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UOA 17 - Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences

University of Bedfordshire

RA5a: Research environment and esteem

The staff submitted to UoA 17 (Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences) belong to the Luton Institute of Research in the Applied Natural Sciences (LIRANS), one of 8 research institutes within the University of Bedfordshire. Research institutes have dedicated budgets and all research related income (grants, contracts, research fees, etc.) and expenditure is through the institute’s budget.


LIRANS has three areas of research with applications in environmental science – sensor technology, cryobiology and environmental monitoring.

In the period 2001 – 2007 the Institute has achieved –

40+ Refereed publications
50+ Conference contributions
7 PhD awards

Research Structure

Promoting and Sustaining Research


All aspects of the Institute’s activity are the responsibility of the Director, Professor David Rawson, supported by the management board comprising senior researchers and a research degree student representative. The board meets formally 4 times a year to consider reports on progress of research programmes, publications and research outputs, budget and staffing issues, health and safety, ethical matters and strategic plans. The board provides two representatives to the University Research Degrees Committee and the University Research Committee.


The strong collegiate nature of the research institute has ensured mutual support across the different research themes, enabling a continuity of key themes and the establishment of a vibrant research environment. A core of staff – Rawson, Haggett, Zhang and Duncan - has sustained research in the applied natural sciences through difficult periods of course provision in the general areas of science, by achieving and maintaining a self-financing status. The Institute is now beginning to benefit from the recent appointment of Crabbe (Dean of Faculty, 2005); and two new lectureship appointments in the faculty – Thompsett (2006) and Ahmed (2005).  The University has made two two new appointments of staff linked to LIRANS, and Drs Emma Spikings and Fataneh Ghafari took up their posts on 1st October 2007.  They bring expertise in the areas of cell and molecular biology, which have been targeted in our strategic planning.




In October 2007 the research institute relocated to dedicated research accommodation on the new Butterfield Business and Technology Park in Luton. The fit-out of this new 5000sq ft facility was funded by the University’s total SRIF3 grant of £470K. It provides state of the art laboratory and office accommodation, with a large open plan laboratory plus specialist laboratories for cell and molecular biology, cryobiology, sensor technology, electrochemistry and a fish breeding facility.

The laboratories will have full temperature controlled environment and a high specification of equipment in the areas of electro-chemistry/sensor technology – electrochemistry work stations, full screen printing and sensor fabrication facilities, uHPLC; and in cryobiology – cryo-microscope, computer controlled slow coolers, RT-PCR,  -80oC freezers, vitrification equipment, micro-injection facilities, impedance spectroscopy, cryo-banking facilities.


The Institute is well served by the University library, with a specialist librarian for the natural sciences and provision of on-line access to journals, interlibrary loans and journal papers from British Library. The Institute’s computing and IT needs are serviced by Computer Services. PC and peripheral hardware (colour and B&W printers and scanners) are covered by the University’s up-date replacement scheme. 


The Institute sets aside a budget of £3,000p.a. to support staff and student conference attendance and travel that is not covered by such provision within research grant or contract budgets.


Research Groups


The Sensor Research Group


Established by the institute’s director, Professor David Rawson, in 1986 the group is now led by Dr Barry Haggett. The group includes Professors Brian Birch, Les Ebdon and David Rawson, post-doctoral researcher Roberto Andres, research assistant Gowri Dep, and research student Yurong Ding. The group’s early work was on whole cell biosensors, and this theme continues with the use of cell-based biosensors in toxicity assessment and environmental quality determinations.  The current programme is exploring the use of such sensors for assessment of heavy metals in agricultural soils.


The Sensor Research Group continues to work with a range of public and private sector organisations to develop a variety of electrochemical sensors. The range of applications has changed over the years and at this time is orientated towards industrial, professional and consumer applications in health and well-being. A range of biochemical sensors have been developed for multi-national companies and organisations (including Unilever, Unipath, Nestle, Kellogg’s, DEFRA) for applications in health and nutrition (including vitamin C, blood glucose), and these developments also continue to inform environmental applications.  


