Press Office

QA Prize 2023

Royal recognition for water research

Published on: 16 November 2023

Newcastle University has won a prestigious Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education in recognition of its long-standing excellence in water research.

The University is recognised for its role in leading an interdisciplinary research programme of global excellence in water security. The prize reflects Newcastle’s work in partnership with communities, industry, governments and NGOs to deliver lasting real-word impact in a field that encompasses floods, droughts, water quality and public health.

A Pan-African workshop has used Newcastle University’s ‘Suitcase Laboratory’ to teach advanced water testing methods.
Newcastle University’s ‘Suitcase Laboratory’ played a key role in a Pan-African workshop exploring advanced water testing methods.

Water. For all. Forever.

Newcastle researchers work with colleagues and communities around the world across a wide range of water research, including flood modelling, water resource management and implementation of nature-based solutions.

The University’s research in areas such as urban flash flooding, mapping water risks - both in cities and across countries, and interventions that improve safety and reduce disruptions, is enabling the improvement of infrastructure and the development of built environments that are resilient to water risks.

Experts at Newcastle University are at the forefront of monitoring and improving water quality for public and environmental health. Their research addresses legacy industrial waste contamination of freshwaters, combined Sewer Outfall (CSO) pollution, persistent pollutants, and detecting Covid-19 in wastewater.

Another key research area focusses on supporting the transition to Net Zero wastewater treatment, thanks to innovations in Net Zero technology and exploring how this could be implemented at full-scale. 

Professor Richard Dawson, Chair in Earth Systems Engineering and Director of Research, School of Engineering, Newcastle University, said: “The Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education is a ringing endorsement of the work by the whole team at Newcastle and our many partners in the UK and around the world who are working with us to help us realise our vision of water security for all.

“Water is humanity’s most valuable resource. It’s essential to food and energy security, health and wellbeing, economic prosperity, and all life on Earth. Yet, every year roughly half of the world's population currently experience severe water scarcity for at least part of the year, hundreds of thousands of people lose their lives, property and food destroyed, because of water related disasters and waterborne disease.  Water security is further threatened by pressures like pollution, over-use, ecological damage and climate change - which is altering patterns of rainfall further increasing the risks of droughts and floods.

“Our work is solutions-focused, and this award recognises our effort to scale our science and engineering into deployable technologies, policies and practice that have improved water security in the UK and countries around the world.

Globally significant work

The announcement follows Newcastle University’s most successful year ever for research funding, with a total of £159 million in research awards.

Professor Chris Day, Vice-Chancellor and President, Newcastle University, added: “This work has developed an integrated understanding of water risks in catchments from clouds and precipitation, through hydrological processes and impacts, right down to the nanograms of micropollutants and genes of the microorganisms in our water.  This pioneering approach has shaped local and national government policy.

“Receiving this prestigious prize makes us all very proud. It is a remarkable achievement and testament to the excellence of our world leading water researchers, and the colleagues from across the University and our partners, who support this pioneering and globally significant work.

“We have recently launched the Newcastle University Centre for Water that now provides the perfect platform from which to build on this award through interdisciplinary research that spans the whole University.”

Run by the Royal Anniversary Trust, the Queen's Anniversary Prizes celebrate excellence, innovation and public benefit in work carried out by UK colleges and universities.

Sir Damon Buffini, Chair of The Royal Anniversary Trust said: “The Queen’s Anniversary Prizes for Higher and Further Education are an integral part of our national Honours system, shining a light on the groundbreaking work taking place in universities and colleges across the UK. All 22 Prize-winners demonstrate excellence, innovation and impact, with many tackling some of the toughest problems we as a society face today. They are to be commended for reaching this pinnacle of achievement in the tertiary education sector. Congratulations!”

This is the fourth time Newcastle University has been awarded a Queen’s Anniversary Prize. Previously, the University gained the prize in 2013 in recognition of its internationally renowned research into sustainable rural economies and societies. Newcastle received the prize in 2005 for its innovative solutions to mine water pollution, and again in 2009 for research into ageing.

Case study: ‘Lab in a suitcase’ – fast, affordable, portable water quality testing

Water quality surveillance is essential for achieving safe water and good health, but comprehensive water quality monitoring can be costly, time-consuming, and resource-heavy. Low- and middle-income countries bear the brunt of impacts on human health of poor sanitation and water quality. Regarded as a world first, the Programme has developed a portable ‘lab in a suitcase’, which allows researchers and scientists to go anywhere in the world, including remote locations, and screen potentially unsafe water for more than 100 different types of pathogens (including antibiotic resistance). Collected data can be used on site to measure the effectiveness of wastewater treatment, track pollution sources, and determine water safety.

This innovative technology makes it easier, cheaper, and faster to assess water quality, enabling public health officials to better monitor and manage local hazards. We have already trained nearly 150 researchers, regulators and industrialists in the use of ‘lab in a suitcase’ in the UK, Malaysia, Cambodia, India, Nepal, Vietnam, Thailand and Ethiopia (including for Addis Ababa Water and Sewerage Authority who provide water and sanitation to five million people). The technology received an award from the Nepal National Academy of Science and Technology, and has the potential to help provide millions of people access to safe water and save lives.

Find out more about Newcastle University's water research:

Newcastle Hubs in Action 

The true cost of water – why climate action is so urgent 

How our ‘lab in a suitcase’ empowers water researchers in Tanzania 

How we’re improving global water security 

Public health is moot without water security 

Urgent action needed to reduce the spread of superbugs


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