Science at Southampton: Five Things to Brag About


For all those new to University, and even those already studying, it can be interesting to learn what pioneering scientific research is being carried out here. Here’s a – by no means exhaustive – list of some of our University’s most exciting projects. To any researchers whose projects I haven’t mentioned, complaints can be sent to [redacted].

Cancer Immunology Centre

The University is aiming to raise £25m to open a state-of-the-art Centre for Cancer Immunology in 2017. Cancer immunology trains the body’s own immune system to recognise and kill cancerous cells, in a similar way to that of vaccines. One of the breakthroughs leading to the discovery of cancer immunology was the approach of using a specially engineered virus to attack cancer cells. In a surprise result, researchers found that the act of marking the cells with the viruses prompted the immune system itself to attack the cancer, killing it more effectively than the viruses were able to.

Used in conjunction with chemotherapy, the treatment promises to be highly successful too: According to Professor Martin Glennie, Head of Cancer Sciences and Southampton, “more than ninety percent of patients treated with immunotherapy who have survived more than two years remain cancer free.” More broadly, around half of patients with difficult-to-treat cancers were found to show significant improvements, with twenty percent becoming completely cancer-free. These remarkable results will only improve, and experts predict that cancer vaccines could become widely available within the next fifteen years.

Protecting Coral Reefs

According to the WWF, coral reefs provide close to $30Bn each year in goods and services, as well as supporting enormous biodiversity. Despite the benefits and importance of reefs, increases in temperature and light have led to coral bleaching – the loss of algae from the coral’s tissue, resulting in the coral turning white. Corals cannot survive without the symbiotic relationship with algae which provide sugars and lipids to the coral, as well as dissolved nitrogen and phosphorous. Corals tend to die relatively quickly after losing their symbionts, so coral mortality is usually very high after a mass bleaching event – causing a knock-on impact to the entire ecosystem.

Professor Jörg Wiedenmann is at the helm of efforts to change the attitudes of people and the way they interact with coral reefs. They are also researching how some species of coral can survive in hostile environments such as the Persian/Arabian Gulf, where high salinity and summer temperatures of around 35°C would kill other similar coral species. The research carried out by his team is crucial for understanding how biodiversity can be maintained in oceans around the world in the face of threats such as climate change and other human activity.

µ-VIS X-Ray Imaging Centre

The £3m state-of-the-art research facility opened in 2011 draws upon the expertise of over forty academic staff to deliver high resolution X-Ray computer tomography (CT). CT imaging (like that used in a CAT scan) makes use of X-Ray images taken at different angles to build up cross-sectional images of different samples. The µ-VIS centre allows for 3D models to be generated from the images taken at microscope-levels of detail. As a result, researchers have been able to peer into the microstructures of materials to trace crack growth; scan biopsied lung samples with pulmonary fibrosis to reveal the extent of scarring and archaeologists have been able to view the internal contents of precious and fragile artefacts – all with technology initially designed for analysing jet engine blades.

Olympians in the RJ Mitchell Wind Tunnel

Southampton University has established an international reputation for excellence in the field of performance sports engineering over four decades, with wind tunnel engineers contributing to the successes of British cycling athletes, competitive sailors, Formula 1 teams and more.

Involvement has concentrated on sports involving high speeds, where the potential gains through aerodynamic and hydrodynamic optimisation are greatest. In particular, significant research into bike aerodynamics has been carried out, as well streamlining athletes’ helmets and riding positions. The result of all this investment is that the British cycling team is now one of the dominant teams in the world, receiving twelve medals in total at the 2016 summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro – twice the number of the next highest ranking country, the Netherlands.

The Wolfson Unit at Southampton was awarded the status of Innovation Partner with UK Sport in 2007.

Making the past a virtual reality

Researchers are using cutting-edge technologies such as satellite and X-Ray imaging, geophysical analysis, photogrammetry and computer simulations to bring ancient sites to life. A major example is the exploration of the important Roman harbour city of Portus, 30 km west of Rome and one of the most important archaeological sites in the world. The work uncovered Portus in stunning detail, revealing quays, shipyards, a large Roman palace and, incredibly, even the biological profile of people who worked in and passed through the port.

The discoveries at Portus have reached a global audience – between a BBC1 documentary and an online University course, more than forty million people have learned about Portus – something which could not have happened without the developments made by the project. The use of CGI visualisations, in particular, has been useful for educational purposes, as well as for informing policy makers about the importance of the site.

The team’s excavation of Portus has led to a £2.1m grant from the European Research Council to examine thirty-one other Roman ports across nine different countries to learn how they functioned within the vast Roman trading network.


Third year Mechanical Engineering student. Wessex Scene's Science Editor and last year's Head of Design. Interested in cars, AI, virtual reality, etc. etc.

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