The research programmes in this area have benefited from a number of  post-doctoral appointments which ended during the RAE period – Drs Anne Atkinson (1990 – 2003), John Dilleen (1996 – 2002), Steve Edwards (01/2001 – 12/2002), Jan Jezek (08/2000 – 06/2002), and Rashid Kadara (04/2004 – 03/2007), and PG research assistants Sue McIntyre (01/2001 – 12/2002, and Derek Law (01/2001 – 04/2003). Research studentships have been supported in the non-commercial areas of environmental sensor development – Radhika Bhatia (PhD 2004) now Post-Doc University of Durham, and research scientist Hannah Wex (PhD 2004), now working for Provalis plc.

Professors Ebdon and Birch retain substantial experience and expertise in the field of ion-selective electrodes (ISE), and two areas of work are being taken forward –

        the development of ion-selective electrodes with ionophores covalently bound to rubber membranes, optimised for long-term monitoring work and applied in new areas; and

        following the seminal work of Bakker et al. in elucidating the mechanism limiting the limit of detection of PVC-membrane based electrodes, the group is collaborating with the Materials Science department at Leeds to develop solid-state ISE with sub-ppb detection limits.

Planned future developments in environmental sensors also include

        the development for disposable whole cell biosensors for in situ monitoring of soils for organic and heavy metal toxicants, led by Professor Rawson in collaboration with Professor Steve McGrath at Rothamsted Research; and

        a collaboration on the development of lab-on-a-chip devices incorporating screen-printed structures –in collaboration with the University of Manchester and being taken forward with the National Physical Laboratory, led by Dr Haggett and Professor Birch.


The group has two visiting professors - Michael Catt (Unilever Research) and Arnold Fogg (ex- University of Loughborough) who provide international experience and respect in the areas of, respectively, commercialisation of immunosensing systems (ten patent families) and electroanalytical chemistry (270+ publications).  Michael and Arnold use their knowledge and experiences to reinforce the in-house expertise and electrochemical development work carried out by the Sensor Research Group - as well as contributing to the wider work of the Institute, e.g. editing of papers, constructive criticism of strategy and contributing to teaching.



The Cryobiology Research Group


Established 10 years ago, following the early work of Rawson and Zhang on the barriers to zebrafish embryo cryopreservation. Professor Zhang now leads the group, supported by Professor Rawson.  It includes 6 PhD and 5 MSc by Research students. The group has 7 visiting professors, who contribute to the lectures and seminar programmes of the taught MSc in Cryobiology, and the MSc (by Research) and research seminars, for example the seminar series for the Post-Graduate Medical School in 2006.   They also advise and support the Institute on the development of new collaborative research opportunities.

The cryobiology research programmes have worked with the model species Danio rerio (the zebrafish), to develop cryopreservation protocols for embryos and oocytes. Such material has yet to be successfully cryopreserved, and it is widely regarded as vital that such a preservation procedure is available for fish and other lower vertebrate species to support conservation, aquaculture and human genomics (where fish are important model organisms). During the RAE period research on early stage embryos has been supported by the Wellcome Trust Functional Genomics programme (Rawson applicant and principal investigator - GR069889MA), and the oocyte research by the EU FPV ‘CRYOCYTE’ programme (Rawson and Zhang - joint applicants and principal Investigators - CRYOCYTE Ref. QLRT-2001-00784).

Both these grant aided programmes allowed novel approaches and lines of enquiry. The Wellcome Trust project set out to develop novel approaches to the assessment of cryoprotocols – in particular the use of ultra-sound assisted penetration of cryoprotectants, and the monitoring of cryoprotectant levels by impedance spectroscopy. Both approaches have been successful and will be used in future studies. The ‘CRYOCYTE’ programme enabled the consortium to investigate the potential for cryopreservation of immature fish oocytes, which had previously not been well explored; and to start to develop molecular fingerprints for use in viability assessment.


Three post-doctoral researchers have been involved in the cryobiology programmes – Dr Yu Wang (2001 – 2003) now at Olympus (Ireland). Dr Serean Adams (07/2003 – 07/2004, left to take up senior scientist post at Cawthron, New Zealand). Julia Kopeika (09/2004 – 01,2006) who had a medical degree joined Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital as a gynaecologist. PhDs were awarded to Julia Kopeika (2003), Max Plachinta (2007) and Fataneh Ghafari 2007 - to-date.


