Major event set to showcase Great West’s ‘globally competitive’ research and innovation

Academics from four of the UK’s most research-intensive universities will be joined by senior representatives from Innovate UK and Research England

The Great West Research and Innovation Day, 1 November 2017, will celebrate collaboration between four of the region’s most ambitious and innovative universities and will generate new strategic projects and initiatives.

Over 100 senior academics from the universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter will hear keynote speeches from Dr Ruth McKernan OBE, Chief Executive of Innovate UK, and David Sweeney, Executive Chief Designate of Research England.

Dr Sarah Perkins, GW4 Director, will unveil the new GW4 Vision, which outlines how the research alliance will develop “pioneering, collaborative endeavours to drive innovation and economic growth across the Great West region and beyond” until 2025.

The major event will also host ‘lightning talks’ from exceptional GW4 projects, including Isambard, a supercomputing collaboration between GW4 universities, the Met Office and Cray Inc. which was recently shortlisted for a Times Higher Award under the category of Technological Innovation of the Year.

Established in 2013, GW4’s collaborative research addresses major global challenges and provides innovative solutions aligned to the Industrial Strategy. Its four universities attract the brightest and the best researchers to build a highly skilled workforce, strengthening the regional economy and addressing the productivity challenge.

GW4 universities lead 30 externally funded doctoral training programmes and are home to almost 9000 postgraduate researchers, over a third of which are international students.

The regional research alliance also connects with major businesses, government and local communities to champion research and innovation for the Great West.

Professor Dame Glynis Breakwell, President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Bath and Chair of GW4 Council, will open the event.

Professor Dame Glynis Breakwell says: “GW4’s strength is in the truly collaborative nature of its research and innovation endeavours. We work closely with decision makers and industry partners across our region to enable us to make a robust case for investment into our globally competitive research and innovation ecosystem. I am delighted to host this event in Bath and look forward to welcoming our senior academics as we continue to build on the impressive work of GW4 to date.”

David Sweeney, Executive Chief Designate, Research England, says: “GW4 is a successful and productive research collaboration.  Research England, working with the other UKRI Councils, looks forward to building on what has been achieved to support greater university/business collaboration which address global, national and regional priorities. The power of our universities, working together, is essential to provide highly-graduates, raise productivity, and stimulate economic growth.”

Dr Ruth McKernan OBE, Chief Executive, Innovate UK, says: “Innovate UK has a goal to drive innovation through collaboration and that is why we are so pleased to support the fantastic way the member institutions of GW4 work together. Wales and the west of England has innovation at its heart, with clusters of excellence in neuroscience, compound semiconductors and digital technologies. These are the kind of sectors that the UK needs to nurture as we enter the fourth industrial revolution.”

The Great West Research and Innovation Day will be held on 1 November 2017 at the Assembly Rooms, Bath.

University alliance awarded £2m to train a new generation of freshwater leaders

The UK’s first doctoral training programme in freshwater bioscience will train future experts to address the complex challenges needed to sustain the world’s ecosystems

The GW4 Alliance will receive £2m from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) to establish the UK’s first centre for doctoral training dedicated to “freshwater bioscience and sustainability”. The project will address challenges for rivers, lakes and wetlands as the world’s most important but most threatened natural resources.

Sustaining the world’s freshwater ecosystems – while meeting the water demands of a growing population – requires new thinking. The programme will address emerging risks, develop new monitoring tools, tackle the rapid extinction of freshwater plants and animals, and create integrated solutions to manage sustainability.

Led by Cardiff University’s Water Research Institute, the programme team is made up of six world-class research institutions: the GW4 universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and British Geological Survey. Together, they form one of the largest groups of freshwater scientists in Europe, and form a critical mass of internationally recognised scientists, including empiricists, experimentalists, modellers, and theoreticians in the field of freshwater bioscience and sustainability.

PhD students taking part in this multidisciplinary programme will work on real-life research projects with supervisors from a range of organisations such as Welsh Water, the Environment Agency and The Rivers Trust, enabling them to work side by side with the conservationists and commercial businesses that confront 21st century’s water challenges.

Dr Isabelle Durance, Director of the GW4 Freshwater Centre for Doctoral Training and Director of Cardiff University’s Water Research Institute, said: “Freshwater challenges are such that the UK freshwater research community needs a step-change: our vision is to train future leaders with the skills necessary to address the challenges facing sustainability.”

