Pre-eminent biologist opens university laboratories

Pre-eminent biologist opens university laboratories

The University of Cumbria officially opened its new science laboratories at the Fusehill Street campus, Carlisle on Wednesday 4 November in a private event with guests from local businesses and employers.

Sir Martin Holdgate, biologist, conservationist and former chief scientist for the Department of the Environment was guest-of-honour and unveiled a plaque to mark the opening of the laboratories.

Local businesses and employers were invited to the event to view the new facilities and to discuss ways they could collaborate with the university. These included helping to shape academic programmes to meet their needs for skilled workers and enriching students’ learning experience through work placements, site visits and providing guest speakers. In return, the university could support businesses research and consultancy needs.

Sir Martin Holdgate emphasised the importance of science “as a foundation for much in the life of our nation. It has been said that ‘the world’s economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the world’s ecology’. A wide range of industries, from farming to manufacturing, have a strong base in science and need a steady flow of well-trained science graduates. Hitherto they have had to look outside the county for them, but now our own university is beginning to correct that situation. “   

Vice Chancellor, Professor Peter Strike hosted the event and said this about the new laboratory space, “the opening of the labs marks an exciting start to a new science focus that will create growth and opportunity for university staff and students and the wider community. However, our aspirations do not end there as we want to extend our existing laboratories so that we can develop a specialist science centre to engage young people early on in their educational careers, expand our programme of science subjects and offer research consultancy services. The university is ambitious in its desire to be the lead provider of science-related subjects in the region.

The university invested £1.2m in state-of-the-art labs to respond to a national shortage of graduates with specific science skills, to support regional industry requiring skilled staff and to create more opportunities for young people to participate in STEM subjects in the local area.

At the event, plans for a second-storey extension to the current laboratory and creation of a ‘STEM centre’ in Carlisle were presented to businesses with the view of gaining their support.

The proposed extension will enhance existing science programmes and allow the university to expand its science portfolio by offering degree-level qualifications in engineering, chemistry and biomedical science.

The new STEM centre will facilitate work with local schools to encourage interest in STEM subjects from an early age. The new facilities will support client-oriented research and consultancy for employers as well as laboratory technician apprenticeships; creating a true centre of collaboration and learning for STEM in Carlisle and the region.

The existing laboratories were constructed over a seven-month period beginning in February this year and were opened to students at the start of the new term in September.

To initiate study in the laboratories, the university developed a series of life-sciences programmes, with the first courses to be offered being BSc (Hons) Biology and BSc (Hons) Zoology in 2015 and BSc (Hons) Chemistry and Biomedical Sciences in 2016/17.

The Portakabin Group constructed the new facility offsite using a Yorkon building solution to radically reduce the programme time ready for the start of the new academic year.

Simon Ambler, Director of the Portakabin Group, said “this is a really valuable new science education facility which will further enhance the student experience and inspire the scientists of the future. We were delighted to work with the university on its construction and to deliver the building on time and on budget. We look forward to collaborating with the team on further projects and are pleased to support the opening event.”

Attending the event were guests from local employers, such as Sellafield and Britain’s Energy Coast, Story Contracting and Innovia; further education providers including Carlisle College, Kendal and Northumberland Colleges as well as the City Council and Cumbria Constabulary.