Future cryobiology research will be greatly assisted by the recent decision of the University to fund two new posts within the group from October 2007. These posts in cell and molecular biology will support two new lines of enquiry –

        the impact of cryopreservation on zygotic gene expression in the early embryo, which could have serious implications for cryobanking of embryo; and

        the optimisation of cryopreservation protocols to reduce the risk of mitochondrial damage and apoptosis.

These two areas both have relevance in conservation and will inform another area of future research –

        cryoconservation, a new initiative in which the group has been invited by the Frozen Ark Project to co-ordinate the ‘banking’ of viable cells and DNA of endangered fish species. In the UK, specimen material will be held in the Natural History Museum London, and at LIRANS; other specimens will be held in the country of origin using the same collection and preservation protocols as determined at LIRANS. The project will be led by Professor Rawson, who organized and chaired the Cryo-conservation session at the CRYO ’07 meeting in Canada.


The Environmental Monitoring Group


The group is led by Professor James Crabbe. In the last few years environmental monitoring research at the University has focused on the interaction between humans and ecological & geological ecosystems. A particular theme in the volcanological research has been to explore interdisciplinary aspects in particular with regard to to the interaction with human activity. This has led to publications that lie outside mainstream environmental science – for example Duncan AM, Chester DK & Guest JE 2005 Eruptive activity of Etna before A.D. 1600, with particular reference to the classical period. In: M S Balmuth et al. (Eds) Cultural responses to the volcanic landscape: The Mediterranean and beyond pp57-70 Archaeological Institute of America monograph; Chester DK, Duncan AM, Wetton P & Wetton R 2007 Responses of the Anglo-American military authorities to the eruption of Vesuvius, March 1944. Journal of Historical Geography 33, 168-196 and Chester DK and Duncan AM Lieutenant-Colonel Delmé-Radcliffe’s report on the 1906 eruption of Vesuvius, Italy. J. Volcanology & Geothermal Research 166, 204-216.

Current research embraces a number of themes : (i) investigating volcanic processes, in particular lava flows, to better understand the hazard to humans and animals; (ii) consider ways of reducing vulnerability through research into the nature of communities living on the flanks of volcanoes; (iii) investigating anthropogenic and climatic changes to coral reef ecosystems; (iv) studying quaternary and modern coral reef ecosystems in the Indo-Pacific and (v) the phylogenetic analysis of zooxanthellae clades in relation to environmental conditions..


The environmental monitoring group has benefited from long standing collaborative partnerships with the Universities of Liverpool, Reading, University College London, the University of the West Indies, the Bermuda Biological Station for Research Inc. (BBSR), and the University of the Azores. Emplacement of Lava Flow-fields on Mount Etna, Sicily has been a major area of research with colleagues from University College London, Proxemy Research USA, and Black Hills State University USA. The group has had long-term funding from the Earthwatch Institute since 2001 (c. $20,000 p.a.), as well as from the Wellcome Trust to MJCC and collaborators from Reading University. The last was £235,000 from the Wellcome Trust for three years to study ‘A genomics and proteomics approach to understanding the effect of protein glycation and advanced glycation endproduct (AGE) formation and fermentation by human colonic bacteria and the implications for lower gut health’.  This has resulted in one publication to date (Kieran M. Tuohy , Davinia J. S. Hinton, Sarah J. Davies, M. James C. Crabbe, Glenn R. Gibson and Jennifer M. Ames (2006) Metabolism of Maillard reaction products by the human gut microbiota - implications for health. Molecular Nutrition and Food Research. 50, 847-857) and one other has been submitted. Recent collaborative research on the effect of climate change to coral reefs (MJCC, Reading and  BBSRC) resulted in award of a Samual Riker Fellowship to MJCC, as well as a joint publication in a book on climate change published by Cambridge University Press (Crabbe, M.J.C., Walker, E.L.L. & Stephenson, D.B. (2008) The impact of weather and climate extremes on coral growth. In : H. Diaz & R. Murnane (Eds.) Climate Extremes and Society. Cambridge University Press.  In the press.). Recent research has been on coral reef studies related to conservation and capacity building for sustainable development in Belize; this has resulted in two papers currently submitted on the effects of hurricanes on coral recruitment in the MesoAmerican barrier reef.


