Not just students from the UK who are attracted by Sweden’s universities, as Nic Mitchell found out when he met Anthony Turner, a pioneer in using biosensors to treat people suffering from diabetes. Professor Turner, pictured, recently moved to Linköping University saying he wanted to be with fellow minds and pursue a collaborative approach to commercialising academic research that benefits society.

It was no sudden move for Professor Anthony Turner to ‘up sticks’ from England and move ‘lock, stock and barrel’ to Sweden after spending a lifetime seeking practical applications for his research at the leading edge of biosensors and bioelectronics.

The distinguished Professor of Biotechnology at one of the UK’s leading research institutions – Cranfield University – had visited Linköping a number of times to work with scientists and other researchers, including the University’s world-renown Professor of Physics, Ingemar Lundström.

So, when Professor Turner retired from his full-time role as Principal of Cranfield University at Silsoe shortly after his 60th birthday, he and hiswife, Dr Alice Tang-Turner, opted to leave England and join an academic community some hundreds of miles away in which he felt thoroughly at home.

“It probably helped that my wife also loves Sweden, but I really like the environment and people here. I’m a great believer in the multi-disciplinary approach to teaching and research – and that’s a great strength of Linköping University. And, being able to work alongside the great Ingemar Lundström, who has done so much to encourage an entrepreneurial approach to academic research and ensure that it benefits the wider society, meant there was no holding me back when the Rector offered me the chance to move here to carry on my work.”

Professor Turner, or Tony as he prefers to be called, retains a part-time role as Director of Cranfield Ventures Ltd, which oversees exploitation of Cranfield University’s intellectual property, via spin-outs and licensing. But his heart is now very much set in Sweden’s South East, building on Linköping’s strengths in science and technology as head of the recently created Centre for Biosensors and Bioelectronics.

It is a field he has devoted half his life to studying since winning a senior fellowship from Diabetes UK in 1982. Working alongside colleagues at Oxford and Cranfield universities, he developed the world’s most successful type of biosensor – the mediated amperometric glucose sensor for home use. The device has radically improved the quality of life of people with diabetes and convinced Tony of the need to work across different academic disciplines to advance science for the public good.

“That’s what attracted me at first to the university here at Linköping. I met fellow minds at an early stage in myacademic career, and for three generations now this university has been instrumental in ensuring that everyone realises the benefit of collaboration rather than sticking your arms around your own little group and trying to keep everything secret. That frame of mind is still sadly prevalent in some of the big old traditional universities, but it is not for me, or the people I have come to work closely with at this university.

“I think the fact that Linköping is a relatively new university meant it had to be adaptive, had to be ‘fleet of foot’, and has had to be a bit clever rather than relying on 500 years of history for its reputation. It’s what I liked about the place when I first came here nearly 20 years ago, and why I’ve decided to relocate here.”

Like a relay-race runner, Tony feels it is his mission to keep the ‘spirit of collaboration’ alive and build on Linköping’s excellent track record in transferring the University’s wealth of knowledge to benefit society at large!

He would love to see more British postgraduate students and researchers follow in his footsteps, saying: “I’m sure they will be impressed. I’ll never forget one of my first visits. I’d come for a professorial committee and was met not by a member of faculty, but by the President of Linköping’s Students’ Union. You wouldn’t find that back in the UK, and I was all the more amazed when he joined us on the interview panel and asked contenders for the post what they would do to help their postgraduate students.”

“So, yes Sweden is another world when it comes to universities like this one, but it is all the better for that”, says Professor Turner, who points to the more relaxed, safe and caring environment, the well-equipped laboratories and the flat management structure as some of the key reasons behind Linköping’s high level of student satisfaction and its reputation as a good place to work.

Main photo: Professor Anthony Turner

* This article was originally published in Linköping University’s English language LiU Magazine, NR2 2012.