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RA5a: Structure,environment and staffing policy

Following RAE96 a strategic decision was taken by the University to consolidate and expand research in earth and environmental sciences as part of a general policy to encourage research across faculty and departmental boundaries. A restructuring programme was implemented by new construction and major laboratory refurbishment, strategic appointments of new academic staff and funding of postdoctoral fellowships, postgraduate bursaries and equipment. This brought together research groups based in the Schools of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Biological Sciences, Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences and Computer Sciences together to form the Earth and Environmental Sciences Research Centre. Research staff in these groups were submitted in UoA’s 11, 14, 20 and 28 in RAE96. There have been 6 new appointments and the Centre now has now 6 Readers and 1 Professor. The Centre acts as a focus for multidisciplinary investigations in fundamental and applied aspects of research and there is extensive collaboration and communication between the individual groups. Since 1996, research groups in the Centre have attracted external funding amounting to about £2m in the form of competitive research grants from the Research Councils (NERC, EPSRC), MAFF, the NHS, DERA, major companies such as BP, BNFL, Innogy plc, Johnson Matthey and charities (Leverhulme Trust, Nuffield Foundation). International collaboration has expanded through grants and scientific exchanges such as those sponsored by EU thematic networks (COST Initiative, CRAFT, QoL, BRITE-EURAM, INTAS, TEMPUS, COPERNICUS, MAST), the British Council, UNESCO and the Royal Society, as well as Overseas Governments (e.g. Brazil and Canada).

Organisation and Management of Research
The Earth and Environmental Sciences Research Centre is one of four funded research centres within the Faculty of Science. Specifically allocated research funds are transferred from the University Centre to the Faculty. These are then distributed to the research centres by the Dean according to agreed plans made in consultation with the Faculty Research Committee. This Committee is responsible for developing and implementing research policy within the Faculty and, through a sub-committee, the registration and monitoring of research students. The Centre is managed by a research committee, consisting of the leaders of the research groups detailed below and School representatives. The committee is responsible for developing research strategy and research infrastructure, evaluating research proposals and advising the Faculty Committee on the disbursement of earmarked research funds. It also organises a seminar programme of visiting and internal speakers that serves as a general forum for scientific communication throughout the Centre.

Facilities for Research
As part of a firm University commitment to improve and upgrade research infrastructure there has been extensive building, relocation and development of facilities for research in earth and environmental sciences since 1996. The central laboratory facilities are located in the main University campus. A £10 m purpose built extension to the Biosciences block, including state-of-the art research laboratories, was opened in 1996. These include fully equipped microbiology, molecular biology, histology and tissue culture laboratories, corrosion laboratories, analytical chemistry laboratories and a dedicated centre for molecular design with extensive molecular graphics and computational facilities. The laboratories house a mass spectrometer, FTIR, GC mass spectrometers, an atomic force microscopy suite, and a new 600 MHz NMR facility.

Several specialist earth science facilities have been relocated. These comprise purpose-built laboratories for rock and soil mechanics, crystal growth and materials, rock preparation, palaeontological preparation, microscopy and geochemistry. The laboratories are equipped with a modern AA system, fully automated XRF, automated XRD and an SEM, with EDMA, image analysis and frame-capture facilities.

About 600 m2 of laboratory and office space, all networked to the main campus, has been created at the marine sciences laboratories at Langstone Harbour, 3 km from the main campus. These include a wetlab, external large holding tanks, laboratory facilities for Home Office regulated experimentation with fish, a reticulated continuously-pumped filtered temperature-regulated seawater supply, a quarantine facility and 5 temperature controlled rooms. An 8 m experimental raft for exposing material samples and monitoring environmental conditions has been acquired and is moored in Langstone Harbour. A 10 m research vessel licensed to work throughout the Solent is based nearby. The site accommodates 6 academic staff, 1 postdoctoral research fellow, 12 PhD students and 2 technicians.

Research Groups
The Centre is organised into six groups. Each is co-ordinated by a senior researcher who communicates the development of group research strategy to the Centre and advises on the submission of external grant applications. Many researchers work in more than one group and are involved in collaborative projects between groups.

A. Crustal Evolution: (Category A Staff: Hall, Daley, Hendry, Hughes, Power) This group embraces a wide range of interests in the evolution of the crust from the earliest Precambrian to the present day. Specific areas include: the refinement of terrane models in the early Precambrian; the secular evolution of magmatism in relation to cratonisation; the petrogenesis of Precambrian and Phanerozoic mafic intrusive and extrusive suites; the crystallisation behaviour and composition of igneous systems with respect to equilibrium and disequilibrium mineral assemblages; the evolution of the early Caledonian terrane in the Isle of Man; the evolution of the Tertiary Hampshire Basin; diagenetic processes in Mesozoic and Tertiary carbonates and siliciclastics.

