strengths to develop world-class multi-disciplinary expertise in areas in which Leicester currently has specialist knowledge.  These appointments represent the first three successful candidates.


Notes to Editors- for more information, please contact the University of Leicester press office on 0116 252 2415 email

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