Making an impact: how local researchers are changing the world

UEA Pro Vice Chancellor of Research and Innovation Fiona Lettice

UEA Pro Vice Chancellor of Research and Innovation Fiona Lettice - Credit: Neil Hall/UEA.

The UEA Innovation and Impact Awards recognise staff, students, graduates and collaborators who are breaking boundaries and making the world a better place.  

On 17 June, the fourth annual UEA Innovation and Impact Awards celebrated the pioneering work of local students, graduates, researchers, scientists and academics making a positive contribution to the defining issues of our time. From climate change to Covid-19, mental health to nutrition, people in our region are doing incredible things that have a profound influence on how we navigate the existential challenges of the 21st century. 

“We often think of academics working away in isolation in their ivory tower,” says UEA Pro Vice Chancellor of Research and Innovation Fiona Lettice. “But actually, researchers at UEA are motivated to make a real difference, working with external partners to ensure that their work influences culture and society. 

“The awards are a way to celebrate our academics – both for their expertise within their discipline but also for the way that their research and innovation has a transformative impact on the world we live in.” 

This year’s awards, divided into eight categories, showcased the first-class research happening at UEA, with finalists judged on how their work resonates on a regional, national and international level. 

“We wanted to show how much we value and appreciate this fantastic work from across all disciplines: science, medicine, health, social sciences, and arts and humanities,” Fiona says. “This work crosses boundaries – and that's very exciting. Some of the work we do is very much embedded in the community around Norfolk, Suffolk and the East of England, but our academics have an impact nationally and internationally.” 

The UEA judging panel was joined by a guest judge for each category, including colleagues from partner organisations Archant, Barclays, Big C, Lotus, NHS Norfolk and Waveney, Norwich Theatre and Norse.  

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“The judging criteria asked: how innovative is the project, what difference has it made, and how widespread is its impact?” Fiona explains. “Research of this kind is complex and involves more than just academic work – it’s also about partnership building, learning new things, and developing new skills and networks. 

“Our partners provide access to their networks and data to help get the research done. They are so supportive and engaged with the work that we do, offering guidance, feedback and mentoring.” 

Model student 

UEA students and graduates are given the chance to enter a special category recognising ground-breaking work with support from UEA’s student enterprise service. 

“Our students are inspiring because they ask questions and challenge current thinking,” Fiona says. “We can all get a little entrenched in our worldview, so it's really important that people come in and question the way we think about things.” 

James Beavis and Muhammed Ozsoy of Squiish with the UEA Award for Student or Graduate Innovation and Enterprise

The prize for this year’s Award for Student or Graduate Innovation and Enterprise was taken by James Beavis (left) and Muhammed Ozsoy (right) for their start-up Squiish - Credit: Squiish Ltd

The prize for this year’s Award for Student or Graduate Innovation and Enterprise was taken by James Beavis and Muhammed Ozsoy for their start-up Squiish. Two business graduates working with the School of Pharmacy, James and Muhammed are using materials science to develop biodegradable packaging made from seaweed for personal hygiene products like shampoo and bodywash that melt while you wash because, as their website says: “Cleaning ourselves should not mean that we let the environment get dirty in the process”.   

“Squiish’s biodegradable sachets could really reduce single-use plastic in bathrooms and hotel rooms,” Fiona says. “But they're also looking to work with behavioural economics and psychology to understand how to change people's behaviour around the types of products we consume.” 

The judges commented: “Squiish’s impact could be huge. It is a novel and informed concept, showcasing great innovation to tackle an important global challenge.” 

Other finalists included Josh Davies and Stuart Heyworth for a project called Beep, which involved the digitisation of student campus cards, and Vyvyan Evans for Green Grub Solutions, which uses natural bio-products created from insects reared on food waste that would otherwise be sent to landfill to create products including feed for pets and wild birds. 

Pandemic management 

An additional category was added to this year’s awards to spotlight those who pivoted their research and expertise to support the national pandemic response. The Outstanding Contribution/Response to Covid-19 was awarded to Dr Felix Naughton and Prof Caitlin Notley for their Covid-19 daily tracker, which was the world’s first study investigating the real-time impact of lockdown on health behaviours and wellbeing.

Dr Felix Naughton was awarded the Outstanding Contribution/Response to Covid-19

Dr Felix Naughton was awarded the Outstanding Contribution/Response to Covid-19 with colleague Prof Caitlin Notley for their Covid-19 daily tracker - Credit: Dr Felix Naughton

Dr Felix Naughton said: “The response from the participants has been phenomenal and it demonstrates how keen and engaged the public is in contributing to scientific enquiry when needed most.  

