Bristol's Cot Death research and PEE Power® recognised in UK's Best Breakthroughs List

Issue date: 06 December 2018


Research initiatives at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) and the University of Bristol have today been named as two of the UK's 100 best breakthroughs by Universities UK (UUK) for their significant impact on people's lives.

The campaign, called MadeAtUni, recognised an invention developed at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) that converts urine into electricity, as well as a University of Bristol study, which showed that 'Cot Death' can be avoided if babies are placed on their backs - and not their fronts - to sleep.

UWE Bristol's PEE POWER® system uses microbial fuel cells to turn organic matter such as urine and other types of wastewater into enough electricity to power lighting or charge mobile phones. At the same time, it sanitises the urine and produces plant fertilizer as a natural by-product.

Developed by Professor Ioannis Ieropoulos, who is Director of the Bristol BioEnergy Centre, the system has been successfully trialled in urinals at Glastonbury Festival and used to provide lighting for toilet blocks at schools in Africa with limited access to mains electricity.

The system could one day be installed in refugee camps, slums and hospitals. It has the potential to improve safety and sanitation for people in areas without access to mains power or sewage-networked sanitation.

UWE Bristol's Professor Ieropoulos said: “We are delighted that MadeAtUni has recognised our research for its impact on society. Eventually, we will see microbial fuel cells deployed everywhere in the world, not just where it is most needed in locations that have no sewage systems, or that are remote with no power grid, but also in the developed world. This is because as a technology it can serve the purpose of cleaning the environment and returning energy back to the user.”

The University of Bristol's Peter Fleming, Professor of Infant Health and Developmental Physiology set up the Avon Cot Death Study in 1987. This followed a realisation that the number of babies dying from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) also known as 'Cot Death' had increased in many countries, but no one knew why.

Professor Fleming collected data on a wide range of factors and concluded that putting babies to sleep on their front caused an almost ten-fold increase in the risk of cot death.

His work informed the high-profile Back-to-Sleep campaign in the early 1990s to ensure babies slept on their back, resulting in a dramatic drop in global incidents of SIDS. It has helped shape policy in over 30 countries and made a positive difference to mothers and babies throughout the world.

The list of breakthroughs demonstrates how UK universities are at the forefront of some of the world's most important discoveries, innovations and social initiatives, including the discovery of penicillin, work tackling plastic pollution, ultrasound scans to check the health of unborn babies and the establishment of the Living Wage.

The list also highlights the less celebrated but vital breakthroughs that transform lives, including a specially-designed bra to help women undergoing radiotherapy; a toilet that flushes human waste without the need for water; the development of a new scrum technique to make rugby safer; a sports initiative that aims to use football to resolve conflict in divided communities; - and even work to protect the quality of the chocolate we eat.

The list was compiled by Universities UK, the umbrella group for UK universities, as part of the MadeAtUni campaign to change public perceptions of universities and bring to life the difference they make to people, lives and communities across the UK.

It follows independent research undertaken by Britain Thinks, which found that the public has little understanding of the benefits of universities beyond undergraduate teaching. The findings show that research is one of the key triggers to change opinion about universities but for many people, it is an abstract concept.

Professor Hugh Brady, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bristol, said: “Universities play a vital role in improving people's lives by providing the knowledge and research which underpin new discoveries that have lasting societal impacts on our health, environment, communities and cities.

“Professor Fleming's research is one example of this and we are delighted that it has been selected for the UK's Best Breakthrough list. We are extremely proud of the work of our academics and difference they make to society.”

Professor Dame Janet Beer, President of Universities UK, said: “Universities really do transform lives. The technology we use every day, the medicines that save lives, the teachers who inspire – all come from UK universities and the important work being done by academics.

“The UK's Best Breakthroughs list is a testament to the difference that universities make to people's lives and we want everyone to join us in celebrating the work they do.”

The UK's Best Breakthroughs list: 100+ Ways Universities Have Improved Everyday Life was put together in partnership with universities across the UK. As part of the MadeAtUni campaign, every university in the country was invited to nominate the one thing from their institution which they believe has had the biggest impact on people, lives and communities. Over 100 universities submitted a nomination. The entries cover health, technology, environment, family, community and culture and sport.

You can find out more about the UK's Best Breakthroughs and the MadeAtUni campaign here www.madeatuni.org.uk.

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