Building a research network

Do you want to help create a new research network in a supportive, interdisciplinary environment? We are creating opportunities to build new research networks with academics from across different disciplines in the University of Leeds. 

The Horizons Institute was established to do things differently and provides a shared platform for responding to global challenges. We do this through connecting interdisciplinary research with communities, non-government agencies (NGOs) and charities, local authorities, policymakers, businesses, and the public. We encourage academics at all career stages to encounter new topics in different ways, drawing on external inspirations through collaboration and teamwork. We aspire to be a model for self-reflection, diverse and non-hierarchical ways of working, and personal development. 

Together, through our Challenge Theme Networks, we aim to respond to societal, scientific, or technological challenges of global significance by supporting University of Leeds researchers to establish proactive and enthusiastic interdisciplinary networks that: 

  • bring researchers together from across the University to collaborate in the development of ideas 
  • share understanding, evidence-based knowledge, and data 
  • build and strengthen capacity in interdisciplinary skills and leadership 
  • strengthen research impact by increasing its influence in local, national, and global policy development 
  • communicate the depth and breadth of their research to local, national, and global audiences 

Phase two

The following eight themes are progressing to the panel decision phase. 

Global Biosphere Sensing

Biodiversity loss and novel emerging infectious diseases are global crises with profound consequences for all human prosperity, health and well-being. We urgently need biological information at unprecedented spatial and temporal scales to understand the drivers of these challenges and to inform real-time and strategic decision-making to tackle them.

Imagine how policy and societal responses would change if we could directly track impacts on ecosystems at a global scale, prevent outbreaks of crop pests, or detect the next pandemic disease before it spreads around the world.  

This network is about making the technological leaps that underpin these capabilities. The University of Leeds has world-leading expertise in multiple areas of biosensor and remote sensing technology, along with engineers and data scientists. Together, we can build novel sensing networks that will catalyse the revolution in monitoring the biosphere across all domains of life and all environments.

We’re looking for researchers, technicians, and partners from academia, industry, government, and NGOs, to help us. We also need ethicists and commercialisation specialists to help ask how such information should be used and to turn innovation into real-world devices and services. So please join us to help make the new era of biosensing a reality. 

Intimate Relationships Network

This network aims to explore the changing landscape of romantic intimacy and relationships. Across the world, people are defying norms which structure intimate life, the institutions which govern relationships and even the language used to describe love. People are meeting online, embracing fluid identities and orientations and are experimenting with consensual non-monogamy. 

Patriarchal norms are being upended as people seek equality, autonomy, and freedom from domination in their dating and relationships. But what does this involve? Are new forms of romantic intimacy sustainable? Does the private nature of modern romance foster alienation and domination? Should the state and other institutions adapt to reflect modern practices and aspirations? Can some relationships be privileged over others? Is romantic modernity held back by entrenched views of sex, gender, race or class? 

We want to tackle these questions with researchers and partners from industry, government and the third sector. Together, we hope to form a better picture of modern intimacies; explore arguments in support of different romantic practices, norms and ideals; and to shape institutional frameworks. Romantic life needs interdisciplinary study across the social sciences, arts and humanities and related disciplines. Relationships matter to most people. Come join us in defining their future. 

Net-Zero Farming

Can we reuse waste and save our climate? 

Agricultural production constitutes 10% of the UK greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), while the uptake and efficacy of regenerative practices and tree-planting are insufficient and uncertain. Recycled waste (food, manure, sludges, construction) replacing GHG-intensive feed, fertilizer, energy and/or sequestering CO2 into soils has the potential to make Net Zero farming a reality. While few researchers across the University work on early-stage technologies, much more work is needed to understand the technological, climatic, environmental, societal, legal, public acceptability and policy implications of these innovations. Understanding the full range of implications of those technologies, their public acceptability and system-wide effects requires interdisciplinary working with academics across all faculties.

