Our research is where great minds work together. It is challenge-led and impactful, and often requires an interdisciplinary approach to address the great research challenges of our age: energy transition, social inclusion and cultural diversity, data and artificial intelligence, environment and biodiversity, and health, nutrition and wellbeing.
These interdisciplinary challenges represent research areas of historic and emerging excellence that are capable of supporting a diverse research portfolio and delivering globally excellent and measurable benefits to society, the economy and health. Additionally, these challenges reflect the work we do in supporting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in partnership with a range of stakeholders.
Our Interdisciplinary Challenges
For more than 40 years we've combined our academic excellence with industry expertise, to innovate and positively affect the future of global energy.
In a rapidly changing world, we aim to be open to other perspectives and understand how culture and diversity shape human experience.
By making the most of our proximity to nature, our researchers are addressing major environmental challenges both close to home and far afield.
We have carried out research in data science and AI for more than 30 years, discovering new ways to improve health and daily life with this technology.
Interdisciplinary Research Directors
- David Burslem - Director of the Interdisciplinary Centre for Environment and Biodiversity
David Burslem is an inter-disciplinary ecologist and conservation biologist interested in research that addresses the maintenance of ecosystems with high biodiversity and ecological functioning in the face of global change. He joined the University of Aberdeen in 1995 following undergraduate and PhD training in biological sciences at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. He was appointed to a personal chair in the School of Biological Sciences in 2013, Keeper of the Cruickshank Botanic Garden in 2016 and Interdisciplinary Director for Environment and Biodiversity in 2022. He has held appointments as Councillor and Trustee of the British Ecological Society, Vice-President of the Botanical Society of Scotland and editorial roles on Journal of Ecology, Plant Ecology and Diversity, and Ecological Reviews. He currently serves as a trustee of the Scottish Forestry Trust and on the advisory group of the Northeast Scotland Biological Records Centre (NESBREC).
David’s research has focussed on the generation and maintenance of biodiversity in ecological communities, ranging from fundamental studies of tropical plant evolution to analyses that generate the evidence base for interventions in species conservation and ecosystem management. Most of his research has been conducted within an inter-disciplinary framework that involves collaborations with partners in government, non-governmental organisations, and industry. Recent highlights include high-profile research demonstrating the importance of active interventions to restore tropical forests as reservoirs of carbon, and biodiversity studies contributing to the formal protection of more than 300,000 hectares of forest in Borneo. David’s research group has been funded continuously by UK research councils, European Union, charitable trusts and industrial partners for more than 25 years.
“The inter-related crises of biodiversity loss and climate change threaten planetary life-support systems, including the capacity of environments to deliver safe and affordable amounts of food, clean air and space for people and nature to coexist.”
“The solutions to these problems will require research across traditional disciplinary boundaries, and active engagement between academic communities and external partners to their real-world applicability.”
“The University of Aberdeen has a long track-record of world-leading research on biodiversity and environmental sustainability, which is reflected in the commitments to the UN Sustainable Development Goals that are embedded in Aberdeen 2040.”
“I am delighted to be working alongside colleagues at the University and our external partners to facilitate the coordination and expansion of our interdisciplinary teaching and research on environment and biodiversity.”
- John Underhill - Director of the Interdisciplinary Centre for Energy Transition
John Underhill is the Academic Executive Director of the UK Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) entitled GeoNetZero (GNZ). Supported by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the latter is a £5M industry-academic collaboration between 12 Universities and 8 industry partners that is exploring the role of Geoscience for the Low Carbon Energy Transition and Challenge to meet Net Zero emission targets.
He has been the recipient of numerous awards including the Geological Society’s Lyell Medal Silver Medal of the Geological Society’s Energy Group, the Clough Medal of the Edinburgh Geological Society, and European Association of Geoscientists and Engineers (EAGE) Alfred Wegener and Distinguished Lecturer Awards and the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) George C. Matson, Grover E. Murray Distinguished Educator, and Ziad Beydoun awards.
He was President of the European Association of Geoscientists & Engineers (EAGE) in 2011-12. John has previously held professorial posts at The University of Edinburgh and Heriot Watt University, where he was their Chief Scientist. John was also a member of the UK Energy Minister's Technology Leadership Board (TLB) and currently populates the UK Exploration Task Force (XTF) and the Scottish Government’s Science Advisory Council (SSAC).
Away from academic life, John was a professional football referee on the FIFA circuit, which saw him officiate on European Champions League, internationals and Scottish Premier League games including those at Pittodrie, between 1994-2008.
“The Energy Transition is one of the most significant global challenges that we face. Put simply, how do we ensure the lights remain on, domestic energy supplies continue, and heating needs are met whilst simultaneously decarbonising industry, transport and other sectors?
“It is a privilege to lead the Interdisciplinary Centre for Energy Transition and its efforts to address, critically evaluate and seek the right solutions that ensure we retain energy supply as we decarbonise.
“I see the Centre being a catalyst for change whereby the University can draw and build upon its expertise, collaborate across the research and training landscape and partner with Industry, Government and other stakeholders in the local, national and international communities.
“Having been pivotal for the energy industry and wealth creation and quality of life that the UK has enjoyed over the past half century, the city of Aberdeen and greater north east region is uniquely placed to help shape and deliver the transition that it is required.
“I am absolutely delighted to take on this leadership role at such an esteemed University, 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.”
- Eleonora Belfiore - Director of the Interdisciplinary Centre for Social Inclusion and Cultural Diversity
Eleonora Belfiore joined Aberdeen from Loughborough University, where she was Professor of Communication and Media Studies and Co-Director of the Centre for Research in Communication and Culture, having previously been Reader in Cultural Policy Studies at Warwick University. She has published extensively on cultural politics and policy, and particularly the place that notions of the ‘social impacts’ of the arts have had in British cultural policy discourses.
