Five international science and innovation partnerships have been celebrated at the 2018 Newton Prize, held in London on 3rd December.
The annual £1 million prize recognises pioneering research and innovations that come from international partnerships between the UK and Newton Fund partner countries around the world. Each project is helping to solve global development challenges. The UK National Commission for UNESCO is responsible for administering the Newton Prize and arranging the London Prize Event on behalf of the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy. The 2019 Newton Prize countries were also announced on 3rd December.
Business Secretary Greg Clark said:
“These prize winning international projects are uniting the brightest and best minds from across the globe to transform lives now and for generations to come. The Newton Prize and Newton Fund create, cultivate and celebrate these partnerships and I congratulate all the winners on their excellent work.”
This year the Newton Prize focussed on partnerships between the UK and Latin American countries: Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Mexico. The below-winning projects were each awarded up to £200,000.
Improving the lives of the Guarani people by saving the Atlantic Forest
This Newton-funded project between researchers at University College London and the Indigenous Work Centre in Brazil is helping the indigenous Guarani restore the Atlantic Forest in their territory. By drawing from Guarani ancestral agricultural knowledge and established agroforestry techniques, and by promoting a better understanding of the importance of indigenous peoples for environmental conservation, the team are supporting the preservation and restoration of the forest and improving the wellbeing of Guarani communities. As well as benefiting the Atlantic Forest and the communities it supports, the results of the project could inform conservation efforts elsewhere.
Strengthening energy infrastructure to withstand extreme weather and natural disasters
Newton funded scientists at the University of Manchester and University of Chile are using mathematical models that will strengthen power systems in Chile and other countries vulnerable to environmental hazards. The models will help energy providers prevent or reduce wide scale electricity outages when power systems are exposed to high-impact, low-probability events. It will inform planning practices to help shape a robust, cost-effective and low-carbon Chilean transmission network. National and international networks developed through the project have built the capacity of researchers in the wider region, and the potential impact of this project could benefit countries affected by extreme weather and natural hazards worldwide.
Turning environmentally damaging coffee waste into electricity
Scientists working on this Newton Fund project with Colombia have found that environmentally damaging coffee waste could be turned into electricity using a microbial fuel cell. They discovered that if they fed coffee waste to a community of microbes originally found in a wastewater treatment plant, the tiny creatures would eat it, producing energy. This energy could then be captured in the form of electricity. The research team from the University of Surrey and University of Antioquia in Colombia is now developing a small, inexpensive device suitable for use on Colombian farms. The aim is to initially implement it in the coffee growing area of Southwest Antioquia, where they have already established good relationships with farmers. If their fuel cells are used successfully in Colombia, the researchers hope to engage with large coffee companies in Europe to adopt the same approach to treating their waste.
New drought resistant beans for sustainable food supply in Mexico
Researchers from the University of Sheffield and the Institute of Biotechnology at the National Autonomous University of Mexico are developing climate ready elite bean varieties to combat drought related crop losses for Mexican and Latin American agriculture. By understanding how plants respond to drought and carbon dioxide through adjusting their stomata (microscopic valves on the leaf surface that open and close), the researchers are finding that reducing bean stomatal numbers could reduce water use by up to 40 percent without affecting yield; potentially saving up to three percent of Mexico’s entire agricultural water use. The project has the potential to secure a reduction in rural poverty. Improving bean yields and minimising fertiliser use will also benefit soils, reduce desertification and improve water quality.
Documenting the past for a more peaceful future
The final Newton Prize, the Chair’s Award, was given to a unique project between Goldsmiths University of London and the Alberto Hurtado University, in Chile. Thousands of people around the world are imprisoned, tortured or executed for political reasons. Left undocumented, these actions are often met with denial, revisionism and impunity for those who commit them, threatening democracy, peaceful coexistence and human development.
This international research team has shown how the act of documentation itself is an important mode of resistance to human rights violations. It allows affected societies to appreciate – often for the first time – the depth and scale of the trauma suffered by fellow citizens. This new line of research, virtually unexplored until now, is a decisive contribution to human rights movements. Crucially, it will support public policy and measures that help us to move towards a more peaceful future.
This is the second year of the Newton Prize, which was developed to showcase how UK science and innovation partnerships are helping to solve global development challenges. The Newton Prize also incentivises researchers and innovators to participate in the Newton Fund as partners with the UK to work on the most important problems facing developing countries such as poverty, climate change and public health.
This year, 140 Newton funded projects, fellowships or other awards applied for the Newton Prize. The funding allows researchers to take their existing Newton Fund projects to the next level. For example, by translating their project from the lab into the field, through expansion and/or improvements to their original project, by bringing in more capacity or gaining higher profile; all increasing the likelihood of success.