Research and Innovation

Making a positive impact

Through our research, knowledge exchange and innovation, we are focused on making a positive difference to people’s lives – regionally, nationally and across the globe.    

Researchers at Derby are continuing to increase their profiles externally and are having even greater success securing funding and recognition from funding bodies. 

Here, we take a look at a sample of research and innovation success stories at Derby over the past year.

Student working in a University laboratory looking at screen
icon‘World-leading’ and ‘internationally excellent’ research**Research Excellence Framework 2021
iconWinners of ‘Research with Impact – Institution’ and ‘Research with Impact – Student'**Green Gown Awards 2021
iconNew £1.75 million research and innovation facility opens**Facility for Omics Research in Metabolism (FORM)
iconUniversity secured £4.9m funding to deliver projects designed to make a real impact

World-leading research at Derby

This year, the results of the 2021 Research Excellence Framework (REF) were announced, with Derby being recognised for delivering ‘world-leading’ and ‘internationally excellent’ research.

REF is the system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions, through expert review by a number of funding bodies.

The University submitted 27 case studies, across 10 Units of Assessment, showcasing how research has impacted business and society across its core academic themes and subjects.

World-leading and internationally excellent research was recognised in several of the University’s Units of Assessment, including Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences (67%), Education (63%), Allied Health Professions (60%), and Art and Design (60%).

Speaking at the time of the announcement, Professor Kathryn Mitchell CBE DL, Vice-Chancellor of the University, said: “Since the last REF in 2014, our researchers have continued to generate distinctive, world-leading, and impactful research as part of our ongoing drive to becoming a more research-focused institution.

“These REF 2021 results mark a step change for the University of Derby, reflecting our commitment to delivering excellence in research at an international level, while positively impacting our high-quality teaching and learning. I would like to celebrate our staff, students and partners for the effort, expertise and collaboration that has gone into our submission.”

Read more about Derby’s REF success in Issue 15 of the University of Derby Magazine.


New £1.75 million research and innovation facility

In March, a new research and innovation facility – designed to revolutionise diet and medication by combining biomedical and data science expertise – opened at the University.

The £1.75 million Facility for Omics Research in Metabolism (FORM) is focused on the effect that foods, vitamins, supplements and medicine have on the human body.

The aim is to improve the health outcomes of people through a stratified medicine approach for a better understanding of the disease pathologies and agents that can improve metabolic conditions and treat diseases.

The facility is supported by the D2N2 LEP, with £850,000 of funding provided from its Local Growth Fund.

Opening of the Facility for Omics Research in Metabolism (FORM) at the University of Derby with staff members including Elizabeth Fagan from D2N2 cutting the ribbon
Professor Chris Bussell, Professor Kathryn Mitchell CBE DL, Professor Gyan Tripathi and D2N2 Chair Elizabeth Fagan open FORM

Leading the digital and green revolution

In December, the government gave the green light for a new £13m Institute of Technology (IoT) in the East Midlands.

The University of Derby is working with Loughborough College, Loughborough University and the Derby College Group on the new Institute, which aims to create the workforce required to lead the digital revolution – otherwise known as Industry 4.0.

The East Midlands IoT will focus on levelling up the critical engineering, manufacturing and digital skills needed by employers to address the grand engineering challenges of clean growth by embracing the advanced skills required for AI and a data-driven economy.

Funding for development of Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre

In October 2021, more than £9 million in funding was awarded by the D2N2 LEP to Derby City Council to support the development of a Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (Nuclear AMRC) in Derby.

The Centre, which is due to open in 2023, will bring together the University of Sheffield’s Nuclear AMRC and the University of Derby’s Institute for Innovation in Sustainable Manufacturing (IISE).

Research, innovation, supply chain development and teaching with the purpose of developing the skills and capability of businesses in the region and nationally, will be conducted at the Centre.

The Nuclear AMRC Midlands research and development facility will also help to position Derby and the wider D2N2 region as a key advanced manufacturing and innovation hub for the UK nuclear centre and beyond.

