Skip navigation

Northumbria recognised in UK’s Best Breakthroughs List

6th December 2018

Antarctic research from Northumbria University, Newcastle has today been named as one of the UK’s 100 best breakthroughs for its significant impact on people’s everyday lives.

The University is honoured in the UK’s Best Breakthroughs list of the last century for its pioneering work to assess how and when the massive Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica will collapse.

Researchers from Northumbria are taking part in a £20 million UK-US collaboration to establish whether the glacier will collapse over the next few decades or centuries. Global sea levels are expected to rise by between 3-5 metres when the Thwaites Glacier – which is almost the size of Great Britain – collapses and releases its ice into the ocean. This will fundamentally change the world’s geography and displace millions of people as the rising seas submerge coastal regions, islands and cities based on rivers.

Our researchers are examining how the glacier has evolved over time. This will enable them to better predict how it will behave in future and respond to the changing environment. They are using specialist computer modelling techniques and will travel to Antarctica to drill into the bedrock 200 metres below the ice and look for evidence of exposure to the atmosphere in the past. This will enable them to see whether the way the glacier is behaving today is unique and a rapid and catastrophic response to climate change, or if it is part of the normal life cycle of these Antarctic glacier systems.

Northumbria University to investigate how and when the Antarctic's Thwaites Glacier might collapse from Northumbria University on Vimeo.

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 Andrew Wathey, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of Northumbria University, said: “I am delighted that Northumbria is featured in the UK’s Best Breakthrough list. We’re extremely proud of the work of our academics and the difference their research makes to people, lives and communities. 

“The MadeAtUni campaign is an important initiative for Northumbria as it allows students, alumni, the local community and the wider population to understand better the research that we do and the impact it has.” 

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. 

Click here to find out more about the UK’s Best Breakthroughs and the MadeAtUni campaign.



comments powered by Disqus


a sign in front of a crowd

Northumbria Open Days

Open Days are a great way for you to get a feel of the University, the city of Newcastle upon Tyne and the course(s) you are interested in.

Research at Northumbria

Research at Northumbria

Research is the life blood of a University and at Northumbria University we pride ourselves on research that makes a difference; research that has application and affects people's lives.

NU World

Explore NU World

Find out what life here is all about. From studying to socialising, term time to downtime, we’ve got it covered.

Latest News and Features

International Travel and Tourism roadshow
Poetry collection shortlisted for prestigious international prize
Northumbria University launches series of events to help businesses retain top talent
Prof Katie Jenkins
A plaque dedicated to Mary Astell situated outside Newcastle Cathedral
More events

Upcoming events

Rewriting The Rules - Unlocking People Potential
Roma Agrawal Lecture - 30 March 23

Back to top