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Heriot-Watt BGS Exchange Event fosters Lyell Centre collaborations


Nearly 40 research leaders from Heriot-Watt University and the British Geological Survey (BGS) came together last week at an inaugural 'Heriot-Watt -BGS Exchange Event' aimed at developing innovative ideas for research collaboration within their new, joint research institute – the Sir Charles Lyell Centre.

Sir Charles Lyell Centre for Earth and Marine Science & Technology

The intensive, two-day Exchange Event took place at Heriot-Watt University and was chaired by Professor Alan Miller, Deputy Principal for Research & KT and facilitated by science broadcaster, Quentin Cooper. In addition to interactive sessions on collaboration and interdisciplinarity, the event included contributions from a host of senior research directors who discussed how an interdisciplinary approach significantly contributes to research success and impact.

Amongst the BGS contributors were Professor Mike Stephenson, Director of Science and Technology; Mr Bob Gatliff, Director of Energy and Marine Geoscience; and Dr Carol Cotterill, a highly experienced Marine and Coastal Geoscientist. Heriot-Watt University presenters included Professor John Underhill, Chair of Geoscience Exploration; Professor Garry Pender, Head of the School of Earth Science, Energy and the Built Environment; and Professor Murray Roberts, Director of the Centre for Marine Biodiversity & Biotechnology.

Professor Murray Roberts said, "The new Lyell Centre will bring together a diverse mix of experts in petroleum engineering and geoscience through to researchers working on the ecological impacts of global climate change. This Exchange Event was a really important step along the road to building the interdisciplinary research the Lyell Centre will need to tackle the grand challenges of sustainable development in a rapidly changing world."

A wide range of disciplines was represented amongst the participants of the Exchange Event – from marine biology and petroleum engineering, to geophysics and hydro-geology. All had been specially selected to take part, with some travelling from as far afield as the Geological Survey, Northern Ireland, Belfast; the International Centre for Island Technology, Orkney; and the BGS Environmental Science Centre, Keyworth, Nottingham. Heriot-Watt University participant, Dr Heather Haynes, Associate Professor in Sediment Processes said of the Exchange Event, "...[we had] stimulating discussions which have opened my eyes to areas of geoscience research where our collaboration can make a huge impact in addressing today's societal challenges."

Interdisciplinary projects

The participants were challenged to formulate novel proposals for interdisciplinary projects which they pitched to a panel at the end of the event. The winning team brought together specialists from three distinct areas of BGS - environmental modelling (Dr Murray Lark), structural characteristics of fault zones (Dr Rachel Ellen) and CO2 capture and storage (Dr Andy Chadwick) – together with specialists from Heriot-Watt University in fibre optic sensing, additive manufacturing and high power lasers (Dr Robert Maier and colleagues).

The group aimed to develop 'Intelligent Porous Rock' to enable the study of flow processes taking place inside rocks, soil and other permeable materials which are important for oil and gas, groundwater, and carbon capture and storage. Dr Robert Maier said, "Our proposed project is ground breaking in combining individual technologies to deliver a highly valuable outcome. Its impact will be felt across widely differing technological areas".

Engaging Researchers

Engaging with the public and policymakers via collaborative research was another theme explored during the Exchange Event and included contributions from Professor Stuart Munro, Scientific Director of Our Dynamic Earth; Professor Dorrik Stow, Head of the Institute of Petroleum Engineering; and Dr Laura Wicks, Public Engagement Coordinator from HW Engage. Further keynote presentations exploring the potential for collaborative research presented by the formation of the Lyell Centre were given by specially invited guests, Professor Iain Gillespie, Director of Science and Innovation, NERC; Dr Susan Davies, Deputy Director of RESAS, Scottish Government; and Professor Paul Hagan, Director of Research & Innovation, Scottish Funding Council. Prof Hagan said, "The Heriot-Watt-BGS Exchange Event has confirmed my view that the Lyell Centre is a fantastic opportunity. Heriot-Watt University and the British Geological Survey are clearly working hard to make it happen."

The 'Heriot-Watt-BGS Exchange Event' was organised by the Centre for Academic Leadership & Development (ALD), Heriot-Watt University in collaboration with colleagues from the British Geological Survey and the School of Life Sciences, Heriot-Watt University.