Major achievements since RAE96 include: The refinement of the simple crustal accretion model for the evolution of the Western Superior Province of the Canadian Shield by demonstrating the existence of older crustal nuclei within newly accreted terranes (Hughes). The recognition of a high-Mg andesite parental magma for the Great Dyke in Zimbabwe and developing an understanding of the relationship between early Precambrian intracratonic mafic magmatism, the 1.1Ga Umkondo large igneous province and the break-up of the ancient Rhodinia continent (Hall, Hughes). A major revision and more complete understanding of the structure, metamorphism and lithostratigraphy of the Manx Group sediments in the Isle of Man in the context of their position on the northern edge of eastern Avalonia (Power). A detailed facies and sedimentological analysis of the Bembridge Limestone in the Tertiary of the Hampshire Basin (Daley). Understanding more completely the fundamental mechanisms and controls on cement growth and pore fluid evolution in carbonates and siliciclastic depositional environments (Hendry).

B. Applied Geosciences: (Category A Staff: Prof Jones, Hendry, Walton; Category A* Staff: Murphy, Petley, New Staff: Adiyaman) Research in the applied geosciences has largely focused on the mechanisms, evaluation and remediation of a range of geological hazards. These include: problems associated with hydrocarbon production in seismically active areas; statistical evaluation of landslide hazards in seismically active areas using GIS methods; the interaction between material properties and earth surface processes, especially within landslides; techniques for the assessment and remediation of contaminated land.

Major achievements since RAE96 include: Reprocessing of a large microseismicity database from the Cusiana and Cupiagua hydrocarbon fields in Colombia and subsequent Richter analysis has demonstrated the relationship between natural and induced seismicity and the controlling mechanisms of the induced seismicity. This is being developed into a predictive tool in areas with a high-quality seismic record (Jones). The detection and determination of the spectral properties of active, suspended and relict landslides derived from Airborne Thematic Mapper imagery (Murphy, Petley). The development of an integrated legal and technical approach to the mitigation of contaminated land hazards (Walton).

C. Palaeobiology: (Category A Staff: M Barker, Loydell, Martill; Category C Staff: Radley, Steele) This group is concerned principally with the application of detailed studies of fossil organisms to broader problems of palaeobiology and biostratigraphy. Current areas of activity include: functional and adaptive morphology, stratigraphic utility and systematics of major molluscan groups; modelling of lower Cretaceous and Tertiary marginal marine and freshwater environments by analogy with equivalent Recent environments; palaeoenvironments and stratigraphic distribution of late Ordovician and early Silurian graptolites and dendroids; the biomechanics of dinosaur and pterosaur locomotion including the histology of stressed bone fabrics, together with wing membrane and other soft tissue ultrastructure; the taphonomy of vertebrate faunas, including very early post-mortem diagenesis, soft-tissue replication and associated mineral paragenesis in bone cavities, the development of biomarkers to confirm or refute the presence of biogenic material in extraterrestrial samples.

Major achievements since RAE96 include: New insights into Wealden (L Cretaceous) palaeoenvironments and palaeogeography using shell-bed biostratinomy and taphonomy to demonstrate storms, derived fossils and palaeofaults (Barker, Radley). A new sea-level curve for the Lower Silurian and an integrated conodont/chitinozoan/graptolite biostratigraphy (Loydell). Discovery and interpretation of previously unknown preserved soft tissues in pterosaur fossils. Detailed documentation and interpretation of major vertebrate and invertebrate fossil Lagerstätten from Brazil and northern Chile (Martill). Demonstration that combined spectral and morphological information can be used to identify fossil and viable bacterial life in terrestrial and extraterrestrial material (Steele).

