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Grand Challenges progress report

UCL Grand Challenges


UCL Grand Challenges are the mechanisms through which expertise from across UCL and beyond can be brought together to address the world's key problems. They support researchers to think about how their work relates to global issues.

UCL Grand Challenges is a key part the UCL Research Strategy, which aims to:

  • cultivate leadership founded in excellence
  • foster cross-disciplinarity grounded in expertise
  • realise the impact of a global university.

UCL Grand Challenges builds on our accomplishment, expertise and commitment.


Our research is inspired by the radical vision of our founders two centuries ago. They understood that education and universities are key to reforming the world and refused to let religious and academic traditions limit progress.

From the start, UCL has challenged our understanding of the scope of academic endeavour and pioneered research and teaching in subjects including law, architecture, medicine, geography, physics, chemistry, engineering and modern languages.

For almost two centuries, our staff and students have undertaken research that has helped shape the modern world. Their achievements include:

  • inventions like the thermionic valve, which made modern electronics possible, the telephone and wireless telegraphy, and the first transatlantic computer network connection, the precursor of the internet
  • biomedical breakthroughs such as the identification of hormones and vitamins, using antiseptic to treat wounds, and understanding of the physiology of nerve cells and their synaptic connections
  • understanding why the immune system can reject tissue and organ grafts, and how autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis develop
  • discovery of the inert gases, including neon, which resulted in the first of 20 Nobel Prizes so far earned by our staff and students.

Today, UCL remains committed to developing and disseminating original knowledge to benefit the world of the future.


Medicine, architecture, laws, economics, computer science and philosophy are just some of the academic disciplines at UCL to have achieved outstanding results in the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) 2008, with UCL's staff rated of world-leading quality third in the UK after Oxford and Cambridge.

The RAE assesses the research strength of UK universities, and influences how universities are funded. UCL submitted more than 1,800 staff in 49 of the 67 Units of Assessment. The vast majority of UCL’s submissions were ranked at either the highest grade of 4* (‘of world-leading quality’), or 3* (‘internationally excellent’).

Recent independent analysis of the Thomson Scientific Citation Index system showed that UCL is the second most productive and the third most cited university in Europe, and the most cited UK university for health research. We are world leaders across the breadth of academic disciplines – from neuroscience to urban planning, particle physics to health informatics and environmental law – and we have an ongoing commitment to innovation and relevance.

We have also enjoyed exceptional success in competitive bidding for research council and governmental funding. On the basis of research excellence and volume, we are investing more than £360 million in infrastructure that will support cutting-edge research across a broad range of disciplines.


As London’s global university, UCL has the opportunity and the obligation to contribute to tackling the major problems facing the world. We embrace and celebrate the outstanding problem- and curiosity-driven research conducted by individuals and small groups. However, we can only address complex and systemic challenges by working together across and beyond traditional disciplines.

We are positioning ourselves to build on our work to date. We are forming alliances and collaborations across academia and with policy makers, funding agencies, opinion-formers and legislators to help realise our vision of developing research with real-world impact.

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Page last modified on 25 jul 14 16:24