Professor Nick Talbot, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), University of Exeter and Chair of the GW4 Board says: “We are delighted that GW4’s Water Security Alliance, which is the UK’s largest grouping of water experts, has been recognised with this award. This initiative builds on a rich legacy of GW4 collaboration and excellence in doctoral training, following the Water Informatics Science and Engineering (WISE) CDT, and will tackle some of the most important challenges facing our environment today.

The GW4 Freshwater CDT looks set to have a global impact and provides further evidence that the future of scientific discovery lies in collaboration and sharing expertise across institutions as well as generations.”

The programme will run for six years and will welcome its first cohort in 2018.

Bright SPARK: what does the future of social science research look like?

We hear from Professor Rick Delbridge on Cardiff University’s plans for a Social Science Research Park (SPARK) and how this ‘society super lab’ will drive interdisciplinary research and strengthen collaboration with higher education institutions, businesses and the public sector across the region. 

The increased emphasis on interdisciplinary research and the need to apply it to deliver societal benefit and public value has opened up space for social scientists to contribute to the great challenges of our age.

This very point was made by Sir Mark Walport, chief executive designate at UK Research and Innovation when he observed in the Times Higher: “The impact of anthropological studies funded by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council in tackling Ebola highlighted that social sciences and humanities are essential to informed policy development and delivery.”

SPARK is being developed as part of the University’s £300m Innovation Campus

Adopting a “business-as-usual” approach will certainly not realise the opportunities and aspirations of major contemporary research initiatives, such as the Global Challenges Research Fund or the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

While social scientists have been keen to emphasise the role that they should play in addressing societal issues, such as population growth, migration, poverty and security, this will not be achieved if social science does not mobilise and organise itself. This point was made explicitly by David Sweeney, executive chair designate of Research England, at a recent conference that we hosted in Cardiff, where he called upon social science and humanities to actively seek out opportunities for collaboration.

Universities must lead the way in adopting innovative approaches to supporting interdisciplinary research and industry-academia partnerships. At Cardiff University, the creation of a social science research park, SPARK) builds on our recognised strengths in social sciences and will be home to interdisciplinary research groupings with an outwardly collaborative ethos.

The mission of the SPARK is “to generate economic, environmental and social value through co-developing innovative and effective solutions to societal problems with the public, private and third sectors”.

Cardiff University has worked with influential stakeholders across the Great West region and beyond –  including Nesta, the Economic and Social Research Council, Cardiff Council, Welsh Government, the Office for National Statistics and IBM – to develop the concept of this ‘society super lab’.  A unique feature of SPARK is that we will be inviting some of our key research partners from the private, public and third sectors to co-locate on-site. We are very keen that SPARK will be a porous and inviting space that encourages engagement with our local communities and that the physical spaces and facilities (including events and exhibition space, a behavioural lab, safe and secure data facilities and visualization suite) will be used by a wide range of partners, including colleagues from across the GW4 Alliance.

The connections that we have with key partners exemplify some of the Great West’s greatest strengths, such as data science expertise and a booming digital economy. Our region also straddles two governments, meaning that social scientists based at SPARK will be in a unique position to conduct comparative research, build an evidence base and influence innovation in the public services. Our vision and ambitions for SPARK chime with the UK’s emerging place-based approach to innovation and economic development (including the Industrial Strategy and the Shared Prosperity Fund that will replace EU Structural Funds).

Many of SPARK’s future tenants have already been recognised for their interdisciplinary and collaborative approaches to research. In the last academic year alone, these research groupings have attracted over £13m investment from research councils, Welsh Government and international partners, such as the US Department of Justice.

Welsh Government selected Y Lab, a joint initiative with Nesta on public services innovation, to run the £5m Innovate to Save programme. WISERD (the Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research, Data & Methods) was praised in the Welsh Government’s Independent Diamond Review as a “a major resource for providing knowledge transfer across a wide range of the social sciences”. Welsh Government also co-funded a £6m award with the ESRC to create the new Wales Centre for Public Policy, which will be based in the building.

SPARK provides vital infrastructure for three of the University’s research institutes (Crime and Security, Sustainable Places and Data Innovation’s Social Data Science Lab) enabling them to further develop innovative partnerships within and beyond campus. The ESRC Doctoral Training Partnership will also locate in the building, giving the social science researchers of the future first-hand experience of a collaborative and inter-disciplinary approach.

We think that SPARK could provide the blueprint for the future of social science research, founded on the principles for a successful social lab:

  • Social: bringing together diverse participants drawn from different sectors of society.
  • Experimental: taking an iterative approach to research challenges, prototyping interventions and evaluating various promising solutions.
  • Systemic: seeking solutions that go beyond dealing with symptoms to address the root cause of why things are not working in the first place.

