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Research

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The Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics is The Open University’s largest research faculty, helping to cement its position as one of the UK’s top research institutions. Our researchers enjoy state-of-the-art facilities to support their subject interests, including specialist laboratories and world-leading analytical facilities.

We focus on innovation in the real world – developing scientific and technological solutions to some of society’s most pressing and complex challenges, leading behavioural transformation, influencing policy and practice, and addressing STEM skills shortages across the UK. Our strong commitment to interdisciplinary research is grounded in outward-looking, sustainable academic communities that engage fully with impactful teaching and scholarship, maintaining strong links with professional bodies and industry.

Reputation

Nearly three quarters (72%) of the OU’s research was assessed as world-leading or internationally excellent in the 2014 Research Assessment Framework (REF), with STEM subjects making a significant contribution. STEM researchers contributed to 12 Units of Assessment, including Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences, Electrical and Electronic Engineering, and Allied Health Professions.

Impact

  • We house one of Europe’s premier research centres in Planetary, Space and Astronomical Sciences, noted for its work on many space missions such as Rosetta – for which we developed on-board instrumentation. Our researchers are now using technology from the project to develop new medical applications.
  • Our biomedical scientists are working with industrial partners to develop novel approaches for selective delivery of therapeutic compounds to the brain. We are also setting up a clinical trial with local oncologists to assess the use of fluorescent probes to find the operable margins of skin tumours.
  • In mathematics, our self-controlled case series (SCCS) method is now widely used by public health agencies to assess the safety of medications including vaccines.
  • OU materials engineers led the research consortium which built ENGIN-X, the world’s first neutron diffractometer optimised for stress testing.
  • A problem-oriented engineering methodology developed by researchers in our computing department is saving industry time and money by increasing the efficiency of the engineering design process.
  • OU research is informing decision-making on some of the most important nature conservation sites in the UK, working with key nature conservation, land and water management organisations.
  • OU/BBC co-productions such as The Hunt and Countdown to Life: The Extraordinary Making of You reach millions of viewers every year. By working as consultants on these programmes, our academics bring a greater understanding of science – and our own exciting research – directly to the general public.

Research highlights

  • We are developing a range of low-energy, low-carbon systems for domestic and transport use, as part of the MK: Smart project to develop Milton Keynes as a model 'smart city'.
  • Our researchers are pushing the boundaries of human-computer interaction by developing a range of wearable interactive technologies, with applications ranging from supporting patient rehabilitation to improving the performance of music students.
  • Our Floodplain Meadows Project holds a substantial UK data set from these species-rich, threatened habitats – including data collected by volunteer ‘citizen scientists’ used to improve their management. Our work promotes the restoration of floodplain meadows, and we recently produced a technical handbook for anyone involved in this vital work.
  • We undertake research excellence in the development and application of mechanics-based residual stress measurement techniques combined with non-destructive methods. StressMap (the University’s business unit) currently offers unique residual stress measurement services to industry based on its facilities and expertise.
  • OU scientists have developed a system to provide real-time monitoring of active volcanoes from space.
  • The e2v Centre for Electronic Imaging is a collaborative research centre between the University and e2v, producers of high-performance systems for space exploration. The Centre is creating new electronic imaging equipment for space missions which allows us to see deeper into the universe.

Meet our Academics

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In addition to teaching on Open University modules our academics are engaged in ground breaking research that benefits individuals and society.

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