Light for Life

Objectives The Light for Life theme will:

  • Create a framework for stimulating, nurturing and bringing to fruition inter-school and inter-faculty research initiatives within the three sub-themes detailed below. As examples, 19 partnerships have already been identified .
  • Establish and encourage communities of interests within each defined partnership leading to joint research grant applications or collaborative impact activities, including translation of technology to clinics and industry;
  • Support partnerships to develop novel training initiatives and programmes, with the long-term aim of strengthening research-led teaching at Kent;
  • Use light to build on and enhance existing Kent strengths in specific areas of research, training and enterprise; Create a critical mass platform that will enable representatives of the theme to represent Kent at the national and international level and capable of responding to major initiatives; 
  • Become an exemplar in public engagement with research and citizen science through development of lasting relationships with local communities around the sub-themes.

The Drivers for a Light for Life Theme Light for Life responds to societal drivers and is in line with major initiatives from a number of international societies and steers the interest of specialists from different faculties in the University. The importance of light science to our society is underscored by the large number of Nobel prizes pioneering research on light, ranging from light technology to applications of light in biosciences (such as optical tweezers). Light technology (often known as ‘photonics’) is the focus of numerous transnational initiatives with an interdisciplinary flavour, such as the Photonics 21 Platform in Europe. The final report of the EU High level Expert Group on Key Enabling Technologies in July 2011 stated that “Photonics is a Key Enabling Technology” and that compared to other disciplines, photonics developments are particularly inspired by natural phenomena, or in other words, that: Light is Life. Light technologies can also allow for new starters in otherwise crowded markets. This makes research in optics highly suitable for GCRF initiatives, particularly in areas protected by patents by established vendors, where implementation of ideas from newcomers can penetrate multiple niche directions.   

Creating New Modes of Collaboration Light for Life will create a platform to evolve concepts which have previously been developed by each faculty in isolation, to allow for fully interdisciplinary funding bids. Such collaborations are challenging. In the numerous meetings held while developing this theme, we have discovered how words such as “light” or “mirror” can hold entirely different meanings for different groups of people. We see this as a particular strength, and will use these shared words as the starting points for our inter-disciplinary sandpits (detailed in Activities below), encouraging researchers to find points of commonality from which new research ideas can emerge and develop.  Light for Life also has great potential for new partnerships with industry. Theme members routinely engage with commercial partners. Examples of this include Innovate UK grants and several Marie Curie training sites with European companies, as well as links with diverse organizations such as the Home Office, Knowledge Transfer Networks and Interpol associations.  A key aim is to further develop these industry-led themes and collaborations. By boosting the profile of applied research at Kent, the theme will help make us a more attractive partner for industry and showcase Kent’s technology and its applications. There is huge potential to fully engage KMMS and NHS partners in this theme. Furthermore, light has clear links to clinical medicine (as already demonstrated in the School of Physical Sciences), helping support growth of Kent’s medical research base. Finally, we will seek to engage with us, groups from the local and regional community, inviting them to contribute to our research as equal partners, as described in the Public Engagement section below. 

New Practice in Education The theme will encourage a break-down in traditional divides between training in humanities, social sciences and the physical/biological sciences and the importance of this is increasingly being recognised. This is already happening and will continue, as shown by joint work already funded and supporting of specialists in schools such as SoAC, SECL, SoB, SoC, MSoP, and SPS. The theme will encourage new postgraduate training opportunities on topics such as ‘Light sources for art exhibitions’. Postgraduates working on these interdisciplinary projects will be trained to see multiple facets of research problems and to interact with peers from outside their specialist field in order to find new ways of working and new solutions to old problems. Immediate examples of this are SoAC+SPS who are already running joint student projects, or in the immediate future, connecting the PG studies in Photography in the SoA with the optics in SPS, or PG studies on how light illumination affects perception of art, or engaging the focus to aesthetics of the Research Centre on Aesthetics in the SoA with the cosmetic work underpinned by OCT technology developed for dermatology in SPS. In the longer term, Light for Life will open avenues for new, joint-school degrees at the undergraduate and masters level which are research-led and supported by a rich infrastructure. One opportunity is to use the “Theme” as a vehicle to adapt the teaching of innovation and entrepreneurship to training of artists in order to stimulate the generation of concepts such as those around the Rainbow Panorama (Olafur Eliasson) or Zones of Flow (fluid connections between people, sea and land, audio-visual artwork created by Media Arts Nexus for NTU-Singapore display, with EDA already engaged in exhibitions on Zones of Flow).

Development and Sustainability The primary driver of sustainability will be successful funding bids which allow interdisciplinary research projects to make substantial progress. To this end, the theme will focus on immediate engagement of collaborative streams to produce a first flux of joint applications. Applicants will be asked to include support for communication and impact activities which can be badged as Light for Life events, effectively providing an external funding source for the theme. Further, by actively promoting strong community links and targeting key international partnerships, we will ensure that the theme has a long-term impact reaching far beyond the University itself.