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Oxford University has celebrated high-impact research with the first Vice-Chancellor’s Innovation Awards. MPLS researchers were among those recognised.

Artistic representation of Oxford buildings made up of symbols representing different areas of research

The awards, which will be held on an annual basis, seek to recognise and celebrate exceptional research-led innovations and products at all University levels that are having societal impact.

The initiative attracted a total of 78 entries, from which four winners were chosen and a further 13 projects highly commended across four categories: team work, building capacity, inspiring leadership and early career success, before an overall winner was selected from the shortlist.

The ceremony was opened by Professor Louise Richardson, Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University, who also presented the prize for overall winner.

Professor Ian Walmsley, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research & Innovation at Oxford, who hosted the awards, said: ‘One of the joys of my role has been meeting University staff at all career stages doing exciting, pioneering work with genuine impact, locally, nationally, and internationally, with a wide range of partners, from industry, NGOs and cultural organisations.’

‘The Vice-Chancellor's Innovation Awards is an opportunity to recognise some of this work publicly and the efforts of the individuals and teams involved. It demonstrates the breadth of enterprising activity and collaboration across interdisciplinary teams, from the Humanities through to Medical Sciences.’

The innovations recognised take many forms, including:

  • the creation of new products or models;
  • entrepreneurial activity;
  • social enterprise;
  • influencing policy;
  • or cultural engagement.

The overall winner was the Smart Handpumps initiative – an innovative technological response to water shortages and handpump service maintenance issues in Africa.

Led by Professor Robert Hope, Associate Professor at the School of Geography and the Environment, a multi-disciplinary team of academics created and installed an electronic device in the handpump’s handle, which automatically alerts maintenance providers when remote sites are damaged or broken. Researchers from the Department of Engineering Science were part of this team.

The innovation has provided an important contribution to solving one of the major problems preventing safe access to water in many African countries. It has led to improved maintenance of handpumps - reducing the repair time from a month to a day in some cases, and allowing teams to know quickly if these repairs have been effective. The service has expanded to support more than 60,000 people in Kenya, and the government’s Water Services Regulatory Board (WASREB) have since recognised the project’s value in bringing reliable water services to the African continent.

As well as contributing to the overall winning entry, MPLS researchers were recognised in the following categories:

  • Winner in the 'Team Work' category: 'Mitigation of arsenic mass poisoning: a unified experimental and theoretical approach' (Mathematical Institute and the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur)
  • Highly commended in the Team Work category: 'GDm-healthTM: real-time management of gestational diabetes' (Engineering Science)
  • Highly Commended in the 'Inspiring Leadership' category: 'Global Jet Watch for Social Change' (Physics) and 'Where am I? Large Scale Infrastructure-Free Navigation for All The Vehicles - From An Oxford Lab to a Globally Leading Company' (Engineering Science)
  • Highly Commended in the 'Early Career' category: 'Putting ‘no deforestation’ into Practice in Tropical Commodity Industries' (Dr Jennifer Lucey, Zoology)

Overall winner: Smart Handpumps



The full list of 2018 winners by category are:

Team Work:

Winner: Mitigation of arsenic mass poisoning: a unified experimental and theoretical approach

Building Capacity:

Winner: Smart Handpumps

Inspiring Leadership:

Winner: FLEX-SR (A FLEXible new approach to automatic Speech Recognition)

Early Career:

Winner: Trusted Source Knowledge Transfer Partnership, Alice Purkiss (Humanities Division)

Professor Richardson, said: ‘I am delighted to introduce these awards and celebrate the quality and breadth of research-led innovation across the University.

‘The range of projects, products, and models featured in today’s ceremony are testament to the excellence of the innovation taking place across the University’s four divisions and there is clearly the potential to innovate even further in the future.

‘As a University, we are committed to global leadership in knowledge exchange, innovation and entrepreneurship, ensuring our research, scholarship and teaching contribute to the good of the nation and the world.’

The full list of nominees, and more information about all the initiatives, can be found here

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