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Artist's impression of the Environment and Sustainability Institute.

World-class professors will help Cornwall take centre stage for environmental research

A trio of renowned professors will move to Cornwall following an international hunt for academics of the highest calibre to establish the region as a world-leading centre for environmental research.

The University of Exeter has appointed the three professors, all renowned in their fields, to its new £30 million Environment and Sustainability Institute (ESI) in Cornwall, due to open in October 2012.

These are the first of 23 planned appointments through an international recruitment drive led by the ESI’s Director, Professor Kevin J Gaston.

Professor Stuart Townley (Applied Mathematics) has recently taken up his post at the ESI while Professors Katrina Brown (Social Science) and Robbie McDonald (Natural Environment) will move to Cornwall to join the ESI in the next six months.

The ESI is an interdisciplinary centre leading cutting-edge research into solutions to problems of environmental change. In so doing it will enhance lives by improving people’s relationships with the environment.

Located at the Cornwall campuses, which the University of Exeter shares and jointly manages with University College Falmouth, the ESI has been enabled by investment from the European Regional Development Fund Convergence Programme (£22.9 million) and the South West Regional Development Agency (£6.6 million), as well as significant support from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE).

The ESI not only evidences the University’s commitment to the environment and sustainability but will place Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly at the forefront of research into the impact of environmental change and the mitigation and management of its effects. The ESI has three research themes: clean technologies, natural environment, and social science and sustainability. It will engage with hundreds of businesses in Cornwall, the Isles of Scilly and beyond to translate its research and expertise across these themes into innovative business practice, products and services.

Environmental social scientist Professor Katrina Brown joins the ESI from the University of East Anglia. Professor Brown is an expert in environmental change, development, vulnerability and resilience and holds an ESRC Professorial Fellowship on ‘Resilient Development in Social-Ecological Systems’. She is especially interested in how different members of society – individuals, communities and government – can design and shape sustainable responses to environmental change. She will take up a post as Chair in Social Science.

Professor Robbie McDonald will move from his role as Deputy Chief Scientist and Head of Wildlife Science for the Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) in January 2012. His research expertise is in animal ecology, wildlife management and conservation and resolving human-wildlife conflicts. For the last few years he has concentrated on providing practical solutions to the bovine tuberculosis problem in badgers and on effective management of invasive species, particularly on offshore islands. In his post as Chair in Natural Environment, Professor McDonald will develop a programme of applied work that helps Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, the South West and the UK as a whole develop in an economically and environmentally-sustainable way.

Professor Stuart Townley has already taken up his post as Chair in Applied Mathematics after relocating from the University of Exeter’s Streatham Campus. The first mathematics professor on the Campus, his research crosses the boundaries of mathematics and many other disciplines, including renewable energy, but particularly biology. He has played a leading role in building the University of Exeter’s research in systems biology, which draws together mathematics, physics and biological sciences to investigate single cells, whole organisms and entire ecosystems.

Director of the Environment and Sustainability Institute, Professor Kevin J Gaston said: “I am absolutely delighted to welcome our new Professors to the ESI. They will join us as we undertake research into problems and opportunities associated with the diverse and increasing demands on ecosystems and the benefits society derives from them. They will also work with businesses across the region, boosting Cornwall’s environmental knowledge economy.”

Date: 22 November 2011

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