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Asher the Covid-19 detection dog, Chronos from Lumiere Durham light festival, student Fiona Crackles playing hockey

It’s been an extraordinary year for us here at Durham University. Here we look back on 12 Stories to Remember from 2021.

Two research discoveries from the animal world

Durham is a world-leading centre of research and January brought two studies relating to the animal world. Firstly, experts found that the now-extinct dire wolves, made famous by TV’s Game of Thrones, split off from other wolves nearly six million years ago and were only a distant relative of today’s wolves.

Secondly, Durham researchers found that the first people to settle in the Americas, some 15,000 years ago, took dogs with them – showing canines have been man’s best friend for a very, very long while.

Mapping the night sky, new facilities and supporting our City

In February, an international team involving Durham astronomers published a new map of the night sky showing more than 25,000 active supermassive black holes in distant galaxies – the largest and sharpest ever created at ultra-low radio frequencies.

Durham is continuing to invest in facilities for research, teaching and student activities and in March a celebration took place to mark the opening of a £42 million new home for our Mathematical Sciences and Computer Science departments. The building is also home to the Hazan Venture Lab, which supports student enterprise.

We’re proud to be both a global and a local university. In April we signed the Poitier Declaration, an initiative of the Coimbra Group of universities which commits its members to working closely with their local area.

Sniffing out Covid-19, driving regeneration and sporting success

One of our highest profile research projects over the past two years has been a trial to see whether sniffer dogs could be trained to detect Covid-19. In May, the initial results of the trial, a collaboration between the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the charity Medical Detection Dogs and Durham, were announced, showing the dogs can sniff out Covid-19 very reliably. The dogs have since been used in some live settings.

One of the ways the University benefits our region is through supporting economic development. June marked the opening of a new £1.4m University enterprise zone, Orbit, at NetPARK science and innovation park.

In July all eyes were on the Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, and we had eight current and former students participating. Among the highlights. Sport and Exercise Science student Fiona Crackles was part of Team GB’s bronze-winning hockey squad, while graduate Angus Groom was part of the Team GB men’s quadruple scull crew that took silver.

Tackling climate change, league tables and scholarships

In August came confirmation that we had been granted provisional observer status at the COP26 climate conference that was to take place in Glasgow in the autumn. This means our researchers can attend future conferences and events, as well as apply for exhibits and side-events. When COP26 came, many researchers showcased their part in tackling the most pressing of global issues.

Ahead of the start of the new academic year in September, we received a double boost, being placed fifth in The Guardian University Guide 2022 and sixth in The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2022. These rankings consolidated our position as a leading UK and global university. During 2021, we were the only university to improve its position in the Complete University Guide, QS World University Rankings and the Times Higher Education Global Impact Rankings.

As well as being a leading UK and global university, we’re working to increase our intake of students from our local region. In October, we announced a further £1m donation towards the Durham Inspired North East Scholarships programme, which aims to support exceptional young people from the region study her and fulfil their potential, regardless of their financial circumstances.

Light and sustainability

As nights drew in during November, Durham welcomed back the Lumiere light festival. We were a major partner and sponsor and hosted three installations on campus: Chronos, a video-mapped exploration of time at the Ogden Centre for Fundamental Physics; Scattered Light, a bewitching illusion involving over 1,500 LED bulbs at St Mary’s College; and Anthology – Into the Light, which saw new works from some of the UK’s most exciting poets – including our own Associate Professor Kayo Chingonyi – projected onto the walls of Durham Castle, home to University College.

And the year ended with some good news in December as our commitment to reducing our environmental footprint was recognised by Durham being the most improved anywhere in the UK in the annual People and Planet University League on environmental sustainability.

We look forward to more inspiring achievements in 2022.


Mathematical Sciences and Computer Science building

Mathematical Sciences and Computer Sciences building

Image of  wolf in the snow

Ancient DNA reveals secrets of Game of Thrones wolves

Orbit Durham Uni NET Park

Orbit Durham University NET Park Science and Innovation Park

Picture of the 6 dogs involved in covid sniffer trials

Covid-19 Sniffer Dogs

Durham cathedral lit up with colourful lights at night.

Durham Cathedral Lumiere 2021

Student Fiona by Olympics rings and playing hockey

Olympic Games 2021 in Tokyo, Japan, Fiona Crackles