Professor Kevin Gaston

Head of Cornwall's first university environmental research institute appointed

Professor Kevin J Gaston has been appointed inaugural Director of the University of Exeter’s Environment and Sustainability Institute (ESI).

The government-backed £30m institute will help put Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly at the forefront of environmental and climate change research globally.

Professor Gaston, an award-winning ecologist, was appointed after a worldwide search. At present he is Professor of Biodiversity and Conservation at the University of Sheffield.

“This is an extraordinary opportunity to bring an interdisciplinary approach to bear on finding solutions to some of the key environmental challenges facing humankind, both in Cornwall and far beyond,” he said of his appointment.

Professor Gaston graduated in zoology from the University of Sheffield before obtaining a doctorate from the University of York. He then spent five years as a research fellow at the Natural History Museum in London, before becoming a Royal Society University Research Fellow at Imperial College. He returned to Sheffield in 1995, becoming Professor of Biodiversity and Conservation in 2000.

He holds a Royal Society-Wolfson Merit Award and an honorary professorship at South Africa’s University of Stellenbosch, and is an ISI Highly Cited Researcher.

Professor Steve Smith, Vice Chancellor of the University of Exeter, said: “I am absolutely delighted to welcome Professor Gaston to his new role at the head of ESI. Under his leadership, we hope this centre will quickly become recognised as hub for world-leading learning, research and commerce around environment and sustainability.”

The ESI – which includes almost £23 million from the European Regional Development Fund Convergence programme – will be built at the Combined Universities Cornwall Tremough Campus, Penryn.

It will concentrate on two linked core areas: creating a world-class research institution and making good commercial use of local environmental and sustainability knowledge.

Professor Gaston expects to move to Cornwall by the middle of next year.

One of his first tasks will be to oversee recruitment of top quality academic staff, working across three themes: clean technologies, natural environment, and socio-economic research.

The University of Exeter has about 1,600 students based at Tremough and this is expected to rise to 2,150 by 2015. Nearly one third comes from the South West.

Total ongoing investment in new facilities across the University of Exeter’s campuses exceeds £300 million.

Date: 2 December 2010

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