News and Events

Academic wins ESRC Knowledge Exchange Opportunities funding

Alister ScottBirmingham City University are playing around again but not just at the urban rural fringe.

Professor Alister Scott in the School of the Built Environment has secured funding from the ESRC's Knowledge Exchange Opportunities programme.

Previously, Professor Scott and his Rural Economy and Land Use (RELU) team created a participatory learning board game called Rufopoly which enabled players to undertake a journey and make decisions in a pressurised urban fringe called RUFshire where the roll of the die dictated the agenda.

Rufopoly has been used extensively in early stages of projects and plans such as the pioneering Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership spatial plan and has been used by government, EU project groups, local authorities, business, community groups, universities and schools. It has also been adapted in both Malmo and Nebraksa for participative events and projects. Rufopoly has exposed audiences to issues associated with the delivery and trade-offs associated with planning and environmental issues at the fringe but crucially without the use of complex jargon.

With this new funding and with a diverse mix of partners across international and local scales and across public, private and voluntary sectors, this project seeks to improve participatory processes and outcomes in planning and community settings on their agendas. The end result will be a resource kit for stakeholders that can be used to improve participation and deliver improved policy and decisions.

Professor Alister Scott said: "This project is an exciting opportunity for people to come together and share their experience and needs to help co-produce resources that make participation in complex planning issues fun, informative and effective. Planning is at its best when people can engage their creative energies in forging ideas and solutions to challenges. It is this spirt we seek to build upon."

Partners in the project

  • Birmingham City University
  • David Jarvis Associates
  • Defra
  • Landbridge
  • Localise West Midlands
  • Natural England
  • Natural Resources Wales
  • Nebraska Rural Futures Institute
  • Project Fields
  • Queen Mary Grammar School Walsall
  • Royal Town Planning Institute
  • Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors
  • Rural Strategy
  • Scottish Government
  • South Downs National Park
  • Staffordshire County Council  
  • Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
  • Winchombe Town Council

International presidency for University academic

Kathryn Moore An academic from the Birmingham School of Architecture has been recognised as one of the most influential figures in her field after being elected president of an international organisation.

Professor Kathryn Moore, Professor of Landscape Architecture has been appointed world president of the International Federation of Landscape Architects.

Professor Moore said: "It is a great honour to have been elected world president of the International Federation of Landscape Architects.

"It is a tremendous opportunity for the University to be at the heart of a long-established international organisation with connections to major partners across the world."

In addition, Professor Moore is also leading the 'HS2 Landscape Vision' project, working with key local organisations to develop an iconic landscape for the HS2 development in the West Midlands.

Professor Moore commented: “The timing couldn’t be better for the University, given our location right at the heart of the HS2 development at Curzon Street Station.

"This represents a truly transformational project for our city. Drawing on the insights that landscape architecture can bring to bear this can become a project with the power to integrate and renew our city.”

In her role as world president, Professor Moore will be embarking on a demanding schedule of international travel to speak about the power of landscape architecture, starting in South Africa. 

She added: "I am proud to be representing the University at the International Federation of Landscape Architects. I believe we have a lot to offer in terms of our experience as a city that has already helped improve quality of life for people around the world."

British Science Festival showcases University research

Jewellery workshop As part of the British Science Festival 2014 Birmingham City University held a series of events showcasing the University's contribution to science, technology and sustainability, and all were a great success. 

The British Science Festival took place around the city between 6-11 September 2014, and two of the University’s events took place on the opening day. At the University of Birmingham’s campus our experts Matthew Randall and Kerry Gough delivered an excellent lecture on the science and technology behind the Star Wars films.

Over at our School of Jewellery (pictured) there were workshops throughout the day on 3D laser scanning, 3D printing, laser cutting and welding as well as gemmology and horology, and attendees had the chance to create pieces of their own. All of the workshops were sold out in advance.

On Wednesday 10 an event was held at Millennium Point in partnership with Aston University which showcased research and innovation in technology and sustainability in Birmingham. ‘Birmingham: the Smarter, Greener Science City’ included tours of Aston’s European Bioenergy Research Institute (EBRI), inspiring lectures by Dr Rick Robinson of IBM, David Hardman of Innovation Birmingham amongst others, and stands and demonstrations from local companies including Brum Yum Yum.