I hope the vision of SPARK (described by David Sweeney as “absolutely brilliant”) inspires social sciences researchers and universities across the Great West to look beyond ‘business as usual’, and to take an innovative approach to developing collaborative and interdisciplinary social sciences research that addresses some of our greatest challenges.

Rick Delbridge is Professor of Organizational Analysis, Academic Lead for SPARK and Dean of Research, Innovation and Enterprise at Cardiff University.

Record numbers of graduates attend GW4 careers fairs in China

Record numbers of returnee graduates attended the GW4 careers fairs in the Chinese cities of Shanghai and Shenzhen last month, leading to an increase in the number of graduates finding employment.

For the third year running, GW4 universities have delivered graduate recruitment fairs for their Chinese returnee graduates. Organised by Careers Services of GW4 universities (Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter), multi-national employers based in China attended the fairs in the tier 1 cities of Shanghai and Shenzhen.

The fairs welcomed back high-profile global employers including Abercrombie & Fitch, Decathlon, IBM and Nielsen, as well as new attendees Bosch, Citi, Expedia and PWC, amongst many other graduate recruiters.

A spokesperson from GW4 Careers Fairs commented:

“We are delighted the fairs are now regarded as an annual must-attend event for such prestigious graduate recruiters who attend year-on-year. Our decision to include Shenzhen as a venue this year, regarded as the Silicon Valley of China, has enabled us to attract an even wider range of employers including China-based giants Grandland Group and ZTE.

“It is especially gratifying to see the range and quality of employers has resulted in an increase of 20% more graduates attending the fairs this year with an increasing number of graduates becoming employed as a result.”

Duncan Du, Associate Consultant for TEKsystems and GW4 University alumni, commented:

“The GW4 career fairs provide a great opportunity to meet with the graduates and assess their potential. Already, one of the stand-out graduates has been interviewed and has a trial start with our company this week. As a recruiter with TEKsystems of the Allegis Group, I’d like to thank the GW4 partnership for creating such a successful event. We look forward to participating in the future.”

For global fashion retailer, H&M, the fairs are an excellent platform that allows them to meet high-quality returnee graduates. Open personalities and good English language skills fit well with the H&M culture. Last year the company successfully hired a GW4 graduate who had just finished her Masters degree and whose performance in her first year has already resulted in a promotion.

The fairs continue to open up further opportunities for graduates of the GW4 universities, as well as contributing to the universities’ growing global profile among prospective students and international employers.

Planning is now underway to grow the capacity of the events further for 2018. Further information regarding the events is available here: http://gw4.ac.uk/all-events/gw4-universities-international-careers-fairs-2017/

Research partnership creates new possibilities to design materials with exotic properties

The 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics celebrated the rich behaviour of two-dimensional (2D) materials, like atoms, molecules, or electrons that are confined to move on a flat surface.

Compared to their three dimensional (3D) counterparts, such materials exhibit new and exotic properties, the elucidation of which is at the cutting edge of condensed matter physics research.

A very interesting case is the behaviour of 2D crystals. Unlike 3D materials, which always melt into a liquid state or `phase’, theory predicts that 2D crystals melt into a new phase called the hexatic.

In character, the hexatic is intermediate between a crystal phase and a liquid, in that its constituent particles exhibit long ranged orientational order (like a crystal) but only short ranged positional order (like a liquid).

Even for the simplest 2D model material, composed of identical hard disks, finding confirmation that a two-dimensional crystal melts into a hexatic phase was one of the longest standing problems in physics.

After numerous attempts (spanning four decades) it was solved in 2011 with the use of large scale computer simulations.

In a collaboration between two GW4 universities, Dr John Russo from the University of Bristol’s School of Mathematics and Professor Nigel Wilding, from the Department of Physics at the University of Bath, have harnessed the combined power of the high performance computers in both universities to show that the behaviour of 2D crystals becomes even stranger when mixtures of two types of particle are considered.

Their findings have been published today in the journal Physical Review Letters.

Dr Russo said: “For this research we considered the 2D hard disk system studied previously, but with a twist: we introduced a second species of disk which is only 70 percent as big as the others.

“Interestingly we found that the presence of this second type of disk makes the hexatic phase disappear.”

Professor Wilding added: “This occurs at surprisingly small concentrations of the small disks: swapping just one percent of the disks for the smaller species is enough to lose the hexatic.

“We found that the hexatic is such a delicate state of matter because its entropy is only slightly greater than that of the liquid.

