Research Roundup

Research is a fundamental part of our identity as an academic institution and the work we do has a real impact. Here, we summarise some of our research.

A multi-functioning shed used as a space to encourage conversation

Research into how artistic practice can act as a way of helping people talk to one another is being conducted by researchers at the University through a touring shed.

At the heart of the project is the desire to create positive civic impact, working towards greater social mobility by providing opportunities to access inspirational and educational content outside of formal organisational structures.

The Social Higher Education Depot, known as S.H.E.D, was launched in 2019 by Dr Rhiannon Jones, Post Doctoral Researcher at the University of Derby. This humble ‘garden shed’ can be transformed into a variety of bespoke environments, from a soup kitchen and library, to a performance space and a visual arts gallery. Designed in line with cultural and socio-civic research, its flexibility enables it to deliver strategically designed activities, while also providing an accessible and inclusive space that supports the needs and priorities of communities.

S.H.E.D is currently not touring due to Covid-19, however the research continues to explore ideas of how being ‘social’ has become a central point of departure for so many and how society will start to define a ‘new normal’ for socially-engaged practice.

“S.H.E.D continues to work closely with creative industry partners, artists and researchers to support the challenges of dialogic practices and research into future cultural engagement for diverse communities and collaborations between artists, disciplines, cities and institutions.”

Post Covid-19, S.H.E.D will have an even greater role to play in supporting communities, towns and cities with the provision of a unique space to support the arts ecology where venues have sadly had to close their doors. It will provide artists and communities with the opportunity to come together, to create and to be in conversation with one another. S.H.E.D continues to develop its rubric configurations to support social distancing measures, acting as a radio broadcasting centre of ‘lockdown stories’ and working on ways to construct S.H.E.D for small ‘bubble’ engagements with cultural activity.

Around 4,000 people have visited, encountered or interacted with S.H.E.D and it has been used by more than 180 independent and community artists.

Its many guises has earned it a place in the Unexpected category of the Cuprinol Shed of the Year Awards 2020.

A picture of SHED

Finding efficiencies in ship loading

How ports operate more efficiently may not be something you would associate with landlocked Derby, but research from the University could help shipping companies avoid the fines that are incurred when loading and unloading ships takes too long.

Not only does an inefficient process cost the company money, it leads to frustration among customers when goods are delivered late.

A study led by Professor Jose Arturo Garza-Reyes, the Head of the Centre for Supply Chain Improvement at the University of Derby, and Mustafa Al-Balushi, an expert in Six Sigma philosophies and principles, worked closely with employees of a company who had identified this as a problem.

Using the Six Sigma quality programme, a set of management techniques designed to improve processes, a team of logistics experts looked at a five-stage method of port operations known as DMAIC - define, measure, analyse, improve, control.

They carried out high-level analyses of the cargo loading/unloading process, quantified the magnitude of the problem and examined the factors involved.

They then drew up a ten-point plan for the ‘improve’ element of the DMAIC method, including a revision of the definition of commercial loading time and making use of a second berth in the jetty to prepare for immediate loading of the next vessel.

Once the improvement plan had been drawn up, it was essential then to have the control measures in place to ensure the company’s employees had the training and documentation to follow the new processes and sustain them – reducing the risk of the demurrage fines and, ultimately, keeping customers happy.

Aerial view of a shipping port

Understanding the impact of environmental pollution on pregnancy

Biomedical scientists at the University of Derby have been examining the effects of toxic substances, hormones or drugs on embryo/trophoblast development  – and their most recent focus has been on the effect of air pollution on the growth of the placenta.

The researchers have looked at the developing placenta, which is formed in the early stages of embryo development. Its outer layer – the trophoblast – produces highly invasive stem cells which eventually form the placenta.

These trophoblast stem cells (TSCs) are considered to be the best models for analysis, but ethical constraints make it difficult to acquire them from human pregnancies, and therefore, make it harder to accurately study how pollution affects placental development.

However, the team has devised a method of transforming commercially available trophoblast cell lines into stem-like cells which may be suitable as in vitro models to study the effects of the environment factors.

The research team will subject these stem-like cells to environmental pollutants such as SO2 (sulphur dioxide), CO (carbon monoxide) and NO2  (nitrogen oxide) at concentrations similar to those found in various UK and international cities. They will then analyse the ability of the cells to survive, divide and invade in an in vitro system.

Dr Shivadas Sivasubramaniam, Head of Biomedical and Forensic Science of the University, hopes the research will identify cellular proteins that are most affected by toxic gases, explaining: “Ultimately, we hope this will lead to health care professionals being able to advise pregnant women (or those trying to conceive) on how to prevent or minimise exposure to environmental pollutants.”

Sunset image with air pollution