You can watch Rick’s keynote in full here, the rest of the talks will follow soon.

Finally the University offered people the chance to attend the keynote talk by architect John Christophers at the ‘Zero Carbon Buildings: Today and in the Future 2014’ conference on Thursday 11. The keynote was free to attend for those who registered and gave an insight into the work behind Birmingham’s famous Zero Carbon House

We would like to thank everyone who presented and helped organise the events, and everyone who attended. 

Groundbreaking new research will allow instant cancer diagnosis

A research project led by the University’s School of Digital Media Technology (DMT) has shown how data sonification (converting data to audio signals rather than visuals) using a laser device can improve techniques in stem cell analysis, opening up new possibilities for GPs to make instant cancer diagnoses.

Dr Ryan Stables of DMT collaborated with the University of Central Lancashire and GEANT, (a pan-European research and education network) on a preliminary study which converted stem cell data into sounds rather than visual data such as graphs, similar to the function of a metal detector. Ryan explains that “it allows you to identify the characteristics of cancer in real-time, which we hope could have life-changing implications for patients through the development of better diagnostic tools.”

At the moment, waiting times for cancer tests are at a six year high. The testing itself is often invasive and can involve taking a biopsy, sending it to a lab and awaiting results, which can take up to six weeks. Current methods of stem cell analysis involve computational pattern analysis, which is very time consuming. By classifying data into audio signals instead, it is easier to differentiate between healthy and cancerous cells and the process is much quicker.

This non-invasive system is still in the early stages of development; the preliminary study was launched at the 20th International Conference on Audio Display. The team are currently developing the research further by working on new types of tissue data to treat a wider range of physical diseases, and they are also recruiting a PhD student for the project.

The research has so far been featured in the national press and on Sky News. 

Video: Professor Mark Reed's Inaugural Lecture

Professor Mark Reed of Birmingham School of the Built Environment held his Professorial Inaugural Lecture on 29 May 2014. Titled 'Unearthing Britain's Hidden Landscape' Mark challenged us to look differently at Britain's most overlooked landscape. He uses science, poetry, music and photography to explain why all of our lives depend on a place that we tend to actively avoid ever visiting.

Digital Media Technology team wins AHRC project funding

A team from the School of Digital Media Technology (DMT), led by Dr Munevver Kokuer, have received funding as part of the AHRC’s ‘Transforming Musicology’ project. The nine month project, entitled 'Characterising stylistic interpretations through automated analysis of ornamentation in Irish traditional music recordings', has received £62,000 of funding.

It is a collaborative and multidisciplinary project, involving a variety of researchers from computational analysts to musicologists.  Birmingham City University will work with two other institutions, involving co-investigators Dr Peter Jancovic from the University of Birmingham and Dr Daithi Kearney from Dundalk Institute of Technology, Ireland. 

Birmingham City University is leading the project, with Dr Munevver Kokuer as the principal investigator and Islah Ali-MacLahlan and Professor Cham Athwal as co-investigators. 

The project

The project will investigate variations in musical style through the use of various types of ornamentation amongst flute players in Irish traditional music, and identify characteristics of individual performers' styles.

The collaborative team will work in the areas of audio signal processing and machine learning.  The perceived skill, creativity and musicality of musicians in the Irish tradition are often related to the use of ornamentation and variation in performance. The aim is to develop novel methods for automated analysis of music recordings to detect ornamentation.  The preferred patterns of ornamentation for each performer will then be investigated, before a dictionary of patterns for each player is developed and the different styles compared.

Dr Munevver Kokuer joined the University in September 2012 from the University of Birmingham, where she previously worked on computational analysis of audio signals funded by two EPSRC projects. She said: “Winning this project bid is an important step on strengthening our position in the area of music analytics and establishing a leadership on analysis of folk music.  We have had several research papers on this topic and this project will enable us to boost our research publications.

“We aim to further expand the collaborations we have already developed nationally and internationally, such as with universities in the UK and overseas (such as Turkey and Spain) and musicology groups in Ireland.”

More information about this project will be published on the Live Projects page shortly. 