“Adding small particles raises the entropy of the liquid and this in turn destabilises the hexatic.”

The researchers say their study contributes to the fundamental understanding of the fascinating Physics of matter in two dimensions, and opens the doors to the design of new materials with strange and exotic properties.

Read the full paper, ‘Disappearance of the hexatic phase in a binary mixture of hard disks’ by J. Russo, and N. Wilding, in Physical Review Letters.

The image accompanying this article is a snapshot of the hexatic phase in 2D hard disks, copyright University of Bristol.

Greedy for collaboration

How can research collaboration continue to thrive beyond its original objectives? We hear from Mike Allen, Chris Chuck and Tom Scott on how the GW4 AVARICE project, having reached its goal of solving the acid mine drainage problem in South West England, has developed in unforeseen directions – including coral reef mapping, deep sea robotics and more… 

Our story started a few years ago when we got together in Falmouth following the award of a GW4 initiator grant. There were about a dozen of us from the GW4 community sat around a table, meeting each other for the first time to discuss how we could go about solving the problem of acid mine drainage using microalgae.

With a mix of microbiology (Chris Bryan, Exeter), marine biochemistry (Mike, PML), molecular biology (Mark van der Geizen, Exeter),  bioinformatics (Ben Temperton, then PML, now Exeter), materials and physics (Tom, Bristol), chemical engineering (Chris, Bath), mineralogy and geotechnics  (Devin Sapsford, Cardiff), life cycle analysis (Xiaoyu Yan, Exeter) and even media and communications (Edvard Glucksman, Exeter) backgrounds present, the atmosphere was pretty vibrant and exciting.

Ultimately, the ‘AVARICE’ project (Algal Valorisation And Remediation of Iron Contaminated Effluents) was born and based on the concept of developing a ‘greedy’ process that would remove all the polluting metals in a way that could generate revenue. We were working as a regional team looking to solve a real problem in our region, but trying to do it in a way with potential for global deployment.

‘Greedy’ collaborators at work: some of the interdisciplinary, multi-university AVARICE team

The project itself was a great success and is still going strong. We have had some nice publications emerge from the project (with a couple more to come), plenty of commercial interest and it has been the basis of a range of further grant applications.

Yet, perhaps the greatest impact that the original Initiator grant had was entirely unforeseen. The AVARICE project was great as it kept us focussed on our original goal of solving the acid mine drainage problem in the South West.

However, it also provided us the opportunity and time away from our normal work routines to simply talk and throw ideas around. And when scientists from diverse backgrounds talk, unexpected things can happen. Friendships form and long term collaborations emerge. For the three of us in particular it has been quite a journey; with such different backgrounds we had no idea where we would find common ground.

But we have: we have found shared interest in monitoring, diagnostic and analytical research, but we have also broken new ground where we can each apply our skills and knowledge in ways we had not previously considered. We have gone way beyond our original remit and are now working together on marine robotics, bioreactor design, aerial drone mapping, additive layer manufacturing, nuclear waste clean-up, plastic production and recycling and genomics.

There are now three PhD studentships between us covering the diverse topics of coral reef health assessment using robotics (Tom and Mike, based in Bristol), the development of the marine biorefinery concept (Chris and Mike, based in Bath) and the study of algal-virus infection dynamics using atomic force microscopy (Mike and Tom, based in PML); as well as a plethora of great MRes and undergraduate projects covering topics such as jellyfish fermentation,  seaweed harvesting, coral reef mapping, deep sea robotics and electro-winning Sn from acid mine waters.

We also share a lot of infrastructure, either by providing access for group members to visit each other’s labs or by physically transferring equipment between labs. It has been an approach that has been really productive for us.

We have obtained funding for these activities from within our institutions (such as the Cabot Institute Fund and the Bath GCRF fund), from research councils (such as BBSRC and EPSRC), charitable foundations (Roddenberry Foundation and Seale Hayne Education Trust) as well as industry (Bristol Nanodynamics, Ascension Holdings Ltd and PetroVietnam).

We have also opened up our collaborative networks to each other, sharing ‘approved and trusted’ contacts who can unlock new industries such as nuclear, oil and marine. In total, in just a couple of years from a standing start there have been four publications and in excess of £250k of income generated to our combined organisations, and we’ve barely begun…

None of this would have happened without the original GW4 initiator fund which simply put us in a room and gave us the opportunity to talk. So, if you get the chance to get involved in one of these initiatives, make sure you do. Talk to crazy physicists, mad marine scientists and hipster-wannabe engineers and anyone else who is there and open your mind to working in areas that you may not have previously considered. You never know where you will end up and the journey can be a lot of fun.