Our own University farm emits 1241 tCO2eq/yr, and together with University professional services (Estates, Sustainability Team) the network will explore how to reach Net Zero on our farm. 

We have broad interest from academics in environment, engineering, physical sciences and biological sciences (yet more are welcomed!) – but solving those issues would also need the help of academics in arts and humanities, social science, business and medical and health, as well as technicians, university professional services, industry and policy makers. Please join our journey to un-waste our society! 

Reimagining Ageing

Ageing is inevitable, exciting and at times challenging, but something that is unavoidable and happens to us all. Do you want to help people live well for longer? Would you like to join the challenge to address and reimagine ageing? 

This network sets out to explore how we can bring together an interdisciplinary group of researchers, policy makers, local authorities, third sector organisations and public bodies to explore whole systems approaches to address the challenges of ageing. 

How does society, through sport, community activities, transport infrastructure, housing solutions and the law, impact on the experience of ageing? How are older people represented in the media? In cultural references? Can Artificial Intelligence; big data analysis; cutting edge technology; make a difference to our approach to ageing? 

We want to work closely with our ageing local communities to understand challenges from their perspective and co-produce research that matters most to the people we wish to benefit from it.

We are healthcare researchers with a good understanding of the health systems challenges of ageing, but we want to work with people from across disciplines such as transport and geography, social sciences, law, fundamental scientists and engineers looking at technological solutions to transform ageing research into real societal impact.

Through interdisciplinary conversations facilitated by the network, we hope to frame new and exciting research questions that take a whole systems integrated approach to addressing the challenges of ageing. We also hope to create an exciting and stimulating environment for early career researchers, providing a collaborative space for a new cadre of researchers that are able to comfortably work at cross-disciplinary interfaces to create and sustain whole systems approaches in this globally important area, with the ultimate goal of creating societal impact, reducing inequalities in later life and ultimately improving the lives of our local ageing population.

So please help us to help our communities age well and join the reimagining ageing network! 

Research Network for Time

Solving today’s global challenges depends not only upon the actions we take in the present, but on how we view yesterday and how we plan for tomorrow. Time plays a fundamental role in our lives spanning the deepest mysteries of the natural world, the formation of our societal and individual belief systems, and the decisions we make and the urgency with which we take them. 

We will tackle both fundamental and practical questions, such as: 

  • Understanding Time – What actually is time, what significance does it have in our lives and how do we obtain our temporal perspective? 
  • Measuring Time – What leading-edge techniques for measuring time, on both long and short timescales, can we develop and share across disciplines?  
  • Past, Present and Future – How does the past inform our understanding of the present and predictions for the future? Do we overemphasize the present and discount the future? 
  • Evolving Time – How have technology and globalisation changed our experiences of time? How can we manage, respond and shape such evolution? 

We will focus these questions around specific grand challenges including the climate and environmental crises, disaster risk reduction, socio-economic inequalities, questions of identity, our ageing population and economic productivity. 

Please join us! 

Global Challenge: Plastics Pollution and Circularity Solutions

How would you feel if there where millions of tiny particles of plastic in your blood, your lungs, the air you breathe, the water you drink? Would you like to explore untouched corners of the planet and find fragments of plastic had beaten you to it?

This network aims to understand and design effective interventions to target materials and products; societal values; and governance – consigning the global dispersion of plastic pollution to a distant memory.

The challenge is complex, ubiquitous, and possibly more difficult to solve than climate change. What can we do to inform and shape the new UN Treaty on Plastic Pollution? How do we address this task and find solutions using soft matter physics, behaviour change, robotics, supply chain and logistics, finance, materials science, big data, public health, and ecosystem services? 

We call on researchers, teachers, NGOs, industrial partners and anyone with an interest to join us in exploring fresh and innovative potential solutions to this massive and multifaceted crisis. Plastic pollution is already creating irreversible damage to the Earth’s systems. Please join us in our struggle to combat this behemoth.