Professors and Readers announced

Here are our new Professors and Readers for this year:


Health Professor honoured with Vietnamese Ministry of Health Award

Congratulations to Prof Joy Notter, who has been awarded the 'Campaign Medal for Services to Health' for her work on improving the quality of nurse training at college and university level in Vietnam.

Joy has been working on the project since 2005 and has made a significant impact on nurse training in Vietnam; she has been asked by the Vietnamese Ministry of Health to develop a new project to help improve the quality of primary care through the strengthening of nurse education and training. 

On receiving her award Joy said: "It is an honour and a privilege to receive such recognition from the Vietnamese government and people, I never dreamt that this would happen to me."

Find out more about research in the Faculty of Health

Jewellery experts recruited to recreate national treasures

Researchers from the School of Jewellery have been called on to help recreate the treasures of the Staffordshire Hoard.

The team from the Jewellery Industry Innovation Centre (JIIC) have been using 3D scanning and printing technology to recreate some of the hoard's most precious items for future generations to study and enjoy.

The Staffordshire Hoard is one of the world's largest collections of Anglo-Saxon gold and was originally found in a field near the village of Hammerwich in Staffordshire. The complete hoard consists of over 3,500 items at an estimated value of £3.2 million and is jointly owned by The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery and the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

Laser scanning equipment is used by the team to digitally capture data at an incredible level of accuracy. Each scan is accurate to a scale 5 microns, or 0.005 millimetres.

The replicas are intended to be indiscernible from the originals when viewed through a display case and will be used in the new exhibit at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (due to open later this year), when the original pieces are either on display elsewhere, being conserved or studied.

Look out for exclusive interviews and a fascinating insight into the work in our Research Stories soon.

Read more on the Staffordshire Hoard blog.

TEE launch new research journal

The research team in the Faculty of Technology, Engineering and Environment (TEE) have launched a new research journal – the Journal of TEE.

The journal features contributions from research staff and students engaging in cross-disciplinary work across the Faculty, and covers subjects such as sustainable procurement in the construction industry, canal locks and mobile business intelligence.

In his guest editorial, Professor in Interdisciplinary Environmental Research Mark Reed says: “The beginning of the journal coincides with the beginning of new research strategies for the University and Faculty, which aim to consolidate research in areas of research excellence that are relevant to challenges faced by UK and global society. More than ever before, it is becoming necessary to work across disciplinary boundaries to address such complex and dynamic challenges.”

Read the Journal of TEE here.

The Journal of TEE will be published annually. 

University research helping people to invest in nature

Researchers from Birmingham City University have been examining Visitor Giving schemes, which take donations from people visiting the countryside to fund environmental and community projects that give something back to the local area.

The research team at Birmingham School of the Built Environment have been exploring whether such schemes might be able to quantify specific environmental benefits that visitors can sponsor, boosting visitor donations and creating better environmental outcomes.

Funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the research is one of ten pilot studies exploring how to apply the concept of payments for ecosystem services.

A key outcome of the research is the development of a set of smartphone apps for walkers and cyclists, which provide them with location-based information about the benefits provided to society from the landscapes they're travelling through.

Mark Reed, Professor in Interdisciplinary Environmental Research at Birmingham City University, said: “The theory behind the smartphone apps is that by learning about the environment whilst being immersed in it, visitors are more likely to appreciate the value of the natural environment, and be more willing to donate to support the continued provision of these benefits.”

The apps, which can be downloaded for free at the iTunes app store, have been developed in conjunction with the University collaborating on research with Nurture Lakeland, Project Maya Community Interest Company, URS consulting, Visit England, Campaign for National Parks and the English National Park Authorities Association.

For more information, contact Mark Reed.

Researchers calculate the perfect scrum

Researchers at Birmingham City University could hold the key to the future success for England's Six Nations Rugby team. Academic Stephen Wanless and colleagues at the Faculty of Health have developed a 'Vibrating Suit', designed to give wearers feedback about movement, correct posture, and calculate the optimum position for elite athletes in a variety of sports. The researchers believe it can aid rugby players who take part in the scrum – a crucial part of Rugby Union - after being recently tested on a group of university student rugby players.

Watch the video above to see the suit in action and find out more about research in the Faculty of Health.

