Leading academics appointed to tackle society's most pressing problems

The University of Aberdeen has appointed four leading academics to drive forward its ambition to tackle some of the most pressing issues facing society today, through innovative research and education.

They have been named as Directors of the University's new Interdisciplinary Centres - hubs designed to encourage and enable academics to work across scientific boundaries to provide solutions to complex problems facing the key research challenges of our time.

Five interdisciplinary centres are being established which will focus on areas identified within the University’s Aberdeen 2040 strategy, including Energy Transition; Health, Nutrition and Wellbeing; Social Inclusion and Cultural Diversity; Data and Artificial Intelligence; and Environment and Biodiversity.

The new Directors, who start their new roles in early 2022, are:

  • John Underhill – Director, Interdisciplinary Centre for Energy Transition
  • Jennie Macdiarmid – Director, Interdisciplinary Centre for Health, Nutrition and Wellbeing
  • Georgios Leontidis – Director, Interdisciplinary Centre for Data and Artificial Intelligence
  • Eleonora (Ele) Belfiore – Director, Interdisciplinary Centre for Social Inclusion and Cultural Diversity

A fifth Director, to lead on Environment and Biodiversity, is expected to be appointed shortly.

Marion Campbell, Vice-Principal for Research at the University of Aberdeen, said: “These appointments represent a significant step forward in terms of our ambitions to deliver on the aims of our Aberdeen 2040 strategy.

“I am confident the new Directors will play a pivotal role in positioning the University as a global leader across the interdisciplinary challenge areas, while also providing academic leadership across the University.”

Professor George Boyne, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, added: “the purpose of our university is grounded in the service of others, and conducting research and education with impact is at the core of our mission.

“All our new Directors are recognised leaders in their fields, who have been appointed on the basis of their vision, leadership, drive and academic expertise, as well as their ability to influence and work effectively across the University and externally at all levels.

“These attributes are essential in taking forward our ambitions to tackle what our Aberdeen 2040 strategy identifies as the five interdisciplinary challenges of our time.

“By working across boundaries and sharing ideas and approaches, we have the expertise to face these particular challenges for the benefit of our region, and wider society. I look forward to working with our new Directors and the entire University community to deliver on our ambitions.”

Comments from Directors

John Underhill, Director, Interdisciplinary Centre for Energy Transition

“The Energy Transition is a significant global challenge, and it is a privilege to have the opportunity to lead the University’s efforts to address, critically evaluate and seek the right solutions that ensure we retain energy supply as we decarbonise.

“Having been pivotal for the energy industry and wealth creation and quality of life that the UK has enjoyed over the past half century, Aberdeen and the north east region is uniquely placed to shape and deliver the transition that it is required.

“I am delighted to take on this role and look forward to working towards the goal of a just, fair and affordable transition that protects jobs and livelihoods on the journey to meet net zero emission targets.”

Jennie Macdiarmid, Director, Interdisciplinary Centre for Health, Nutrition and Wellbeing

“This is a very exciting time to lead the interdisciplinary centre for Health, Nutrition and Wellbeing, as many of the greatest challenges facing the world today need disciplines to work together to find solutions to these problems. The aim of the centre is to create an environment to support new and existing interdisciplinary research and teaching across the University.

“Working together with the directors of the other interdisciplinary centres we will help stimulate new and exciting collaborations across schools and train the next generation of researchers in interdisciplinary approaches to address local and global challenges for society.”

Georgios Leontidis, Director, Interdisciplinary Centre for Data and Artificial Intelligence

“Data and AI technologies are uniquely placed to provide solutions to complex societal challenges that require interdisciplinary approaches spanning multiple disciplines – from computer science and engineering, to social sciences, psychology, business, healthcare and education.

“Developing well-performing, fair, trustworthy and cyber-secure AI systems with a proper governance structure and a suitable policy framework, while dealing with vast amounts of multimodal data, remains a challenge that is highly underestimated.

“Establishing the University as a world-leading Data & AI research and innovation hub requires a collective, transparent and participatory approach, and my priority is to create a vibrant and supportive environment for active interdisciplinary research.”

Eleonora (Ele) Belfiore – Director, Interdisciplinary Centre for Social Inclusion and Cultural Diversity

“I am absolutely thrilled to join the University of Aberdeen at such an exciting point in the development of its new research vision and strategy.

“The establishment of five ambitious, interdisciplinary research centres to deal with the great challenges that face the world, our climate, our economy and our society as we slowly begin to emerge from a long pandemic is a bold and important move.

“I feel privileged to be part of this vision, and to lead the Interdisciplinary Centre for Social Inclusion and Cultural Diversity, working with colleagues across the University to realise the potential of the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences to lead to progressive change in our society.”