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Academics at the University of Ulster were awarded approximately £14million in research grants for the academic year 2010/11 – almost £2 million up on the previous year, despite the economic downturn.

Research  grants were awarded  to each of Ulster’s six faculties and across all four campuses, highlighting research excellence throughout the University with major awards  going to nursing, biomedical sciences, engineering, environmental sciences, robotics and nanotechnology.

Just over one third of all research funding came from the EU and, in particular, the Framework 7 programme. Two of the largest EU funded grants went to the School of Nursing and the Institute of Nursing Research for research into congenital anomalies.

The European Surveillance of Congenital Anomalies (EUROCAT) project led by Professor Dolk, Professor of Epidemiology & Health Services Research, secured £949,738 while the  Euromedicat project ‘Safety of Medication use in pregnancy in relation to risk of congenital malformations’ led by Professors Dolk and Sinclair and Maria Loane was also awarded £824,739. 

Both projects conduct research and surveillance to lead to more effective primary prevention of congenital anomalies such as spina bifida and heart defects.  EUROmediCAT concentrates on assessing the risks of use in early pregnancy of antiepileptics, antidiabetics, antidepressants and antiasthmatics, as well as other issues such as implications of internet advice and purchasing, and the effectiveness of pregnancy prevention programmes for known malformation causing drugs such as isotretinoin.

A robotics project led by Professor Martin McGinnity, Director of the Intelligent Systems Research Centre at the Magee campus secured £384,860. RUBICON (Robotic UBIquitous COgnitive Network) aims to create a self-learning robotic ecology, consisting of a network of sensors, effectors and mobile robot devices that will have a variety of applications in the healthcare, service and entertainment sectors. 

Other EU funded projects included: Fire Risks Assessment and Increase of Passenger Survivabiilty (£288,302), led by Professor Michael Delichatsios, Acting Director of Fire Dynamics and Flammability; Seaweed derived anti-inflammatory agents and andioxidants by the School of Biomedical Sciences (£251,694); Personalised nutrition: an Integrated analysis of opportunities and challenges by the Schools of Biomedical Sciences and Psychology (£248,071); Development of a targeted ecological modelling tool for lake management led by Professor Brian Rippey of the School of Environment Sciences  (£236,923).

A joint project between Dr Dario Fornara, who lectures in Terrestrial Ecology in the School of Environmental Sciences, the Central Fisheries Board and Queen’s University, Belfast was awarded £248,122 for research into controlling priority invasive non native riparian plans and restoring native biodiversity.

In addition to EU funding, Ulster secured research grants from a variety of other sources, including UK government; other EU countries; the Research Council and UK charities.Ulster's Engineering Research Institute led by Professor Jim McLaughlin was awarded a £1.8 million grant as part of a joint Ulster-QUB-Bombardier £6 million package funded by InvestNI, BIS and Bombardier to build a new Composites and Advanced Engineering Research Centre.

The research centre – currently under construction at the Bombardier Titanic Quarter site and will be launched in November 2011 – will encourage more companies to collaborate on R&D projects, potentially leading to the development of cutting edge, commercially successful new products within the advanced manufacturing sector which is key to economic recovery. The Engineering Composites Research Centre within the Engineering Research Institute at Ulster will focus on new composites materials research.

The largest grant from the UK Government source (£473,000) went to Professors Paul Maguire and Jim McLaughlin, Engineering Research Institute for the ‘Development of a Total Dissolved Inorganic Carbon Sensor for Ocean Profilers using Micro fluidics’. The project was DEL funded under the US-Ireland programme and part of a joint £1M Scripps-UCLA and NUI Galway award.

Professor James Davis, from the Engineering Research Institute was awarded £190,038 by the UK Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC) for  research into Smart composites for minimising bacterial bio film.

Dr Maxim Fomin and Professor Emeritus Séamus Mac Mathúna of the Irish and Celtic Studies Research Institute, secured Research Council funding of £167,000 for their research into supernatural personal accounts at sea (e.g. shipwrecks, drownings, storms, encounters with various sea creatures, phantom boats and the dead) and in coastal settings collected between 1850-2000.

Trish Belford, who is a Senior Research Fellow in the School of Art and Design at the Belfast Campus secured a Leverhulme Research Project Grant of £111,648 to investigate how traditional textile printing methodologies could be applied to contemporary designs.

Professor Hugh McKenna, Ulster’s Pro Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation said: “Once again researchers at the University of Ulster have shown that they can secure substantial research funds from prestigious national and international sources. The projects should have the desired impact on healthcare, society and the economy. The £2 million increase over last year’s total is particularly laudable considering the negative effect the recession is having on the resources of funding bodies.”