Senior Researcher Stephen Wanless explains: "The device was originally designed for use in a healthcare setting but we soon realised the suit's potential in giving UK athletes a competitive advantage.

"The sensors include a vibrating motor, like that found on a mobile phone, and these can be set to vibrate to indicate when someone moves outside a desirable range, all designed to give feedback in real time that enables wearers to adjust their movements in performance.

"Biomechanical principles are very important when playing rugby. We can use the vibrating suit to track spinal cord position when a player is about to go into a scrum. If you move more than 30 degrees forward it lets you know you've gone over the optimum position and allows you to correct you position accordingly.

"When the scrum-half is putting the ball into a scrum and posture is incorrect it may lead to an illegal move which a player will receive a yellow card for. For a front row rugby player in a scrum posture is important for getting the momentum to be able to contest the scrum and be able to win back the ball.

"The vibrations of the suit will alert the player to change their posture and to adopt a much better position when playing".

Birmingham City University rugby player Georgia Shortland took part in the research, and can see the benefits to rugby players in using the Vibrating Suit in practice. She said: "When you are about to pass the ball into the scrum, rugby players tend to be more pre-occupied with the players around them, and the position of the ball, rather than their own posture. This suit really helps you focus on attention to detail to get the position right to pass the ball correctly. It also made me aware of my own posture which is very important in the game."

Stephen Wanless added: "We've utilised the vibrating suit in other sports including rhythmic gymnastics, dressage and volleyball so it clearly has the potential to help all our elite athletes to achieve more sporting success for Britain in the future."

Find out more about this project on the Faculty of Health research pages

Listen Imagine Compose report launched

Dr Martin Fautley of the School of Education has launched a report with findings from the Listen Imagine Compose project.

Birmingham City University was the lead academic partner in the project, which also involved Sound and Music and Birmingham Contemporary Music Group (BCMG). Listen Imagine Compose ran between 2011-2013 and investigated how composing is taught and learned in schools.

Find out more about the project and download the report in our Research Stories section. 

Shadowy World of Britain’s Discount Hitmen Revealed in New Study

A team of leading criminologists from Birmingham City University has published the first ever study of British hitmen, which revealed that in some cases, victims were murdered for as little as £200.

Published in The Howard Journal of Criminal Justice - Professor David Wilson, Dr Elizabeth Yardley, Donal MacIntyre and Liam Brolan, identified four main types of contract killer; the novice, the dilettante, the journeyman and the master.

“Hitmen are familiar figures in films and video games, carrying out ‘hits’ in underworld bars or from roof tops with expensive sniper rifles,” said Professor David Wilson. “The reality could not be more different, British hitmen are more likely to murder their victim while they walk the dog in suburban neighbourhoods.”

The team analysed newspaper articles from an electronic archive of national and local papers from across Britain, using the reports to piece together a list of cases which could be defined as contract killings. The final list comprised of 27 contract killings, committed by 36 hitmen, active on the British mainland from 1974 to 2013... For more information visit the news section of our website.

Researching life in Birmingham seminar

On Tuesday 14 January researchers from across the University gathered to share research they have done in, or about, Birmingham. The purpose of the small seminar was to discuss possible crossover between disciplines and begin to develop a shared knowledge base. This is the beginning of an ongoing project to raise visibility of such research, and open up further avenues for cross-disciplinary work.

The presentations illustrate the diversity of the research taking place; all are available to download below (in PDF).

Peter Larkham (Technology, Enginnering & Environment (TEE)) - The post-war rebuilding of Birmingham

Steve McCabe (Business School) - Exploring the traditions of immigrant workers in Birmingham

Beck Collins (TEE) - Renewable energy projects

Paula McGee (Health) - Irish mental health in Birmingham

Fatemeh Rabiee-Khan (Health) - Redressing health inequality

Richard Hatcher (Education, Law & Social Sciences) - The new Birmingham Education Partnership

Annette Naudin (Performance, Media & English) - Birmingham as a creative city: a milieu for learning

There was also a verbal presentation from Martin Glynn, who recently completed his doctorate with BCU. His presentation was titled 'Reflecting the city using urban ethnography'.

Look out for more news items and features as the project progresses.