D. Biodiversity: (Category A Staff: Moss, Bremer, Cragg, Eaton, Fletcher, Jenkins, Sautreau, Watson; Category C Staff: Chamberlain, Fisher, Molitoris; New Staff: Guyard) This group investigates taxonomy, biogeography and effects of environmental stressors on eukaryotes, especially aquatic fungi and protists, marine macroalgae, marine invertebrates and mammalian parasites. These organisms are also evaluated as a source of novel natural products and as potential ecotoxicological bioassays. Non-salaried specialists enhance the range of taxonomic and biogeographic expertise: Chamberlain, Scott, Steentoft (algae); Fisher, Molitoris (fungi); Thorp (polychaetes). This expertise benefits collaborations with the Human Impact, Materials in the Environment and the Palaeobiology groups and external research groups. Current and funded projected investigations include: social and economic interactions with biodiversity in Sri Lankan mangals; the wood-boring fauna and mycota of the northeastern Atlantic; the fungal flora of Thailand; monographic descriptions of European and South African algal floras; environmental control of reproduction of polychaetes; dynamics of bot fly infection of New Forest ponies; development of diagnostic techniques for detection of parasitic protists in waste water; use of endemic Asian fungal pathogens of insects in biocontrol of vectors for human diseases; medical uses of plant-derived chemicals; characterisation of microbial degradation in deep sea or hypersaline environments of bacterial biopolymers; modelling benthic invertebrate gene flow; molecular systematics of marine fungi; agroactive metabolites from marine fungi; exploitation of thaustochytrid biosynthesis for animal nutrition and human metabolism studies.

Major achievements since RAE96 include: Demonstration of the aquaculture potential of thraustochytrid natural products (Bremer). Elucidation of mechanism of competitive interaction between coralline algae and corals (Chamberlain). Identification of diagnostic larval features of bivalve taxa (Cragg). Experimental demonstration of effects of climate change on fungal recycling in the Arctic (Fisher). Cryopreservation of algal spores for bioassays (Fletcher). Demonstration of nematode control by algal extracts (Jenkins). Characterisation of the Dead Sea fungal flora (Molitoris). First observation of a Golgi body within the true fungi (Moss). Characterisation of new natural compounds (steroids, chromones and coumarins) (Sautreau). Identification of the role of environmental and chemical signals in reproduction of three polychaete species (Watson).

E. Human Impact on the Aquatic Environment: (Category A Staff: Fletcher, Campbell, Cragg, Eaton, Greenwood, Jenkins, Salt, Walsh, Waring, Watson) This group focuses on anthropogenic effects on coastal and aquatic environments. Particular areas of interest are: introduced algal species, electrochemical and biological treatment of wastewater, eutrophication, pest control, impact of biocides on invertebrate behaviour and on fish physiology. The multidisciplinary approach required to effectively address this subject area is reflected in the range of skills within the group and in its particularly broad collaborative links. Expertise drawn from within the University includes: chemical analysis, molecular design (UoA11), bacteriology and wastewater handling technology (UoA28). Current and projected funded studies include: impact of bow wave wash on intertidal biota; development of marine perspective for CEN and OECD environmental risk assessment protocols and wood in service hazard guidelines; microbial remediation of waste wood; effects of pesticides in ground water at salmonid nests on embryological development; control of the invasive signal crayfish, using chemical signals.

Major achievements since RAE96 include: Characterisation of the influence of organic additives on the kinetics of metal deposition for effluent treatment (Campbell, Walsh). Application of aerogel and activated carbon electrode technology for water sterilisation (Campbell, Walsh). Demonstration of stimulus to swimming behaviour of bivalve larvae by inorganic pollutants (Cragg). Measurement of environmental risk from wood preservatives in the marine environment (Cragg, Eaton). Demonstration of the potential of „green tide“ algae in waste water treatment (Fletcher). Invention of a passive sampling device for monitoring aquatic pollution (Greenwood). Development of mathematical models for the efficient airborne delivery of pesticides (Salt). Process monitoring of the electrochemical removal of toxic metal ions from dilute solution using in-line ion selective electrodes (Walsh). Demonstration of blood hormone changes in fish subjected to various anthropogenic environmental stressors; demonstration of the importance of sex pheromones in salmonid reproduction (Waring).

F. Materials in the Environment: (Category A Staff: Beech, D Barker, Bremer, Campbell, Cox, Cragg, Eaton, Fletcher, Smith, Timms; Category A* Staff: Walsh) This group adopts multi and interdisciplinary approaches to the study of behaviour of materials including metals and their alloys, mortar and wood under a range of environmental conditions (i.e. biotic and abiotic influences). Specific research areas include deterioration of materials in aquatic habitats due to biological agents such as biofilms, biofouling and biocorrosion phenomena, and to chemical and physical factors such as chemical corrosion.The prevention of these processes through conservation, application of protective coatings, the use of new materials and treatment with chemical agents (biocides) is also studied. Characterisation of materials and interfaces by experimentation and theoretical modelling and alternative energy systems (e.g. solar energy conversion processes). Advanced ion-exchange membranes for fuel cells and microhydropower systems are also included, as is the environmental impact of radiation.

