Times Higher Education awards highlight the strength of N8 technicians


The shortlist for the 2022 Times Higher Education (THE) awards – the ‘Oscars of higher education’ – has been announced, with N8 universities featuring heavily in the Outstanding Technician of the Year category.

Having been through a number of turbulent years, this year’s awards will celebrate stories of how institutions in the UK and Ireland successfully picked themselves up and moved ahead.

Highlighting its strength over the last twelve months, the N8 Research Partnership is well represented across a number of categories.  We are particularly proud of the N8 representation within the Outstanding Technician of the Year category.

James Fox-Robinson of Durham University, Abigail Mortimer of the University of York and Dr Glyn Nelson of Newcastle University will all be waving the flag for the N8 Research Partnership as they go for the top prize, which is sponsored by the Technician Commitment.

James Fox-Robinson, the Lead Theatre Technician at Durham University works tirelessly to build and support the student technician community. During the exam period he collaborated with student technicians to deliver a wellbeing project for the whole university community, an immersive journey called The Final Frontier.

The innovative journey around the theatre building transformed the well-known space entirely, with different areas exploring different aspects of the word ‘space’. James coordinated collaborations with the Physics Department, Student Welfare and Student Technicians to create large-scale audio-visual presentations, written reflections and theatrical relaxation areas that contextualised the project perfectly, while still focusing on the concept of ‘space’, to the project’s benefit. The experience was enjoyed not only by students, but staff at all levels (cleaners through to the Vice Chancellor) and members of the public who were intrigued by the advertising.

James said: “Working in performing arts, my role is part of Student Enrichment at Durham, rather than in faculty or a department. It is very different to the traditional University idea of a Technician, based in a lab supporting research and learning. Technicians are the cornerstone of professional theatre but not common in university settings. The introduction of a theatre technician to Durham university demonstrates our commitment to furthering student opportunities in performing arts.

“I’m here for three reasons; to keep the students safe, to make sure they are competently able to operate the wide variety of equipment, and to support them in their creative vision.”

Abigail Mortimer, Scientific Glassblower in the Department of Chemistry at the University of York, has been shortlisted for her significant contribution to research activities through the design, production and maintenance of complex bespoke apparatus, can take a researcher’s idea from a blue-sky thought to reality in the laboratory.

Supporting the university’s undergraduate teaching laboratories, Abigail produces large volumes of specialist glassware, and provides an almost endless repairs service. It is rumoured that in the 15 years she has been with in York, every undergraduate passing through York Chemistry Department has used something either made or fixed by Abby.

Abigail said: “I find when I talk to people about my job they often ask what the most complicated or specialised piece of work I’ve made is, assuming that these pieces are the most satisfying or rewarding to make. As a glassblower, this may be the case, but as a technician, the satisfaction comes from creating a piece of glassware that achieves what the student needs. It’s about finding a solution to a problem, and sometimes that may take a few iterations before we get to the final design, but that is all part of supporting research, and one of the many things I love about my job.”

Also shortlisted is Dr Glyn Nelson, Specialist Experimental Scientific Officer at Newcastle University, where he specialises in light microscopy and image analysis for which he has gained international recognition.

Over 2021, Glyn worked with, and helped to build, Quarep-LiMi, an international community of light microscopists. It has made significant steps to address the issue of quality and reproducibility in the field of light microscopy. Glyn’s work in this area resulted in three Nature Methods communications and being awarded a Medical Research Council grant income.

You can view the full shortlist of entries across the Outstanding Technician of the Year category, as well as the rest of categories, here. This year’s award will again be presented at the Hilton London Metropole on the evening of 17 November and will follow a two-day THE Campus Live UK & IE event, held at the same venue.