Speaking at the time of the funding announcement, Professor Warren Manning, Provost – Innovation and Research at the University, said: “Co-locating our Institute for Innovation in Sustainable Engineering with the Nuclear AMRC opens up new possibilities for our academics, who are already engaged in work to help achieve the UK’s decarbonisation and Net Zero goals in sectors such as rail and logistics.

“The support of D2N2 to enable this collaboration will also further enhance Derby’s international reputation as a centre for industrial innovation, and help drive the recovery and future prosperity of our city and region.”

Nuclear Skills Academy

The University is addressing the region’s shortage of nuclear skills through its involvement in Rolls-Royce Submarines’ new Nuclear Skills Academy.

It was announced in May 2022 that Derby City Council’s iHub in Infinity Park would become the home of the Nuclear Skills Academy, offering 200 new apprenticeship places every year for the next 10 years.

Over the course of the summer the University transformed the space into the Academy in time for its opening in September. Led by the University, the apprenticeships are spread across Engineering, Manufacturing and Business. They provide further and higher education qualifications, while the apprentices receive hands-on practical work experience within the business.

The Academy is also supported by the National College for Nuclear and Nuclear AMRC, and is part of Rolls-Royce’s plans to boost nuclear capability in the UK and create a pipeline for nurturing talent.  

Award wins and successes

Nature research receives national recognition

Impactful research by academics at Derby which explores the way people interact with nature was recognised at the Green Gown Awards 2021.

Researchers won the ‘Research with Impact – Institution’ category for their work, which includes ‘Pathways to Nature Connectedness’, a behaviour change framework for improving the human-nature relationship. The pathways inform the Connecting People with Nature stream of the Government’s Green Recovery Challenge Fund and the Green Influencers scheme.

Lea Barbett, Environmental Psychology PhD student at Derby, also won the ‘Research with Impact – Student’ category, in recognition of a Pro-nature Conversation Behaviour Scale she developed. The tool measures behaviours that specifically aim to support nature conversation and biodiversity, which has been adopted by researchers, conservation organisations and government.

Professor Miles Richardson, who heads up Nature Connectedness research at Derby, said: “I’m thrilled that our research into people’s relationship with nature won this award. A new relationship with nature is essential for a sustainable future, and I’m pleased we’ve been able to produce the new knowledge and tools that others can apply at scale. It is their openness to new ideas and creative application that has made this recognition of our research possible.”

Pioneering project supporting people with young onset dementia and caregivers receives funding

Funding of more than £100,000 was awarded to an arts-based research project exploring the impact of the diagnosis on the bonds between people with young onset dementia and their caregivers.

The research study, which is being led by the University of Derby in collaboration with the University of Northampton, was awarded the funding by the Arts and Humanities Research Council earlier this year.

Through a series of arts in health workshops for people with younger onset dementia and their caregiver(s), the aim is to improve quality of life, family relationships and ability to manage a dementia diagnosis for participants.

Funding awarded to social prescribing research project

Researchers at Derby are working with a number of organisations to increase diversity in cultural and natural social prescribing programmes through shared training.

More than £74,000 was awarded from the Arts and Humanities Research Council to the Social Prescribing for All (SP4ALL) project, which is being led by the University of Derby in collaboration with the Multi-Faith Centre, Community Action Derby, Inspirative Arts, and Talk for Health.

The research project aims to ensure more inclusivity in social prescribing by sharing skills and knowledge between experienced practitioners and trainees from ethnic minority communities.

Research highlights

Derby Impact, Collaboration and Engagement (DICE) Network launches

A network which aims to bring together the benefits of Derby’s research to users, communities and partner groups was launched by the University in the spring.

The Derby Impact, Collaboration and Engagement (DICE) Network is based in the University’s Research and Knowledge Exchange Office and links academics, external partners and the public to encourage collaborative practice, knowledge exchange, public engagement, policy work and evaluation to deliver impact. It provides training and a space for participants to connect and share solutions, and collaborates with civic, commercial and higher education partners who are interested in undertaking or supporting public engagement exchange and impact activities.

The Network was launched at an event at the Museum of Making where more than 50 people attended from organisations including the University, Derby City Council, Derbyshire County Council, Derby CAN, Derby Museums, the Lincoln Impact Literacy Institute, and the British Academy.

