Engineering research recognised by REF 2021

Research carried out in the School of Civil Engineering has been recognised in the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021.

REF is the system for assessing the quality and impact of research in UK higher education institutions, broken down by disciplines called Units of Assessment (UoA).  

In Engineering (UoA12) which includes Civil Engineering, overall 97% of the research outputs submitted were assessed as “world-leading” or “internationally excellent”. The School’s work on water, public health and environmental engineering; materials and structures; and cities, infrastructure and energy has produced many of the outstanding research outputs that have contributed to our success in this UoA.   

Our research is driven by major societal challenges and some of our most prominent work includes global analyses of plastic pollution; hospital design that reduces the spread of infections; new cements and concretes that reduce carbon emissions; more stable bridges; better heat pumps; and high-speed rail systems.   

This result is a fantastic endorsement of our strategy to promote interdisciplinary research that directly addresses the problems facing society in the 21st century. My colleagues in the School and their collaborators work extremely hard on research that not only pushes the boundary of scientific knowledge, but is also grounded in the real-life challenges that face civil engineers every day both here and across the world. This result is testament to their incredible dedication and we are delighted that the REF panel of experts has recognised their efforts.

Professor Phil Purnell, Deputy Head of School for Civil Engineering

Our engineering work has been singled out for its “impact”, which measures how our academic research has been turned into real-life improvements in policy, the economy and people’s lives. The REF 2021 results categorised 95% of the research impact contributions to society, academia and industry from Engineering (UoA12) as “world-leading” or “internationally excellent”.  These results reflect how our colleagues are working with collaborators in the UK and overseas to expand the frontiers of knowledge and apply this to make a difference in the real world. This includes three research impact case studies led by the School of Civil Engineering that have positively impacted millions of people in the UK and across the globe. 

Research on infection transmission mechanisms underpins COVID-19 mitigation strategies set by UK Government

School research and leadership over the past 12 years into mechanisms of pathogen transport in the built environment, models to assess transmission risk, and effectiveness of engineering control strategies have provided essential understanding of the likely transmission pathways for the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. This research is led by Professor Cath Noakes. 

 Evaluating how the virus, human behaviour and design of the environment come together has been crucial for being able to explain COVID-19 transmission and how measures such as ventilation work to reduce risk. Collaboration has been really important enabling global understanding that the virus is transmitted through the air. Our research has provided evidenced based advice to policy makers to support practical guidance for organisations and the public to create environments that were as safe as possible.

Professor Cath Noakes, OBE, FREng

Co-development of a methodology for improved outcomes of major infrastructure projects

UK-Government-sanctioned methodology, Project Initiation Routemap, co-created by the University of Leeds, has helped to optimise the delivery of major projects that enhance and expand the UK’s infrastructure that is critical to the nation’s economic success and prosperity.  The Project Initiation Routemap is the result of a powerful coalition of academics, government and industry coming together to create a structured methodology that unlocks the behavioural requirements needed to bring about a step change in major project performance. This methodology facilitates more informed programme initiation and delivery decisions, meaning that greater economic and social outcomes can be achieved and that projects can be delivered more quickly and provide greater value for money. This research is led by Professor Denise Bower, OBE. 

Mapping hazardous infectious faecal wastes to improve Public Health (SFD project)

Lack of access to safe sanitation affects 2.6 billion people, particularly in low-and middle-income countries. Research led by Professor Barbara Evans has developed tools that generate accessible whole-city visualisations of safe and unsafe human excreta flows and identify policy and institutional gaps requiring investment for reducing Public Health and Environmental risks.  

Millions of people around the world still lack access to a basic safe toilet while 60% of human excreta enters the environment untreated. The SFD project has been a ten-year collaboration with international funding agencies, national governments, city authorities and water utilities to help redirect investments towards better management of faecal waste.  Ultimately our partners will make the decisions that transform the cities of tomorrow and change the life of billions.

Professor Barbara Evans

View the University of Leeds REF 2021 results for all units of assessment.