Research with impact

The world needs game changers with new perspectives on the challenges we face.

At Essex, we’re nurturing a community of activists, advocates, change-makers, innovators, reformers and disruptive thinkers - researchers who are endlessly curious, tenacious and committed to social action.

By looking outward, building partnerships and expanding our networks we’ve established an international profile with a research culture underpinned by our values of inclusion and responsibility, and evidence-based rigour.

Our research community is made up of a special mix of researchers drawn from every corner of the world.

They are taking on the vital issues from tackling climate change to challenging stereotypes and taking technology to its limits.

Our Celebrating Excellence in Research and Impact Awards highlight the way our research community is making a difference in so many fields.

You can see a full round-up of this year's celebration and a full list of winners in our research section.

Here we take a look in-depth at some of the researchers pushing the boundaries and helping make real change.

Feeding the world

Dr Pallavi Singh won the Early Career Researcher Award for Science and Health for her work with vital crops - like rice - to help them adapt to climate change.

Her research has overturned the consensus dating back thousands of years that cereal and related species do not graft. A finding with huge implications for plant biology research.

Dr Singh’s research is focused on improving photosynthesis – the process by which plants turn sunlight into energy. It is hoped this will allow crops to use less water and help farmers adapt to climate change.

Described by colleagues as "a leader in her field" Dr Singh is committed to supporting colleagues both at Essex and beyond alongside future scientists through outreach work.

Her exceptionally important research led to her receiving the prestigious President’s Medal from the Society for Experimental Biology earlier this year.

"I've got 30 years before I retire, and it would be defeatist of me to think I can't help"

Dr Pallavi Singh

Connecting the planet

Dr Zilong Liu - outstanding mid-career researcher

Dr Liu won the Outstanding Mid-Career Researcher Award for the Faculty of Science and Health for his pioneering work at the forefront of the next generation of wireless communications.

He hopes to uncover and understand how to push the limits of wireless signals and is at the cutting edge of 6G technology. He is also working on safety and comfort in autonomous vehicles.

Working tirelessly with industry Dr Liu has built partnerships across the globe with wireless firms and other academics.

The hope is the research will lead to a step-change in telecommunications as the world moves beyond-5G or 6G mobile systems.

Dr Liu said: "I hope that some of our novel findings can influence or be adopted by the telecommunication industry working on beyond-5G or 6G mobile systems.

"From the funding perspective, I look forward to leading some large consortiums through UK or EU funding support as well as some prestigious fellowship projects, such as an EPSRC Open Fellowship or ERC Consolidator Grants."


Visibility champion

Dr Paul Hanel is blazing a trail for Essex researchers and his dedication to open science saw him secure the Research Visibility Champion Award.

Dr Hanel worked tirelessly to raise the University's profile whilst proactively engaging with influential media.

His research on creativity has been covered internationally in high-profile publications like The Times and The Guardian.

His recent research has focused on creativity and how humans measure up to AI and whether drugs can boost inspiration.

He said: "I believe my research on creativity has had a fairly wide impact because creativity is important to so many people. Especially in times when generative AI is doing better and better in creative tasks, it is especially important for people to know how to enhance their creativity."

Away from creativity Dr Hanel has explored cross-cultural values, the secrets of personal happiness and polarisation in an increasingly fractured world.

It is not just media outreach that Dr Hanel has thrown himself into.

The scientist has taken part in numerous high-profile public events such as the Royal Society's Summer Science Festival 2022 and presented at countless non-academic conferences.

At the Royal Society, his team helped challenge stereotypes by encouraging thousands of visitors to test their values at the flagship event.

The success of the exhibit has led on to an invite to the British Science Festival in September this year.

"I am hoping to further contribute to reducing polarisation as well as stereotypes and increase social cohesion through the approach that I have developed."

Dr Paul Hanel

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