Prestigious research grants awarded to University

Thursday 19 July 2018

Top research grants worth £739,604 have been awarded to academics at the University of St Andrews by a major national funding body.

Dr Urška Demšar of the School of Geography and Sustainable Development (SGSD) has been awarded a prestigious research grant from the Leverhulme Trust to fund her future work.

Dr Demšar’s grant of £247,672 is for a three-year research project entitled: Uncovering the Mechanisms of Migratory Bird Navigation with Big Data Analytics’.

This project will use big data analytics to explore how birds use the information from Earth’s magnetic field for navigation by linking bird tracking data with geomagnetic data from satellites and terrestrial networks to, for the first time, find out about the actual geomagnetic conditions that the birds experienced during their journeys.

The project will bring together Geographic Information Science researchers from SGSD with ornithologists from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology (MPIO) in Germany.

Dr Demšar said: “While there is considerable knowledge on mechanisms and capabilities for migration, much less is known about what happens during the migration itself. To find out more about this, interdisciplinarity between data science and ecology becomes crucial. This new grant from the Leverhulme Trust will allow us to bring these two disciplines together to gather new purely data-driven insights on migration which would have been impossible to obtain in any other way.”

Meanwhile, Dr Katherine Roucoux, also of the School of Geography and Sustainable Development, has been awarded £398,932 for a project entitled: ‘Valuing intact tropical peatlands: an interdisciplinary challenge’.

Dr Roucoux’s work focuses on the conservation of 35,000 km2 of largely intact peatlands in Peruvian Amazonia which are globally-significant long-term carbon stores and contribute to the total Amazonian biodiversity. A key consideration is engaging with the needs and values of local communities.

Dr Roucoux said: “Our interdisciplinary project aims to develop an intercultural understanding of the value and meaning of the peatlands to local communities, of how the peatlands are changing, and of threats and opportunities for their future.”

In addition, Dr Christopher Lancefield of the School of Chemistry has been awarded an Early Career Fellowship of £93,000 for his research: ‘Unravellling the chemistry that drives lignocellulose degradation in nature’.

The Leverhulme Trust was established by the will of William Hesketh Lever, the founder of Lever Brothers. Since 1925 the Trust has provided grants and scholarships for research and education.

Today, it is one of the largest all-subject providers of research funding in the UK, distributing approximately £80m a year. Find out more information about the Trust.

Issued by the University of St Andrews Communications Office.

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