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The Network

This stage proposes to bring together the two leading UK Universities for teaching, research and industrial work in acoustics. In the 2001 RAE, ISVR at Southampton University scored a grade of 5* and the Acoustics Research Centre at Salford University was part of a 6* RAE submission. The Universities of Salford and Southampton are regarded by EPSRC as the only two UK centres of excellence in acoustics [1]. In 2003/4 ISVR and Salford generated research incomes of ≈£2.4M and ≈£1M respectively. Therefore, the theme can draw upon internationally-leading acoustics’ research.

Both Universities teach acoustic courses at degree and masters level, and have done so for several decades. They provide a unique training in a niche subject, and there is great demand for graduates from both Universities in the diverse industries that have to deal with sound, noise or vibration. Salford and ISVR have a long track record of undertaking enterprise work with SMEs and larger companies.

Both Universities own extensive laboratories and advanced test equipment for acoustic and vibration measurements. Between them they have a range of facilities unrivalled in the UK: transmission suites, reverberation chambers, anechoic chambers, an IEC listening room, studios, semi-anechoic spaces, a human factor laboratory etc.. These facilities are used to support research, teaching and commercial work. Currently, ISVR and Salford are undergoing major building works to improve some or all of their test facilities, for example Salford University is currently investing £2.5M in new acoustic facilities, while work has just commenced on an £4.7M new building for ISVR. ISVR is also unusual in that it houses the SE Cochlear Implant Centre, and has a clinic housed within its buildings.

One reason for bringing together the two Universities for this project, is because it enables the award to tap into the wide range of engineering areas which involve sound or vibration; this would not be so true if the application was from Salford or Southampton alone. Between them, ISVR and Salford cover: architectural and building acoustics, vibration, digital signal processing, active control, long range propagation, environmental noise, underwater acoustics, audiology and human response to sound and vibration. Consequently, between them, the Universities cover nearly all (if not all) major areas of acoustic research, and therefore the Universities cover all aspects of the proposed theme of this stage proposal. The network brings together 3 academics from each University with a range of interests in acoustics as detailed below. As necessary, it will be possible to call on others at ISVR and Salford, when expertise in other areas of acoustics is needed. There are also other people at ISVR and Salford who undertake public engagement work, but are not in the network, who might also contribute as necessary; for instance others at ISVR developed the Sound Waves teaching material.

The Universities are also being brought together in this bid to make the work more efficient and effective. Much of the public outreach work proposed naturally has a local or regional emphasis, such as work with local schools, and so by bringing together the two Universities from different parts of the country, it is possible to reach more schools by duplicating activities in the north and south of England.

The stage places a part-time science communicator at both institutions to help develop the various activities. The stage involves some of the UK's best professional science communicators working alongside the academics. The idea is that this enables the network members to learn and practice different approaches to science communication under expert guidance, while enabling the professional science communicators to exploit the subject expertise of the academics. This also gives a wide range of expertises (both in research and public engagement work) that can help respond to any opportunities that may arise during the stage award.

The network members currently have a range of experiences in public outreach work, some members are very active and are involved in initiatives that the stage can link into, and some are keen to be involved, but are currently relatively inactive. This was a deliberately policy decision when formulating the bid, because one of the objectives is to try and promote the spread of public engagement skills within the acoustics research community. The stage will also leave a legacy of resources, in the form of activities that the Universities and partners can use in future engagement work.

The management of the network should be relatively straightforward because: the theme is bounded and coherent; the network only includes two Universities (who have some experience of working together), and the proposal contains a set of self-contained activities. The responsibility for the activities will be shared among the network members. The lead network members on each activity will work with the communicator, network partners and members to develop the activity.

[i] Minutes, meeting of IoA/EPSRC Programme Managers for General Engineering, IT and Computing, 20/9/2000