China holds the key

Property | Lisa Kao 19 Nov 2019

As one of the 24 Russell Group universities in the UK, the University of Birmingham is known for the wide scope of its research, which spans countries around the world.

Tony Moran, the university's international communications manager, said: "There are five territories we focus on for collaborative research: the United States, Brazil, India, China and the Middle East. China is possibly the most important."

To advance activities in China and engage in work with partners, a base of operations was set up in Guangzhou in 2011. The university's China Institute functions as a middleman to connect the university with potential partners in China, and thus, an Anglo-Chinese research map was built.

Joint research projects between the two countries have proven successful. The latest summary report on the economic and social impact of the University of Birmingham on the city of Guangzhou gives an insight into what the university has been working on.

The research was conducted by a range of different sectors. The metro project is one. "Railway experts from Birmingham worked closely with Guangzhou Metro to help improve the energy efficiency," said Moran.

Since 2013, experts have been collaborating on research projects using a multi-train simulator to analyze power supplies for trains and develop new ways of monitoring and maintaining track switching equipment, and using online monitoring systems to get real-time feedback.

On the Chinese childhood obesity problem, the university jointly established the Chirpy Dragon project with the Guangzhou Centre for Disease Control in 2014, which involved more than 61,000 children aged six and seven at 43 primary schools.

Their research has found that children in China who are mainly cared for by grandparents are twice as likely to be overweight or obese as those raised mainly by parents or other adults, and Chinese children who go to bed later and sleep less are more likely to be overweight.

The results of joint scientific research have also been outstanding. "An antibacterial coating on medical tools has been created," said Moran. The Guangzhou Advanced Manufacturing and Innovation Centre, jointly formed by researchers from the Guangdong Academy of Science and the University of Birmingham created a coating that can kill 95 percent of bacteria within six hours. The creation vastly reduced surgical infections by using expertise in active screen plasma alloying to add lasting antibacterial effects to medical instruments and surgical tools.

Although the university's China research centre is in Guangzhou, their research collaboration efforts extend far beyond the city. In 2016, the university joined Nanjing University and Phoenix Publishing & Media Group to launch the Shakespeare Centre China in Nanjing.

In the same year, the university signed a agreement with Jiangsu Industry Technology Research Institute investing 20 million yuan (HK$22.41 million) to develop innovative research in areas such as nanoparticle technology and biomedicine.

The University of Birmingham has always placed great value on global research opportunities. "We are a global university," said Moran. "It is important for us to work with essential partners to improve the richness and quality of our research."

In terms of research, two heads always work better than one. "We are very experienced in research on our own. But when we work with our partners, the research can reach more people, and we benefit from the expertise of our partners. "We have been in Guangzhou for eight years. We started there as our partners are enthusiastic, but we are also making sure that we are not only focusing on Guangzhou," said Moran.

Despite achieving great social and economic success in the country, the university has continued forging more research agreements. Last month, David Eastwood, the vice chancellor of the University of Birmingham, made a China tour to sign new agreements with partners. The first was with Southeast University regarding cancer and aid regeneration of the human body.

"Supported by a total of two million yuan funding from Jiangsu Industrial Technology Research Institute, researchers are combining multi-modal magnetic resonance imaging technology, pathology and artificial intelligence to help diagnose brain tumors more quickly," Moran explained.

The vice chancellor furthered collaboration with the Shakespeare Centre China through a new translation of the Bard's work. "The institute is launching new Mandarin translations of Hamlet and Henry V," said Moran. It also announced the official start of editing and publishing work for Modern Critics of Shakespeare.

"Moreover, the university has continued to work closely with the Guangzhou municipal government, signing a five-year agreement to further promote research opportunities," said Moran.

lisa.kao@singtaonewscorp.com

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