How a pandemic forged One Dundee

Published on 6 July 2021

Like the rest of the world, Covid-19 transformed life at the University of Dundee. But while much of the campus fell silent in March 2020 as the majority of students and staff returned home, the work of the University never ceased.

On this page

Indeed, far from shying away from the challenge presented by the outbreak of the pandemic, our community united to face the challenge presented by this new, deadly virus. 

Within days of Prime Minister Boris Johnson announcing that the United Kingdom was moving into lockdown, our first academic partnerships had been formed. We also donated our highly specialised Thermo KingFisher Flex robot to the national effort, transported under escort by the Royal Navy to a newly-established national diagnostic centre in Milton Keynes. 

And as many of our experts in the Schools of Life Sciences and Medicine started work in the laboratories, they were not the only ones keen to play their part in helping the world through the developing pandemic. 

Never before had there been such a desperate need for high-quality Personal Protective Equipment, or PPE. With teaching suspended, Professor Niamh Nic Daeid, Michael Marra and Laura Daly, from the Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science, coordinated a massive collection of facemasks, gloves and other pieces of specialised equipment for Dundee City Council staff, allowing them to continue delivering services to some of the city’s most vulnerable residents. 

Students were also quick to play their part, with those who stayed in Dundee keen to demonstrate their support to those who were risking their own health on a daily basis.  

Among those was Neil Campbell, an MSc Community Learning and Development student, who was balancing his studies with his role as founder and Director of RockSolid Dundee, a social action initiative based in the city’s East End. In April 2020, as the world adjusted to life in a pandemic, Neil and his colleagues were distributing 200 lunches a day within the local community. 

Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design was equally quick to respond to the changing world, working with NHS Tayside and local textile company, Halley Stevensons, to produce medical scrubs for local healthcare workers. Within weeks of the pandemic taking hold, volunteers at the ‘Scrub Hub’ were producing hundreds of sets of scrubs.  

“As soon as we were alerted by NHS Tayside that there was a need for scrubs that we might be able to help with, we got thinking and moved quickly into action,” said Jane Keith, Programme Co-Director for Textile Design at DJCAD. 

“The Scrub Hub was a fantastic way to bring people together at a hugely uncertain time, but also to show our support and make a difference on behalf of those frontline workers.” 

The University of Dundee has a world-class reputation for the quality of its research. With a new, deadly virus sweeping the world, our experts have been at the forefront of global efforts to understand and treat Covid-19. 

Professor James Chalmers, from the University’s School of Medicine, is one of the country’s foremost authorities on lung conditions and has spearheaded much of the University’s research in this field. In July 2020 he was appointed to lead the Scottish tranche of a major UK-wide study into the long-term impacts of Covid-19 on hospitalised patients. 

He said, “While an exciting time for scientists, we have always been aware of the threat posed by this illness and the sacrifices being made by so many people as we adjusted to living with it. What we can say, however, is that the research undertaken here has really helped to improve outcomes for people suffering from this disease.” 

And while the University has spearheaded many of the efforts to treat Covid-19, we have also been involved in the global struggle to produce a vaccine. In November 2020, we began recruitment for a Covid-19 vaccine trial, in partnership with NHS Tayside, for a candidate developed by Janssen Pharmaceuticals.

Professor Jacob George, from the School of Medicine, said, “We are already seeing vaccines rolled out across the UK and other countries, but the world will require several different vaccines to control the spread of this virus. That is why the work we are doing here, with the help of volunteers from across Tayside and Fife, is so crucial.” 

Right across the University community, students and staff have played their part to help the world during the toughest of times. To give an insight into the depth and breadth of our response to the pandemic, University staff or students have been involved in more than 50 initiatives related to researching the illness, or in helping those working with or affected by Covid-19.  

“The University has risen vigorously to the Covid-19 challenge,” said Professor Sir Mike Ferguson, Regius Professor of Life Sciences. 

Public donations have enabled two vital Covid-19 studies to proceed  

Two important projects dedicated to understanding Covid-19 have been given funding thanks to public donations towards coronavirus research taking place at the University of Dundee.   

Researchers were recently invited to apply for funds to help them react quickly to emerging concepts and discoveries. As a result, two top scientists have been awarded £32,000 each towards their research which will transform Covid-19 patient care and public health policy in the future.  

Professor James Chalmers, one of the country’s foremost authorities on lung conditions and based in the University of Dundee School of Medicine was one of the successful recipients. A simple blood test to identify patients at increased risk of death from Covid-19 could be a step closer thanks to the funding he has received.   

James chalmers
“And all of this hard work is beginning to reap rewards. With vaccines successfully developed and now being rolled out around the world, there is hope that we may soon return to the lives we once lived. And as it has done throughout the pandemic, the University is again stepping up and playing its role in the vaccination process.”

Professor James Chalmers

Dr Charis Marwick stands next to machine

Dr Charis Marwick, an expert in infectious diseases at the University’s School of Medicine was the second successful recipient. Her study will examine the disproportionate impact the virus had on care homes.   

The Coronavirus Research Fundraising Campaign was established early in the pandemic to assist the scientific community with its research into the disease. Our scientists still urgently need access to fast funding to be able to react quickly to ongoing opportunities in a fast-changing environment.


“We are delighted to be able to support the University of Dundee Coronavirus Research Fundraising Campaign. We strongly believe that research is the only way to protect people from Covid-19. The medical community has never faced a more urgent need for research than the unprecedented situation we face today.  We know that scientists here in Dundee have the skills and expertise to improve outcomes and deliver results for our local communities and we are privileged to be able to help progress this vital research further and faster.”

 The Trustees, Northwood Charitable Trust, the associated charity of the Thomson family 

The Bridge

Read the rest of The Bridge and more of our stories 

Story category The Bridge Magazine