University of Glasgow front gates. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

World Changers: January

By Katie McKay

From generational wave detectors, to AI-enhanced X-rays, The Glasgow Guardian looks at the world changing research taking place on campus.

Research at the University of Glasgow is again pushing the boundaries of innovation, fostering positive change globally. The new year has seen groundbreaking research in space science and medicine, hoping to improve the lives of millions. 

The University of Glasgow is set to develop the next generation of gravitational wave detectors, helping in the exploration of the cosmos. The UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Infrastructure Fund has funded £7m to the coalition of universities, led by the University of Glasgow. The funding will be invested primarily into infrastructure and equipment to support researchers in cutting-edge developments. Designs are to be created for new mirror coatings, data analysis techniques, suspension and seismic isolation systems.

Gravitational wave detectors bounce lasers between long pipes with mirrors suspended at each end, usually arranged in an L-shape. Data captured during the passthrough of gravitational waves is hugely revealing of space and potential astronomical events. 

Director of the University of Glasgow’s Institute for Gravitational Research and lead investigator on the project, Professor Sheila Rowan said: “There are challenges for us to tackle but here in the UK, we have a huge amount of experience from our work designing, building and refining the hardware and software at the heart of today’s gravitational wave detectors. We’re looking forward to getting started on assembling the detectors of tomorrow.”

In other areas of space science, University of Glasgow researchers have made huge advances in flood detecting software. Through use of satellite technology, analysis of video footage of the speed of river currents could provide an early warning system for flood risks. 

This new technique could transform how rivers are monitored and improve flood predictions. As climate change continues to make extreme weather events more common, their research could help lessen the impact of flooding on vulnerable communities.

River flows are currently measured by stream gauges, by taking stock of the volume of water flowing past a particular point of a river every second. The installation and maintenance of stream gauges are costly and difficult in remote areas. Until now, it has not been possible to use satellite footage to accurately measure river flow. 

Christopher Masafu, a PhD student in the University of Glasgow’s School of Geographical & Earth Sciences, said: “Close to 30% of the world’s population is exposed to flood risk and threats to the availability of freshwater.

“Satellites can be deployed anywhere around the world relatively cheaply and easily compared to the cost and effort of physically gauging all of those unmonitored rivers. However, their potential to measure river flows hasn’t been fully shown until this research, which is a really exciting breakthrough.”

The new year sees further advancements in medicine. Trials for an AI-enhanced chest X-ray solution have begun in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde. This aims to improve early detection of lung cancer. 

The collaborative research which involved the University of Glasgow analysed chest X-rays in near real-time. In only the first three days of the study, almost 250 patients attended appointments.

With about 5500 cases diagnosed, lung cancer is currently the leading cause of death in Scotland, and is predicted to increase in prominence. The AI-enhanced X-rays could save lives as well as relieve pressure on the NHS.

Professor of Health Innovation at the University of Glasgow and Emergency Medicine Consultant at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (GGC), Professor David Lowe said: “If we can spot cancer earlier, by speeding up the time and accuracy of the 100,000 chest X-rays performed each year at NHSGGC, we can improve time to further imaging, and subsequent treatment. Qure’s chest X-ray AI will help orchestrate benefits for the whole patient care pathway.”

Further improvements in the research of health and wellbeing are underway in 2024. The National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) has awarded a £5 million research and development grant aimed at tackling health inequalities in Glasgow.

Glasgow City Council, NHSGGC, and the University of Glasgow make up the partnership focusing on research data to change the face of policy-making in the field. Employment, housing, education, and the physical environment are all factors which determine the general health of Glasgow. The research aims to find solutions to improve the health and wellbeing of the whole city.

Glasgow is the only Scottish city to secure this funding. Traditionally, a city with large margins of health inequality which widened during the pandemic, the research aims to narrow the gap.

Leader of Glasgow City Council, Susan Aitken, embraced the funding with optimism it will help the people of Glasgow. She said, “Glasgow’s health inequalities and low healthy life expectancy are well documented.The recent impact of the pandemic and grip of the cost-of-living crisis has had disproportionate consequences for our most deprived communities.

“Our citizens deserve nothing less and I will champion this collaborative research and development work, which has the capacity to make a real difference.”


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