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Universities Minister David Willetts visits Durham for a briefing on new research

(10 July 2012)

David Willetts

The Minister of State for Universities and Science visited Durham University to see for himself some of the most interesting and innovative projects currently being undertaken at the University's world-leading Research Institutes, including the formal unveiling of a new £3.7 million supercomputer. 

The projects, which include new optical technology for heart research, simulations involving the new supercomputer being run by the Institute of Computational Cosmology and new methods of improving cleanliness in the home are just a few of the examples of how Durham University is blazing the way in innovation, technology transfer and partnerships with businesses globally.  

David Willetts’ first stop was the Biophysical Sciences Institute, where he was briefed on new non-invasive optical technology that is making it possible to study the beating hearts of live zebrafish. It is hoped this technology will lead to better diagnosis of heart conditions in humans.

He then saw a live demonstration of surface science methods which could be used to improve cleanliness, including dishwashing. This research was conducted in partnership with Procter & Gamble.

Last year a consortium involving Durham University and led by Procter & Gamble was awarded a £5.3m grant from the UK Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills' Regional Growth Fund (RGF) scheme. The award will contribute towards a combined strategic investment of £14m by the consortium, over a three year period, to establish a Centre of Excellence in Methods and New Technologies for Surface Modification and Cleaning (CEMENT) in the North East of England. Durham is currently Proctor & Gamble’s Global Business Development University Partner of the Year.

Mr Willetts also unveiled plaques to open a 3-D Projection Facility for Teaching and Research and the new £3.7 million supercomputer being run by the Institute of Computational Cosmology (ICC). The supercomputer’s tasks will include simulations of the Universe's development.

Professor Carlos Frenk, Director of the ICC said: 

"Modern scientific research, from recreating the evolution of the universe to designing life-saving drugs, relies heavily on supercomputing - the ``new mathematics'.' The machine opened today by the Minister of State is one of the most powerful in the UK and will be wholly dedicated to science. By investing in this technology, the government is demonstrating a firm commitment to scientific research, the foundation of the nation's prosperity."

He also saw key research within the Durham Energy Institute, including a laboratory related to the UK’s largest Smart Grid project, a £54 million programme aimed at improving energy efficiency and lowering carbon outputs. He then viewed the Durham University Solar Car (DUSC) which undergraduates have designed, built and raced in the US and Australia.

Professor Tom McLeish, Durham University's Pro Vice Chancellor said:

"We are delighted that the Minister has signified by his visit the partnership that Government, industry and leading research intensive universities like Durham are now developing. Working together will deliver the transformational new thinking that our great global challenges demand"

Mr Willetts said:

We have a world-leading research base in the UK, thanks to excellent institutions like Durham. Today’s visit has provided an insight into the range of exciting projects at the university, in particular the new £3.7 million supercomputer which I had the honour of formally unveiling. This is a great asset for the university that will support complex science and foster innovation.”

To view a video of the visit click here.

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