How our research benefits our region

Durham University

Professor Karen O'Brien, Vice-Chancellor and Warden of Durham University, stood smiling with arms folded, in front of bookshelves

Our Vice-Chancellor Professor Karen O’Brien explores how Durham being a leading research university benefits North East England.

Here at Durham University, we’re a proudly North East England university and a research-intensive university, where academics across many different disciplines produce world-leading and world-changing research.

Some recent research highlights…

Last week, for example, a new study led by our Geography Department revealed that the fate of the world’s biggest ice sheet is still in our hands. If we can prevent global temperatures rising by more than two degrees Celsius, as promised by world leaders in 2015 under the Paris Agreement on climate change, then the East Antarctic Ice Sheet (EAIS), which holds the vast majority of the Earth’s glacier ice, should contribute less than half a metre to sea level rise by the year 2500. But if warming goes beyond two degrees, the EAIS could contribute up to five metres to sea level rise.

Sticking with the theme of climate change, a few days earlier experts from our Biosciences Department published predictions of severe impact on bird communities as a result of climate change. Looking at low and medium greenhouse gas emissions scenarios, they are forecasting major impact for both overall numbers and species numbers by 2080.

Elsewhere, researchers from our Psychology Department announced their finding that our closest living primate relatives, bonobos, make ‘baby-like’ signals to display stress when attacked, similar to how we display emotions. Their research sheds light on the potential evolutionary origins of the communication of emotion. The study was carried out at the Lola ya Bonobo Sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the world’s only bonobo sanctuary – showing the global reach of Durham research.

Still in Psychology, Prof Fuschia Sirois has published a new book on the problem of procrastination and how to tackle it. A valuable resource for many of us on these long summer days!

And finally, two leading researchers from our Arts and Humanities Faculty were recently made Fellows of The British Academy. Prof Edith Hall has published more than 30 books on ancient Greek and Roman literature and Prof Andy Wood has written extensively on English social history.

Why this matters…

So why does this matter? Well, for several reasons, I would say. First, I hope all Durham can be proud of how Durham researchers are addressing the most significant global challenges facing humanity today. Second, our students – including many originally from the North-East – benefit from learning alongside world experts in their field.

Third, many of our researchers are keenly involved in programmes to share their expertise. Prof Sirois, for example, is speaking at the Bright Ideas Gathering in Durham in October. Many other colleagues are joining the Durham Book Festival, also in October.

Fourth, we have major research projects based in and focused on the North-East. Work to use heat from old coal mines to heat homes, for example. And fifth, the research funding our academics attract drives investment and growth in this region.

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