Research Round-up

Making advances with real impact

Research excellence is encouraged and nurtured across all our disciplines and career stages. Our researchers are generating distinctive, world-leading and impactful research, which we use to inspire and inform our students.

purple samples in research Methods in Human Biology

Research at Derby

Exploring the impact of Covid-19 on drug addiction recovery, developing a predictive system for monitoring dialysis patients' blood pressure levels, and boosting children's mental health through mindfulness programmes are just some of the impactful research projects taking place at Derby that are making a real difference.

icon147% increase in the number of research FTEs**Submitted to REF 2021
iconBetween 601 - 800 in the (THE) World University Rankings 2022**University improved its position
iconProject to assess the impact of Covid-19 and lockdown**on the recovery of people suffering from drug addiction
iconTechnique developed to help protect endangered species**based on PCR testing
icon£640,000 donation to create augmented reality representation**Legacy donation from Professor Richard Horsley Osborne
iconImproving career guidance leads to better student outcomes**evaluation of the Gatsby Benchmarks
icon£234,000 grant to fund a project to improve the outcome of dialysis treatment
iconStudy of 1,000 pupils shows mindfulness programmes can improve their mental health
iconData analysis may be used to effectively unravel organised criminal groups

Innovation and Research at Derby

This year, the University has built on the excellent progress already made towards achieving its ambitions around the Research Excellence Framework (REF) and the Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF).

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the system for assessing the quality of research in the UK higher education sector. The REF is a process of expert review, carried out by expert panels for each of the 34 subject-based units of assessment (UoAs) under the guidance of four main panels.

For REF 2021, the University submitted 10 UoAs in subjects including Allied Health Professionals, Social Work and Social Policy, Computing, and Art and Design. For each submission, three distinct elements are assessed: the quality of outputs, their impact beyond academia, and the environment that supports research.  

Our submission to REF 2021 showed an increase of 147% in the number of staff full-time equivalent (FTEs) submitted compared to REF 2014, and an average increase of 347% annual income when calculated over a five-year period. 

Activities following on from the submission of REF 2021, which are aligned to the Innovation and Research Strategy 2020-2026, are focused on six academic themes which will drive forward our future agenda. The six themes are Zero Carbon, Public Services, Data Science, Business, Economic & Social Policy, Creative Industries, and Biomedical Sciences. 

One of our Innovation and Research Strategy priorities includes investing in talent and we have already recruited four impact officers, 20 Early Career Academics and offered 12 funded MPhil/PhD Studentships to support this.

Covid-19 research leads to a rise in THE World Rankings

This year, the University improved its position in the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings 2022.

Derby’s rise in the rankings from 801 – 1000 last year to between 601 - 800 in the 2022 rankings of worldwide universities, has been linked to the Covid-19 focused research carried out by academics over the last year.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, researchers at Derby have worked on a range of projects in response to Covid-19, from recommendations to integrate sports and respiratory medicine in the aftermath of the pandemic and studies into technology to improve outcomes in patients, to reports on whether face masks can reduce transmission and developing a series of nature connectedness resources to support people.

Covid impact on drug addiction recovery

An international study of the impact that the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown has had on the recovery of people suffering from drug addiction was led by David Best, Professor of Criminology in the University’s College of Business, Law and Social Sciences.

Working with colleagues at other universities in the UK and in Europe, with the support of funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (part of UKRI), Professor Best and a consortium of researchers assessed the effects of the pandemic and societal responses to it on a group of former drug users who have described themselves as being in recovery.

The project builds on the outcomes of a successful study of gender and national differences in addiction recovery in the UK, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Covid-19 test technique to help protect endangered species

Academics at the University’s Aquatic Research Facility responded to the threat on native white-clawed crayfish using a technique similar to that used to detect Covid-19 in humans.

By examining and using the principles of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, which enables scientists to test very specific DNA profiles, the endangered UK species could be saved from extinction.

The decline of the white-clawed crayfish in Britain’s streams has resulted in them becoming difficult to find using conventional techniques used for monitoring waterways.

In Covid-19 testing, PCRs are used to detect antigens in the body to find out if someone has the virus. Our team has developed a method based on PCR testing which has enabled them to screen water samples to identify traces of the white-clawed species’ DNA.

It is hoped that the creation of this new method could help to stem the alarming reduction in reported sightings.

Donation of £640,000 received to deliver vision of a future Derby

The University received a generous legacy donation of £640,000 which will be used to deliver research that will create an augmented reality representation of Derby in the future.

Professor Richard Horsley Osborne passed away in 2018 at the age of 93 and left a substantial gift to the University in his will. As well as being interested in regional economic development, he was a founding trustee of the Derby Lonsdale College of Higher Education, and was among those who were key in setting the path for the institution to reach University status in 1992.

