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Aston Professor and Director of Employability awarded OBE and MBE in Queen's Honours

Professor Brian Tighe and Nicola Turner

15 June 2015

A distinguished Aston Professor and the University’s Director of Career and Placements have been given an OBE and an MBE respectively in the Queen’s Birthday Honours, announced this weekend.  

Professor Brian Tighe and Nicola Turner, Director of Employability, will be presented with the prestigious honours by a member of the Royal family at a special investiture ceremony at St James Palace. 

Emeritus Professor of Polymer Science, Brian Tighe, was awarded the title of Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to higher education and for pioneering research in the field of bio-medical polymers. 

He continues to be a remarkably productive researcher 40 years into an internationally distinguished academic career. His ground breaking work centres on water-swollen gels called hydrogel polymers, which are found throughout the body – in cartilage, the cornea and intervertebral discs in the spine. He has focussed on producing synthetic polymers which can be used to mimic, augment, repair and replace natural tissues. 

Close ties to industry have allowed Professor Tighe to make significant contributions to the nation’s health and wellbeing, leading to wealth creation, employment opportunities and a reduction in the cost of healthcare. His major achievements include the creation of hydrogel materials used in replacement hip and knee joints, lung surfacants, special wound dressings and contact lenses. Throughout his career, he has filed 14 current patents, authored or co-authored over 300 academic papers and secured grants and funding totally over £3.7m. 

At Aston, Professor Tighe founded and is the Director of the Aston Biomaterials Research Unit and has personally supervised more than 100 PhD students, many of whom progressed to careers related to their research. He served as the University’s Senior Pro-Vice Chancellor between 1996 and 2003, steering international research strategy, and won the Aston University Chancellor’s Medal in 2007. 

Professor Tighe said: “I was stunned when I opened the letter – it came right out of the blue. The fact that the award is for research in biomedical polymers is great news for past and present members of Aston Biomaterials Research Unit who have carried out fantastic research and been great friends and colleagues over many years.  I am absolutely delighted.”

Nicola Turner was awarded the title of Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) for her services to higher education and graduate employability. Since joining Aston University in 2003, she has helped thousands of students, many from disadvantaged backgrounds, raise their aspirations and launch successful and rewarding careers.

While at the University, Nicola has spearheaded various original and innovative schemes to improve graduate employability. These have successfully boosted graduate employment and the retention of talent within the West Midlands, contributing significantly to the region’s economic growth. She helped establish the free regional recruitment service, Graduate Advantage, an initiative that has created more than 4,000 graduate internships in small, local businesses over the past decade. In 11 years, the scheme has engaged with nearly 29,000 graduates and 18,000 businesses, providing nearly £600,000 worth of grant and subsidies to regional companies as well as a free consultancy service.

In her current role as Director of Employability, Nicola leads 50 staff responsible for student placements, careers support and graduate internships. Her team set up 1,200 work placements a year, more than 300 of which are overseas – ensuring that 73% of Aston students do a placement year, more than almost any over UK university. Nicola has overseen a major restructuring of Careers and Placements services, allowing businesses to engage more effectively with Aston while maximising opportunities for students and graduates to gain relevant work experience. In recent years, the University has won the Association of Graduate Recruiters award for ‘Best Placement for Work Strategy’ and ‘Best Winning Placement Service’ at the National Undergraduate Employability Awards.

Nicola said: “I come to work every day and I do a job that I love – I thought that was as good as it gets. When I got the letter I was amazed and overwhelmed. It feels very special.”

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For further media information, please contact Jonathan Garbett, Aston University Communications on 0121 204 4552 or j.garbett@aston.ac.uk