“Receiving the award helps us gain important recognition for the team’s work and will help increase the visibility of the project. We hope this project can help with setting the public health agenda for the post-Covid recovery and help us minimise the indirect damage caused by preventative actions in case of further waves or future pandemics.” 

The judges said: “We were incredibly impressed at how quickly and effectively this project was mobilised, as well as its innovative collection of data and far-reaching impact, especially within vulnerable groups.” 

Prof Caitlin Notley was awarded the Outstanding Contribution/Response to Covid-19

Prof Caitlin Notley was awarded the Outstanding Contribution/Response to Covid-19 with colleague Dr Felix Naughton for investigating the real-time impact of lockdown on health behaviours and wellbeing. - Credit: Caitlin Notley

Meanwhile, the Chancellor’s Award for Outstanding Achievement was won by Norwich Testing Initiative, one of the first mass testing initiatives in the UK which involved a collaboration across Norwich Research Park to provide rapid, secure and accurate coronavirus testing and results. 

“We’re delighted to be able to help Norwich Research Park institutes to deliver a rapid testing system that became a leading example for other universities and provided a model which public health and government offices learned from,” says Mark Hitchcock, managing director of UEA Health and Social Care Partners. “The combination of research disciplines is a great example of the Park utilising its world-leading expertise to help the people in our region.” 

Mark Hitchcock, managing director, accepts the UEA Chancellor’s Award for Outstanding Achievement

Mark Hitchcock, managing director of UEA Health and Social Care Partners, accepts the the Chancellor’s Award for Outstanding Achievement in behalf of Norwich Testing Initiative - Credit: Mark Hitchcock

The judges said: “The impact of the project is huge and its influence on policy and practice far-reaching. Every member of the team, and every staff and student volunteer worked tirelessly to ensure the safety of the community in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.” 

Cause for hope 

During her keynote speech at this year’s online ceremony, Professor Christie Watson said that the UEA Innovation and Impact Awards represent real hope and change in a time of uncertainty and crisis – a sentiment that Fiona echoes. 

“Complex problems can't be solved from within a single discipline or by a single person,” she says. “That's what's exciting about these entries: they don't see borders as barriers, but as bridges. Innovation is often about how you take something from one field into another. 

“I feel so pleased and privileged that we've got these amazing people who are able to think differently and continue to pursue these problems until we solve them,” Fiona adds. “But we've also got a community of 17,000 students – and the energy and creativity that body of students brings is really inspiring. It is a source of great hope, which we need now more than ever.” 

If you are inspired by the UEA Innovation and Impact Awards and would like to find out how you can work with UEA to make a difference, please visit www.uea.ac.uk/business or contact business@uea.ac.uk to find out more. This could be in the form of consultancy, funded research, student internships, or your own idea for a project – and there is often funding available to help get projects started. You can also follow the awards on Twitter @UEAIIAWARDS 


UEA Innovation and Impact Awards 2021 Winners 

Award for Student or Graduate Innovation & Enterprise 

Squiish Ltd – James Beavis, Muhammed Oszoy 

 

Outstanding Commercialisation of Research 

Bioacrylic acid production from seaweed – Prof Jonathan Todd, Dr Ana Bermejo Martinez 

 

Outstanding Impact in Health, Wellbeing and Welfare 

Developing evidence-based wellbeing approaches to help improve Wellbeing and Productivity across the Police Force for England and Wales – Prof Sara Connolly, Prof Kevin Daniels,  Dr Helen Fitzhugh 

 

Outstanding Impact in Policy and Practice 

‘Who Buys My Food?’ From Insight to Action: Transforming Small-scale Food and Drink Businesses – Prof Andrew Fearne 

 

Outstanding Social or Cultural Impact 

Skeletons in the Kitchen Cupboard: Revealing Hidden Plastic in Tea Bags – Dr Andrew Mayes 

 

Outstanding Contribution/Response to Covid-19 

The C-19 Health Behaviour and Wellbeing Daily Tracker Study – Dr Felix Naughton, Prof Caitlin Notley 

 

Partnership of the Year 

The Scores Project – Dr Michael Grey 

 

Chancellor’s Award for Outstanding Impact 

Norwich Testing Initiative

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