She is one of the world leading scholars in cultural value research, and was Co-Director of Studies of the Warwick Commission on the Future of Cultural Value (2013-5), and co-author of its influential final report, Enriching Britain: Culture, creativity and growth, published in February 2015. For Palgrave, she edits the book series New Directions in Cultural Policy Research, which has published 16 volumes to date, and she is Co-Editor in Chief journal Cultural Trends.
Eleonora is developing new research on the labour conditions of socially engaged arts practice supported by a British Academy/Leverhulme grant. She is also Co-investigator in a project on the creative industries and development in Ghana funded by Danida, the Danish International Development Agency. Eleonora is committed to the promotion of equality, diversity and inclusion in Higher Education, and she is one of the founding members of the Women In Academia Support Network, a trans-inclusive and intersectional charity that brings together over 12,000 women and non-binary members from across the world to support one another and pushes for gender parity and more equitable working conditions in Higher Education.
“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.
“As a scholar passionate about the connection between culture, society and public policy, the focus of the Centre on inclusion and diversity is a perfect match for the values that have driven my work to date.
“I look forward to the opportunity to position the Centre as an internationally recognised home for interdisciplinary, co-produced and society oriented research that aspires to create social change in collaboration with local, national and international partners.”
- Georgios Leontidis - Director of the Interdisciplinary Centre for Data and Artificial Intelligence
Georgios is a TEDx speaker, an Engineer and Computer Scientist and holds MSc and PhD degrees in Machine Learning. He joined the University of Aberdeen in March 2020, after spending several years at the University of Lincoln’s School of Computer Science. While at Lincoln he held several internal roles and positions and played an instrumental role in enhancing the reputation of the School and expanding the Machine Learning Research Group, via attracting prestigious grants and studentships. Georgios also spent time in industry working as a Senior Data Scientist in IBA Dosimetry GmbH in Germany.
Georgios has been conducting world-leading activity on foundational elements of Machine Learning for more than a decade, being active in the international community both as an author and senior programme committee for flagship AI venues including NeurIPS, AAAI and IJCAI. Alongside his core discipline research activities on deep learning, capsule neural networks, domain adaptation, and self-supervised learning, Georgios has been conducting cutting-edge research across several interdisciplinary applications, such as agri-food on soft-fruit yield forecasting, data sharing, and supply chain optimisation, nuclear reactor perturbation analysis and anomaly detection, gas turbine availability, medical image analysis, intelligent refrigeration systems optimisation, environmental data imputation, computer vision, etc, all of which have received funding from several sources including EPSRC, NERC, EU-FP7, EU-H2020, Innovate UK, and industry.
A member of the Full Peer Review College of EPSRC, and a Panel College member of the UKRI Future Leaders Fellow, Georgios was invited and participated in AI workshops organised by UKRI as part of its AI review exercise and was a member of the UK AI council’s data sharing working group. He recently co-organised with SICSA a pan-Scotland AI all-hands event and has been supporting several aspects of the development of Scotland’s AI playbook. He is currently a Senior Expert with the NERC Constructing a Digital Environment Expert Network and his recent TEDx talk focused on how Data & AI can help our sustainable future.
“Data and Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies are uniquely placed to provide solutions to complex societal challenges requiring 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 amount of multimodal data, remains an open and multi-faceted challenge that is highly underestimated.
“Through its Aberdeen 2040 strategy, the University is well placed to use its remarkable amount of academic expertise working across various areas of AI to play a major role in responding to societal challenges with effective solutions, and to supporting national AI strategies.
“Establishing the University as a world-leading Data & AI research and innovation hub requires a collective, transparent and participatory approach, and my main priority is to create a vibrant and supportive environment for active interdisciplinary research. I would encourage both academic and professional services staff at the University to actively engage in our activities.”
- Jennie Macdiarmid - Director of the Interdisciplinary Centre for Health, Nutrition and Wellbeing
Jennie is internationally recognised for research on food and nutrition security. She is a public health nutritionist working with climate, environmental and social scientists to address the global challenges of food and nutrition security through sustainable diets. The research sits at the nexus of nutrition, environment, behaviour and society. Jennie joined the University of Aberdeen in 2006, having gained a degree in nutrition and food science from the University of Surrey and PhD in psychology from the University of Leeds. Immediately following her PhD, she worked in national and international policy through the International Obesity Taskforce. In 2017, she was awarded a chair in Sustainable Nutrition and Health at the University of Aberdeen.
Jennie published some of the original research on sustainable diets combining nutrition and climate change to seek practical solutions for both improve health and climate mitigation through dietary change. This work has stimulated many debates in national and international governments, industry and NGOs, leading to the revision of national and international dietary guidelines (WHO/FAO) to move towards more plant-based diets and stimulated industry to develop foods with lower carbon footprints. Throughout her career she has studying major nutrition-related challenges with collaborators across many disciplines. In 2021, she was awarded the Prize for Excellence in Interdisciplinary Research for her work on nutrition security and sustainable diets. As well as in her research, Jennie takes an interdisciplinary approach to teaching to provide students a more comprehensive perspective of global challenges in achieving food and nutrition security.
“Many of the greatest challenges facing the world today need multiple disciplines to work together to find solutions and the centre can support this type of research. My aim is to help create new, as well as support existing, interdisciplinary projects and introduce it into teaching across the University.
“Working together with the directors of the other interdisciplinary centres we will stimulate new exciting collaborations and help train the next generation of researcher in interdisciplinary approaches to address important questions.”