Read more about DICE.

Speaker standing up at the Derby Impact, Collaboration and Engagement (DICE) Network launch event
Group of people sat at a table talking and smiling at the Derby Impact, Collaboration and Engagement (DICE) Network launch eventat the D
University's Impact Officers standing in a group smiling at the Derby Impact, Collaboration and Engagement (DICE) Network launch event

Inaugural Lecture Series

The University’s Inaugural Lecture Series continued through 2021-22, with nine academics presenting their research.

Inaugural lectures are an important milestone in an academic’s career, recognising their promotion to Professor. The series provides an opportunity for new professorial colleagues to showcase their research to a wide audience, including colleagues, the public, and family and friends.

During September 2021 to August 2022, academics at Derby presented their research spanning across a range of topics from criminology to Alzheimer’s disease.

Find out more about the Inaugural Lecture Series – and watch the lectures.

Launch of Regional Economic Observatory

The University of Derby Regional Economic Observatory (UDREO) was launched in February 2022, and has been designed to support businesses and communities within the region to have their say about their growth and the decision making that affects them.

UDREO researchers explore matters that are important to the region, so that they can provide robust analysis to support engagement with national government policy. The aim at the University is to produce research that is high impact, high profile and beneficial.

The UDREO’s first task was to create a business diagnostic tool, which focuses on helping organisations grow quicker, work better, and perform more competitively.

Read more about the University of Derby Regional Economic Observatory.

International long Covid recovery trial

Researchers at the University are working on an international trial to help improve the quality of life for people with long Covid – the term used to describe patients who report persistent symptoms and illness for longer periods than expected, despite receiving clinical treatment.

The study is in collaboration with King’s College London, Sheffield Hallam University, the University of Illinois Chicago (USA), Ramaiah Medical College (Bengaluru, India), and their neighbouring clinical organisations, to carry out the trial, sponsored by the NHS Health Authority.

The researchers and partners are working to gather additional insight into the determinants of recovery to better understand the changes in symptomology over time.

Read more about our long Covid research.

Top 200 businesses in Derbyshire

Academics in the University’s Derby Business School pulled together a list of the top 200 businesses in Derby and Derbyshire, ranking active, private sector businesses by turnover.

The list showcases some of the companies driving the local economy and highlights interesting growth sectors and place-based clusters.

The research was compiled from publicly available information for the financial period 1 July 2019 to 30 June 2020, including data from Companies House and the Fame database.

Read the Top 200 Businesses in Derbyshire list.

Future of lagoon communities at centre of new international effort

University of Derby researchers led on the launch of an international network which aims to secure the future of the world’s lagoons and the communities that depend on them.

The Resilient Lagoon Network brings together universities in the UK including Portsmouth and Oxford, as well as African partners including universities and other organisations from countries such as Ghana, Lagos and Bénin.

The aim of the network is to understand and address a series of interconnected problems crucial to the sustainability of ecosystems, economies and everyday lives of lagoon communities.

Speaking at the time of the announcement, Dr Sian Davies-Vollum, Head of School of Built and Natural Environment, said: “We want to develop a shared understanding of their lived experience and give them a voice. 

“It’s crucial that we work in a collaborative environment and co-create the adaptations that could halt the environmental, societal and economic decline of lagoons and deliver positive change.”

Role of art in saving us from extinction

The University was involved in research by the Oak Project, which showed the power of arts and cultural interventions in driving action for nature and climate.

The report, called ‘How art could save us from extinction’, the evaluation of the project’s first year, demonstrates that experiencing nature through the arts is leading to a significant increase in both nature connection and personal wellbeing, and is leading to more environmental action. 

The Oak Project is a pioneering arts programme, developed in collaboration with the University and Yorkshire Sculpture Park, which aims to harness the power of cultural moments to create kinship with nature in response to the climate emergency and environmental crisis.

Find out more about the Oak Project and the research.

Student working in a University laboratory looking at screen

Research showcase

Take a look at some of the research that is currently taking place at the University of Derby - and meet some of the researchers involved in these exciting projects.

Explore research happening at DerbyExplore research happening at Derby