Major achievements since RAE 1996 include: Novel conservation techniques for protection of marine cultural heritage (e.g. extremely large metal artefacts) (D Barker). Development of coherent corrosion-resistant pore-free nickel coatings; identification of mechanisms of marine corrosion via oxygen reduction; characterisation of parameters for electrodeposition of metallic coatings (D Barker, Walsh). Demonstration of the role of bacterial species specificity in biocorrosion of mild steel; development of the first statistical model for marine biocorrosion risk assessment of steel piling in European harbours resulting in alternation to British Standards in Civil Engineering; design of a molecular probe and a novel nutrient medium for rapid detection of sulphate-reducing bacteria in terrestrial and aquatic habitats; pioneering ESEM/EDX, AFM, ToF-SIMS and XPS studies of biofilm/metal, biofilm/mortar interactions to demonstrate the effect of biofilms on marine corrosion of stainless steel and reveal the performance of novel protective treatment for mortars in European historic monuments (Beech). Electrochemical and spectroscopic characterisation of advanced ion exchange membranes for hydrogen oxygen fuel cells (Campbell, Smith, Walsh). Synthesis of corrosion resistant polymeric coatings; determination of the compliance of copper-resistant marine bacteria from AFM nanoindentation measurements (Campbell, Smith). Development of a Monte Carlo-simulated annealing protocol that predicts the location of organic template molecules inside inorganic zeolite frameworks, now incorporated into commercial modelling software (Cox). Detection of an unexpected positive settlement response by invertebrates to biocide-treated wood (Cragg, Eaton). Elucidation of mechanisms involved in fouling by macroalgae (Fletcher). Successful application of radiation physics to the development of models to calculate the gamma dose received by persons exposed to radio-caesium contamination in the Chernobyl-contaminated regions of Belarus (Timms). Simulation of flow corrosion using novel rotating cylinder electrodes (Walsh, Barker). Development of a batch reactor model for clean electrosynthesis at 2- and 3-dimensional electrodes; production of flow distribution models for filter-press, chlor-alkali and redox flow cells; design and characterisation of reaction environment and electrode materials for regenerative fuel cells; scale-up of a range of such fuel cells for load levelling in power stations – from laboratory to industrial pilot plant (Walsh).

Postgraduate Training
All new PhD students in the Science Faculty are required to attend a taught course in research methods. On successful completion they receive a Postgraduate Certificate in Research Methods (35 credits at Masters level). The formal programme of lectures and workshops covers the following topics: research tools, research methods for laboratory scientists, presentation and teaching skills and writing for research. Formal assessment is by coursework: a literature review, a written research proposal and an oral presentation.

PhD students are registered (initially for MPhil) by application to the Science Faculty Research Degrees Sub-Committee. All students have at least two supervisors. The Professional Development Unit of the University offers courses for training for postgraduate supervisors which are recommended for all staff and are obligatory for new appointees. During the second year students are required to present an MPhil to PhD transfer report which must be approved by the Sub-Committee, who may also arrange to interview the student. In addition, successful completion of the Postgraduate Certificate in Research Methods is required prior to transfer of registration.

Supervisors are expected to have regular informal contact with their research students and to hold weekly meetings of their research team where the progress of students’ work is discussed in detail. All research students are required to present their work at least once in the fortnightly seminar programme organised by the Centre. Their attendance and participation by oral or poster presentation at 1-2 national conferences per year is encouraged and most students are able to attend at least one international conference during the tenure of their award. Various international research organisations and industries have regularly funded such attendance by research students from the Centre. Early publication of results in quality journals is strongly encouraged.

Staffing Policy
The Centre contributes to the appointment process of new academic staff by advising on the strength of postdoctoral experience, relevance of research interests to Centre strategy and evidence of productivity. The research progress of new staff is fostered by mentors working to University guidelines, and is assisted by application for internal and external (e.g. Nuffield, Royal Society) start-up funds. The University offers annual Research Skills Development Workshops, for example, ‘Writing Research Grant Applications’, and ‘Writing for Publication’, specifically aimed at new staff.
Duties of demonstrably active researchers are tailored to permit effective pursuit of research goals, with release from other responsibilities against agreed research outputs being managed by heads of school. All staff are expected to publish in appropriate high quality journals and participate actively in appropriate external research activities. The University Research Office assists the research groups in monitoring funding opportunities and in preparing well-targeted applications. Following career breaks (such as maternity leave) maintenance of research impetus is encouraged by mentoring and reduction in other responsibilities. Dissemination of research experience throughout the Centre is ensured by the research group structure.

Users of this website should note that the information is not intended to be a complete record of all research centres in the UK

Copyright 2002 - HEFCE, SHEFC, ELWa, DEL

Last updated 17 October 2003

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