Gender Network

Can you imagine a world free from gender inequality, exclusions and stifling stereotypes?

The last few decades have seen an increase in the uptake of gender research permeating all fields and disciplines from social sciences to humanities, natural sciences and even engineering. Researching gender is extremely important for gendering knowledge  and creating a more equal world. In principle, it requires questioning, unsettling, and deconstructing power hierarchies at all levels across north/south, researcher/ researched, men/women and between women and men’s groups, and within and across disciplines. By gendering scholarship we can uncover new solutions to intractable problems, such as how to transform workplace culture, increase access to healthcare and wellbeing, prevent violence, and reverse climate change.

The proposed network (led by Sahla Aroussi (University of Leeds), David Duriesmith (University of Sheffield), and Harriet Gray (University of York) aims to be a  regional and a global hub for interdisciplinary gender research. We are a team of social scientists from the field of Politics and International Relations/ International Development but we are looking for members from all disciplines and subfields who are involved in gender research.  

We are looking for researchers (at all levels of career stages), practitioners,  partners from government and national and international institutions, and the 3rd sector to join our network and to help us develop ideas, share knowledge and understanding, build skills and expertise, and create opportunities for collaboration on research funding, publications and for transforming policies and practices around gender.

Remaking Places: An interdisciplinary network for safe and thriving communities

This network sets out to explore how we can all find ways to live well and fairly in cities while also respecting and recognising the limits of our natural world.

What would cities look like after the age of fossil fuels? Can and should they wean themselves off ceaseless economic growth? Can we tackle climate change and pout social justice at the forefront? What if we could find work that was meaningful, well paid and locally accessible? What if neighbourhoods found a new basis for prosperity and wellbeing where money sticks and value is created and shared locally? What if we could all get around safely, easily and affordably? What if we reconnected with and supported the natural world, locally and globally? What if we all felt involved and listened to, and could co-produce solutions that created better outcomes? What if land and resources were used to underpin local wealth? What if we respected people worldwide through our actions and habits in cities? 

We are looking for researchers, community activists, planners, policy makers, entrepreneurs and politicians to explore and imagine with us in a hopeful way what this future might mean – let’s call it post-growth, post-carbon cities. We know the scale of the challenge, and the solutions are available. What we need now is a new way of intervening and acting – a new Operating System for the city. How can we create new processes and places for cross sector and transdisciplinary teams to get together to ‘make the future’ on the ground. In our decade of transformation, this is a call to action to think big, start small but act now. Join us! 

Academics, technicians and professional service colleagues were invited to feed into these ideas and the process by attending collaborative labs in January, exploring how their research area, expertise and methods can be applied.

Following these collaborative labs, the core research groups have been invited to pitch their idea to an interdisciplinary and cross-sector panel in March 2023. The panel will select up to four network themes to benefit from Horizons support. Core network teams will participate in a series of capacity and skills strengthening workshops that will support the process of leading an interdisciplinary network.  


The new networks will launch on 4 September 2023 and will receive 12 months of support from the Horizons Institute (until 1 September 2024).

How to get involved

If you are interested in getting involved with any of the research areas listed above, please email the Horizons Institute via and we will put you in touch with the relevant network leads. 

Frequently asked questions

Can a network be led by more than one person?

Yes, we’ve found that in the case of the current networks, it has worked really well to have two network co-leads.

Where would the Horizons Institute like to see networks land?

We’re very open to all possibilities; we’ll work with the networks to identify where they see themselves going and where they would like to end up. 

How interdisciplinary does the Horizons Institute expect the ideas to be?

We will challenge you to think about who you could collaborate with and to think beyond those your already working with, but we don’t want you to collaborate arbitrarily to make your idea more interdisciplinary. We expect networks to cut across campus, to draw in and appeal to diverse audiences.

Contact us

For more information, please email Institute Manager Lauren Wray or Business Support Officer Kuldip Banger via