In 2002 Paul Cole was awarded research funds as a participant on the EU Framework V programme as part of the EXPLORIS project (EVR1-2001-00047). Paul Cole subsequently moved to Coventry University. The grant was administered through the University of Bedfordshire.  In addition to his prime role in  EXPLORIS, Paul Cole retained collaborative links with Bedfordshire (e. joint publication with Angus Duncan, e.g. outcome 4; director of studies for successful PhD completion of S Dunning 2005). 


Supporting staff and students


LIRANS provides a strong supportive environment for staff and students.




The University has a well established staff mentoring scheme that is particularly beneficial for research staff. The University and the Institute provide support for new and existing research staff through research training programs, financial support for attendance at seminars and conferences.


Supervision workshops are run for staff wishing to undertake research degree student supervision, and research degree supervision is undertaken by a team of two or three supervisors, enabling new supervisors to be supported by experienced members of the team. Regular meetings of all staff within the institute ensures that all research programmes are reviewed and ideas, issues and concerns are discussed. In this way, all staff benefit from the corporate team expertise.


Post-doctoral researchers are full members of academic staff, and enjoy all the privileges of academic staff on standard contracts. Post-doctoral researchers attend the University induction programmes, and have mentors in departments outside of their own. The Institute has a policy of seeking standard contracts wherever appropriate for post-docs wishing to remain following the end of fixed term contracts. Professor Zhang, and Dr Haggett are current members of the team who benefited from this policy in the past, and Dr Andres has this year been moved onto a standard contract after completing a 2 year contract.




Research students’ support and training is undertaken by both the Institute and the University Research Graduate School (RGS). RGS support covers all aspects of the students’ progression from registration through to examination, and includes a University wide student induction programme, research training programs, and the development of a Professional Development Porfolio (PDP) file covering their period of registration. Subject specific research training is provided by the Institute, and students are encouraged and supported to attend and contribute to seminars and conferences. Professor Zhang is the Research Student Tutor for the Institute, ensuring all procedures operate effectively, including regular, recorded meetings between students and supervisors.


Research students are encouraged to join the University Research Student Support Group, run by and for research degree students across the University.


Support for Visitors and Seminar Programmes


The institute has 9 visiting professors, 7 linked to the Cryobiology Research Group (CRG) and 2 to the Sensor Research Group (SRG):


        Prof Barry Fuller, Royal Free and University College Medical School, London (CRG)

        Prof Bill Holt, Institute of Zoology, London (CRG)

        Prof David Pegg, University of York (CRG)

        Prof Hugh Pritchard, Royal Botanical Gardens Kew, Ardingly (CRG)

        Prof Glyn Stacey, National Institute for Biological Standards and Control, South Mimms (CRG)

        Prof Paul Watson, Royal Veterinary College, London (CRG)

        Prof Greg Elgar, Queen Mary College, University of London (CRG)

        Prof Michael Catt, Unilever plc (SRG)

        Prof Arnold Fogg, University of Loughborough (SRG)


The Institute places great importance on the role of its visiting professors, who provide an important external point of reference for the research within LIRANS, and make major contributions to seminar and workshops. Workshops are also organised to invite external speakers on specific topics, such as the annual lecture series on cryopreservation, given by the visiting professors. Regular seminars are organised for senior researchers, post-docs and students to give presentations on their research.


Dr. Bushra Ahmed

Invited seminar - Efficient delivery of Cre-recombinase to adult mouse brain using adeno-associated and lentiviral vectors (August 19, 2003). Invited by HEJ Research Institute, University of Karachi, Pakistan.


