Aston researchers call on public to join ‘citizen science’ research

  • 53 projects worth £1.4m enable public to actively contribute to research and innovation projects that affect their lives
  • Aston projects include ‘super yeast’ for biotechnology and eye care in the community

UK citizens are set to contribute to world-leading research on air quality, plastic pollution, ‘super yeast’ in biotechnology and understanding barriers to eye care, with Aston researchers taking part in several projects.

They will join 53 innovative projects across the UK, funded by the government via the research and innovation funding agency UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), worth £1.4m. The projects will target communities who would not normally engage with research, so they can help shape innovations that is relevant to their lives and their local areas.  

The projects hope to expand opportunities for people from across the UK to actively contribute to publicly funded research and encourage underserved communities to share their ideas, concerns and aspirations, and to get involved in decision making. The projects also aim to inspire a new generation of children and young people about the potential of research and innovation. 

As part of the twenty-five public engagement projects, Aston University researchers from Aston Optometry School are taking part in a project to better understanding barriers to eye care in the community.

Professor Leon Davies, Head of Aston Optometry School, Aston University said: “Our project brings together an interdisciplinary academic team, Citizens UK and Aston Villa Foundation to work in some of the most deprived wards of central Birmingham. The team will use citizen listening events to understand barriers to accessing eye care, and co-create solutions including guidance and toolkits.”

A further 28 projects will focus on citizen science and will see diverse groups of people helping research teams to crowdsource and analyse data and collaborate with researchers to develop research questions. 

The Aston project led by scientists in the Biosciences research group, involves the crowdsourcing of yeast strains from members of the public to test for alcohol and sugar tolerance. By determining what makes a strain more resistant to these stresses the researchers aim to develop microbes that can withstand the effects of climate change or produce sustainable alternatives to fossil fuel derived products.

Dr Alan Goddard, Senior Lecturer in Biochemistry said: “We are asking the public to send us samples of yeast, for example, from baking, brewing or fermented drinks. The yeast will be tested for tolerance to sugar and alcohol and a leaderboard of the most tolerant strains will be published. By identifying these strains, we'll be able to investigate what makes ‘SuperYeast’ more robust. This knowledge will help to develop better microbes for biotechnology and hopefully will offer more sustainable solutions in tackling the climate crisis.”

UK Research and Innovation’s Head of Public Engagement, Tom Saunders, said:

“The 53 pilot projects that we have funded represent an exciting range of ways that researchers and innovators can involve the public in their work, from games to citizens’ juries, storytelling to data crowdsourcing. In 2020 and beyond, we will build on the lessons we learn through funding these pilot projects to help us achieve our ambition of making research and innovation responsive to the knowledge, priorities and values of society and open to participation by people from all backgrounds.” 

The projects are the first to be funded as part of UKRI’s new vision for public engagement, launched in 2019. Each project will run for six months, starting in December 2019.  


Notes to Editors

About Aston University

Founded in 1895 and a University since 1966, Aston is a long established university led by its three main beneficiaries – students, business and the professions, and our region and society. Aston University is located in Birmingham and at the heart of a vibrant city and the campus houses all the university’s academic, social and accommodation facilities for our students. Professor Alec Cameron is the Vice-Chancellor & Chief Executive.

About UKRI

UK Research and Innovation works in partnership with universities, research organisations, businesses, charities, and government to create the best possible environment for research and innovation to flourish. It operates across the whole of the UK with a budget of more than £7 billion.

For media inquiries in relation to this release, call Rebecca Hume, Press & PR Officer,
on 0121 204 5159 or email r.hume@aston.ac.uk

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