New £21m networks to boost world-class scientific research in Wales
Science Minister Edwina Hart today (13 March) marked the completion of the first phase of the Welsh Government’s £50m Sêr Cymru programme to bring scientific talent to Wales, with the launch of three National Research Networks.
The networks, that will receive £21m programme funding, will build on Wales’ world-class research in discovering new medicines, innovative engineering and tackling the challenges of green energy.
A recent report found the quality of scientific research produced in Wales outperforms most similar sized countries in the world, but more researchers are needed. The Sêr Cymru National Research Networks will increase research investment in the three Grand Challenge areas, identified as having the greatest potential for Wales.
Professor Javier Bonet heads up the Advanced Engineering and Materials Network, based at Swansea University and Professors Malcolm Mason and Chris McGuigan are directors of the Life Sciences and Health Network based at Cardiff University. Professor David N Thomas appointment as chair of the Low Carbon, Energy and the Environment Network to be based at Bangor and Aberystwyth University completes the three networks.
This follows the appointment of three world-renowned Professors as Sêr Cymru Research Chairs in each of the three “Grand Challenge” subject areas.
Each network will develop collaborative research projects in their subject area between higher education institutions and other organisations across Wales and beyond. Each receives £7m Welsh Government funding to appoint PhD students and fellows to develop new research and attract more investment to Wales.
Speaking at today’s launch at the University Minister for Economy and Science, Edwina Hart said: “Science and innovation are key pillars of a thriving economy. Boosting our science research capability is vital to improving our economic wellbeing and securing a more prosperous future for Wales. Researchers in Wales are amongst the best in the world for the sums invested. The Sêr Cymru Networks seek to increase that investment in Welsh science by supporting and growing research excellence.”
Chief Scientific Adviser for Wales, Professor Julie Williams said: “As the Elsevier report demonstrated we already have excellent, high quality research taking place here in Wales but we need more of it. These networks will help us achieve that in areas that have the potential to create long-term, lasting economic and social benefits for Wales and beyond. They are already working on some exciting projects. For example these networks are researching grasses which can absorb more water to reduce flooding, building materials that produce their own energy from the sun and novel treatments for some of the most challenging diseases we face.”
Sêr Cymru National Research Networks
Low Carbon, Energy and the Environment based at Bangor and Aberystwyth University
Director Professor David N Thomas
The network will focus their research efforts into the interactions between land, water, the provision of food and energy production, and how they can be maintained to meet society’s needs particularly in the face of the challenges posed by climate change. The Network will establish groups of researchers into research-clusters, creating opportunities for partners and businesses to engage with the researchers, and increase commercial opportunities for businesses in Wales.
The Network Director, Professor David Thomas, is the Professor of Marine Biology at the School of Ocean Sciences, Bangor University. He has held research posts in Germany, Denmark and Finland. He has conducted his research, mainly in the Arctic and Antarctic, into how organisms survive freezing in ice. Closer to home he studies the coupling between biology and chemistry as organic matter and nutrients pass from the land to the rivers and then into the oceans.
He said: “The overarching aim for this network is to look at how we can integrate our natural resources to ensure we have continued energy, water and food security while maintaining the other benefits that our land, rivers, lakes and coastal waters provide. This requires a new approach which will see scientists from different disciplines and institutions working together, and this can best be organised via a national research network.
The Network will stimulate new interdisciplinary research between diverse groups of research institutions to conduct research that crosses traditional discipline boundaries. To do this the network will appoint teams of excellent scientists and doctoral students to raise the profile of environmental science in Wales and increase research funding from UK and EU sources.“
More information on the network is available at http://nrn-lcee.ac.uk
Advanced Engineering and Materials – based at Swansea University
Director: Professor Javier Bonet
The Advanced Engineering and Materials Network will be looking to deliver high quality, collaborative research that engages with the ultimate end user which could be anyone from the manufacturing industry or NHS to the European Space Agency or MOD. The research will focus on three main areas:
New materials for applications such as energy - for example they are already looking at different types of photovoltaic (the technology used to harness solar energy) materials such as a coating that can be applied direct to buildings rather use the traditional panels. Other researchers are developing new alloys in particular for use in manufacturing; there is already collaboration underway with the European Space Agency in this area.
Advanced Sensors and Devices - for example nano-needles to deliver drugs or providing non-invasive ways of monitoring blood sugar levels.
New ways of modelling complex processes in nature through computational simulation techniques - which could help with the prediction of flood and storm damage, predicting processes in the human body or with faster and safer design processes by, for example, predicting the effect of lightning on aeroplanes.
Professor Javier Bonet, whose background is in computational modelling with particular application in manufacturing, said: “I am excited by the opportunity to lead this new network. Our aim is to produce high quality, collaborative research between the partner institutes and others in Wales and outside. We will be working closely with the likely end users to ensure the research is properly focused. Ultimately by delivering high quality research we want to attract more research funding to Wales.”
Life Sciences and Health based at Cardiff University
Directors Professor Malcolm Mason and Professor Chris McGuigan
The Life Sciences and Health network will be creating research opportunities in drug discovery and developing new therapeutic treatments in areas of unmet medical need. This could be in any type of disease, but their particular focus will be on three areas: encology, infectious diseases and diseases that affect the central nervous system such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.
The network, which was the first to start operating in September last year has got off to a flying start in awarding 15 PhD projects, 13 in their target areas. They aim to award up to 100 PhDs and 30 fellows in the first five years.
Professor Chris McGuigan, who has a background in drug discovery and will lead on the scientific aspects of the network, said: “We decided to ask the successful applicants to find 50% match-funding for their projects, and in the first round 15 of the 17 projects we approved managed to get the required funding in time. Not only does this mean we can get many more projects from our funding pot but it also demonstrates that there is a real demand out there for that type of research. I am delighted with the start we’ve made and am looking forward to the exciting work ahead. We have a very strong board which will read and review every proposal that we get in.”
Professor Malcolm Mason, whose background is as a clinical trialist will oversee the clinical aspects of the network’s work, said: “It can be a very difficult and time consuming process to get a new drug from the laboratory into a position where it can be used for treatment. Our hope is that anything coming out of the network has as strong a chance as possible that one day it will be ready to go for clinical trials. That will be an important consideration for any projects we approve and also something we can achieve by bringing together all the talented people within the network.”
More information on the network is available at www.lsrnw.ac.uk
The three Sêr Cymru Research Chairs are:
- Professor Yves Barde, Research Chair Life Sciences at Cardiff University
- Professor James Durrant Research Chair Advanced Engineering and Materials at Swansea University
- Professor Andrew Barron Research Chair Low Carbon, Energy and the Environment at Swansea University
About Sêr Cymru
Sêr Cymru aims is to enhance research in Wales through a five year funding programme to attract and support world class science researchers and their teams, to build greater capacity for the future. It is also intended to build up networks of existing excellence as contributions to increasing Wales' cut of the UK Research Council's funding to 5% from its current 3.4%.
The Welsh Government has committed up to £50 million to the Sêr Cymru programme, which includes £15 million from the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW). The programme’s objective is to enhance and build upon the research capability in Wales. It aims to attract world-leading scholars and their teams to Wales.
It will also support the establishment of a collaborative National Research Network in each of the three Grand Challenge research areas identified in the 'Science for Wales' strategy: advanced engineering and materials; life sciences and health; low carbon, energy and environment.