Professor James Crabbe


Sole Recipient of the Aviva/Earthwatch International Award 2006 for climate change research

Visiting Professor at University of Reading and Beijing Normal University, and Supernumerary Fellow, Wolfson College, Oxford

Member of the MRC Advisory Board & College of Experts, and EPSRC Peer Review College

Editor-in-chief, Computational Biology and Chemistry ; Member of Editorial Boards of International Journal of Integrative Biology, Molecular Vision, Medicinal Chemistry, Drug Design Reviews, Graefe’s Archive for Clinical and Experimental Ophthalmology, Open Ophthalmology Journal

Invited Plenary Speaker (paid for) at International conferences in India, China, Tibet, Kenya, Hungary, Boston, Bermuda, Washington, Cambridge, London


Angus Duncan


Advisor to the Scientific Council of the Centro de Vulcanologia, University of the Azores, provided formal advice during the seismic crisis of Fogo Volcano in June 2005, which advised the Civil Defence4 - ; Applied Organometallic Chemistry, 1991 - ; ICP Information Newsletter,1988 - ; Journal of Automatic Chemistry, 1988 - . Journal Environmental Monitoring, RSC, 1991-2005; Journal Analytical Atomic Spectrometry, RSC, 1991-2005.

Membership: RSC Publications Board; RSC Council, 1996-2007; Chair RSC, Strategy and Resources Board, 2003-2006; DEFRA, Central Science Laboratory, Laboratory Advisory Board, 2002 - ; DIUS Measurement Board, 2007 - ; DTI Measurement Advisory Committee, 2000-2006; Chair, Valid Analytical Measurement Advisory Committee, 2000-2006; EPSRC Structure and Bonding College, 1995-2005; National Council for Educational Excellence

President, European Virtual Institute for Speciation Analysis, 2005 -.


Dr Barry Haggett


Principal investigator and joint-PI for measurement science projects funded by UK and overseas-based multi-national companies and others. Chief Investigator on an NHS multi-site research project.

Referee/evaluator for EPSRC research projects.
Referee for Biosensors and Bioelectronics.


Professor David Rawson


Member  Frozen Ark Steering Group (2006 – ), co-ordinator of fish cryo-banking programme.
Guest speaker - Marine Biotechnological Industry and Science Conference. Taiwan, 2003.
Invited speaker – Workshop on Conservation of Endangered Fish Species. Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC, 2001.
Invited speaker - IIR  and Society of Low Temperature Biology, ‘Cryopreservation for conservation of animal biodiversity’. Czech Republic, 2002.

Session organiser and Chair – ‘Cryo-conservation’; Cryobiological Society ‘CRYO’2007’, Lake Louise, Canada, July 2007.
Session Chairman - Conservation of Genetic Resources, St Petersburg, 2004.
Chairman, Organising Committee, Royal Society of Chemistry “Environmental Toxicology: Diagnostics”.  Edinburgh 2004.

Member Cryobiology editorial board (2005 – )


Dr Andrew Thompsett


Joined the University in Feb 2006 following a research officer post at Bath.

Marie Curie individual resarch fellow 1999-2002 held at The Magnetic Resonance Centre (CERN), Florence.
Invited speaker – FENS Advanced Course: New molecular strategies to treat neurodegerative diseases, Ofir, Portugal (2004).
Invited speaker – One day symposium on Chemcial Biology, University of Cardiff (2005).


Prof Tiantian Zhang


Chairman of Society for Low Temperature Biology (2005-2008).
General Secretary (1997-1999), Treasurer (2001 - 2004) Committee Member (1996-1999).

Invited speaker –

Society for Cryobiology, Lake Louise, Canada, 2007: and Minneapolis, 2005.
Conservation of Genetic resources, St Petersburg, 2004.
Conservation of Endangered Fish Species. Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC, 2001.

Conference organiser –

Symposium on ‘Cryobiology in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation’, Minneapolis, 2005.
SLTB. Luton, UK, 2001.

Session Chairs –

SLTB, Derby, 2007; Cryo2006, Hamburg, Germany, 2006 and Society for Cryobiology, Minneapolis, 2005.

Member Editorial Board - Journal of Animal Reproduction Science (2004 - present), and Journal Cryo-Letters (2000 – 2003, 2006-present).