The Osborne legacy will fund a research project called ‘Derby’s Urban Sustainable Transition’ (DUST), focusing on the transition of Derby’s urban landscape towards a more environmentally sustainable future.

The three-year project will lay the groundwork for the long-term development of Derby city and surrounding areas, addressing issues of climate change, human and nature habitat management, sustainable mobility and transport, and integrated connectivity that enhances the lived experience of the citizens of Derby. The project will involve University partners, including Derby City Council, Toyota Manufacturing UK and international collaborative partners in Toyota City, Japan.

The legacy will fund, among other things, two post-doctoral researchers, each for a period of three years, as well as capital investment by the University for equipment in connection with the DUST project.  

Derby report found improving career guidance leads to better student outcomes

The evaluation of a four year pilot study, carried out by the International Centre for Guidance Studies (iCeGS) at the University, has found that improving career guidance in secondary schools and colleges can lead to better student outcomes, while also raising aspirations and increasing engagement with education.

iCeGS followed 16 schools and colleges in the North East of England as they implemented a career guidance framework known as the Gatsby Benchmarks.

The pilot, which began in 2015, was set up to test how schools and colleges could use the Gatsby Benchmarks for Good Career Guidance and what the impact would be on their students. The North East region was selected, and the North East Local Enterprise Partnership ran the pilot along with the Gatsby Foundation.

Following early results from the pilot, the government adopted the Gatsby Benchmarks into its 2017 Careers Strategy for all schools and colleges in England, and has recently renewed its commitment to having the Benchmarks as a part of national education strategy in the ‘Skills for Jobs’ White Paper.

Kidney research charity funding for dialysis project

research partnership between academics at the University of Derby and the University of Nottingham’s Medical School, based at the Royal Derby Hospital, received a £234,000 grant to fund a project to improve the outcome of dialysis treatment to people suffering from serious kidney conditions. 

The universities have already been collaborating on the five-year £1.4M iTrend (Intelligent Technologies for Renal Dialysis and Diagnostics) programme, developing technology and algorithms to continuously monitor blood pressure throughout the treatment, conducting hundreds of hours of patient studies in the process. 

This new project, named DIAMONDS (Dialysis Monitoring for Decision Support), involves using data obtained through patient studies to predict when an individual’s blood pressure levels may start to significantly drop, enabling staff overseeing the dialysis process to respond in a timely manner by adjusting the dialysis machine’s treatment regime. 

Over the next two years, the project will use the data acquired through the iTrend project, which was backed by the MStart Trust set up by Derby businessman Mel Morris, to develop the new predictive system.

Mindfulness programmes can boost children’s mental health

More than 1,000 pupils aged between 9-12 years across 25 schools in Derbyshire took part in a research study which found that mindfulness programmes can improve the mental health of school-age children and help them to feel more optimistic. 

During the year-long project, a collaboration between Dr William Van Gordon, Associate Professor in Contemplative Psychology at the University, and Derbyshire Educational Psychology Service, the pupils received one 45-minute mindfulness session per week for nine weeks. 

The impact of the sessions, which were delivered by teachers in a traditional classroom environment, was evaluated by comparing psychological assessments that the children completed before the classes began, with assessments undertaken after the programme had concluded. Part of the evaluation measured children’s emotional resiliency using The Resiliency Scale for Children, while wellbeing was rated using the Stirling Children’s Wellbeing Scale. 

Overall, the study found a significant improvement in positive emotional state, outlook and resiliency. There was also an increase in the different dimensions of resilience: optimism increased by 10%, tolerance was improved by 8% and self-efficacy, how a child feels they can cope with a situation based on the skills they have and the circumstances they face, improved by 11%. 

Unravelling crime networks through data analysis

An international research collaboration involving the University is examining how social network analysis could disrupt some of the world’s most dangerous criminal gangs. 

With organised criminal groups doing their best to frustrate law enforcement agencies, this research aims to show that information technology and data analysis may be used to effectively unravel their structure, and to identify the links between the key figures in their networks. 

PhD student Lucia Cavallaro has been investigating the topic of Network Features in Complex Networks, inspired by data from criminal investigations, with potential impact on active crime groups. 

Working with her supervisor Dr Ovidiu Bagdasar, Associate Professor in Mathematics at the University, and in collaboration with professors and fellow PhD students from the Universities of Messina and Palermo in Sicily (Annamaria Ficara and Francesco Curreri) and Bolzano in Italy, Lucia has used data extracted from Italian court proceedings (in particular, the calls and meetings between members of two Mafia families), and studied the resulting networks by data analysis.

Fish being studied in the Aquatic Research Facility

Research showcase

We have entered a new and exciting era for research at the University of Derby. Research is a fundamental part of our identity as an academic institution and the work we do has a real impact.

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