Good news comes in threes, and so do the challenges
After studying in Spain and working in Oxford, where she carried out research on coastal structures, Encarni Medina-Lopez did her PhD jointly at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Granada. A specialist in marine energy, Dr Medina-Lopez was initially drawn to a Chancellor’s Fellowship in the School of Engineering by the way the Fellowship is structured.
“It offers a transition from post-doctoral research to an academic position,” she says. “You have the support of the University to become an independent researcher, and to learn how to teach.” Her current work draws on a combination of data, machine learning and field measurement to model the coastal environment. Given its near-ubiquity in everyday activities and its ever-increasing scale, data has become an essential element throughout modern life, and harnessing it to drive innovation is a logical next step. “It’s about taking the information that we create and use, and producing valuable outputs that can help the Edinburgh and South East Scotland region to progress,” Dr Medina-Lopez adds.
Applying the potential of the data revolution to the wide range of expertise held by Chancellor’s Fellows is a powerful way to extend the impact of research across the breadth of society‘s needs. That some of our most basic needs lead to some of our most complex challenges is evident in what Dr Medina-Lopez calls the water-energy-environment ‘trilemma’. This three-way conundrum is a global issue that can only be properly addressed by government, industry and universities – otherwise known as the ‘triple helix’ of innovation – working together. “This three-way problem affects several facets of our community,” Dr Medina-Lopez points out. “For example, coastal flooding issues in the Scottish shores and the effect of future sea-level rise scenarios on coastal populations, or the development of ocean energy in Scotland and how that will affect energy prices and climate change, or the pressing need for securing fresh water without stressing our lands and oceans.”
All three parts of the triple helix are required to tackle these and other manifestations of the water-energy-environment trilemma. An integrated approach is needed to analyse problems, develop research solutions and produce updated policy measures. And – crucially – to ensure those policies are actually implemented. Dr Medina-Lopez walks the talk when it comes to integrated problem-solving, because in addition to her research and teaching, she is part of the management team at the ESPRC/NERC Industrial Doctoral Centre for Offshore Renewable Energy (IDCORE). Candidates at IDCORE study for an EngD rather than a PhD, and the emphasis is very much on industry-driven problem-solving within a framework of academic excellence. That combination is an important part of being a Chancellor’s Fellow in Data-Driven Innovation, a message Dr Medina-Lopez is taking to the International Workshop on Marine Hydrodynamic Modelling in Harbin, China, this year. “The Chancellor’s Fellows scheme has produced excellent academics,” she says. “Being part of such an extraordinary cohort is a very exciting prospect.”