Find out more about funding and publications arising from GW4 AVARICE.

Dr Mike Allen is a Microbial Biochemist at Plymouth Marine Lab, Dr Chris Chuck leads the Chuck Group at University of Bath and Professor Tom Scott is a Professor in Materials at University of Bristol.

GW4 shortlisted for Times Higher Education award

The GW4 Alliance has been shortlisted under the category of Technological Innovation of the Year at this year’s Times Higher Education (THE) Awards for its world-first supercomputer, Isambard.

The THE Awards are often called the Oscars of the higher education sector. Each year they attract hundreds of entries from UK universities, honouring creativity, efficiency and innovation in the higher education sector.

The world’s first ARM-based production supercomputer

The EPSRC awarded the GW4 Alliance, together with Cray Inc. and the Met Office, £3m to deliver a new Tier 2 high performance computing (HPC) service to benefit scientists across the UK. This collaboration has produced the world’s first ARM-based production supercomputer, named ‘Isambard’ after the renowned Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

Isambard will enable researchers to choose the best hardware system for their specific scientific problem, improving efficiency and cost-effectiveness. The supercomputer is able to provide system comparison at high speed as it includes over 10,000, high-performance 64-bit ARM cores, making it one of the largest machines of its kind anywhere in the world.

“Testament to the power of industry and academic collaboration”

Professor Nick Talbot, Chair of GW4 Board and Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) at University of Exeter, said: “We are delighted that GW4’s supercomputer, Isambard, has been shortlisted for this prestigious award. The project is a testament to the power of industry and academic collaboration, and we are proud to share in this success with partners Cray, the Met Office and ARM.  Isambard lives up to its venerable namesake in catalysing our region’s expertise in engineering and innovation, and looks set to provide huge benefits to scientists across the UK, and beyond.”

Professor Simon McIntosh-Smith, lead academic on the project at the University of Bristol, commented: “Since we announced the system we’ve been contacted by a wide range of world-class academic and industrial HPC users asking for access to the service. Isambard could be the first of a new generation of ARM-based supercomputers and it is exciting to see this potential recognised by Times Higher Education.”

The Times Higher Awards 2017 gala ceremony will take place on Thursday 30 November 2017 at the Grosvenor House Hotel, London.

GW4 cryo-microscopy facility hailed as “an incredible advance” at opening ceremony

The new GW4 Facility for High Resolution Cryo-Microscopy was unveiled at an opening ceremony on Friday 1 September 2017 in front of an audience of over 120 researchers

The GW4 facility, which was supported by awards from Wellcome and BBSRC, as well as co-investment from the GW4 universities, will provide researchers across the Great West region with a suite of state-of-the-art microscopy and analysis tools, enabling them to better understand the molecular processes responsible for cell function or malfunction.

Professor John Iredale, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Health) at University of Bristol opened the event, welcoming delegates and describing the facility as “an incredible advance” for molecular and structural biology research.

This address was followed by a speech from Professor Jim Smith, Director of Science at Wellcome, who explained that the future of scientific discovery will not only be driven by ideas, but by access to cutting-edge technology. He said that the only way that science can develop is by sharing technology and facilities, and he praised their GW4 Alliance for our approach to collaborative research and infrastructure.

Then followed a series of expert talks on microscopy technology and leading-edge techniques, chaired by Professors Christiane Berger-Schaffitzel and Paul Verkade of University’s of Bristol’s School of Biochemistry.

There were opportunities for the audience – comprising of senior staff, funding organisations and early career researchers from across the region and beyond – to network and discuss potential research partnerships and ideas, as well as explore a poster competition.

The day was closed by Professor Phil Ingham, Director of the University of Exeter’s Living Systems Institute, who said that the facility (and the behind-the-scenes work to make it a reality) demonstrated “the power of this collaborative network”.

Poster prizes were then presented by Dr Malcolm Skingle, Director of Academic Liaison at GSK.

View photos from the launch

Government report recognises vital role of regional life sciences clusters

The Life Sciences Industrial Strategy recommended bringing together regional organisations to create single ‘front-door’ for investment

The launch of the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy recognised the significant contribution that regional clusters make to the UK’s £64bn life science sector.

The Strategy called for existing regional clusters to work together to provide a ‘single front door’ to the UK for research collaboration and investment.

By bringing together cluster organisations, trade bodies and academic consortia, the Government can identify where the UK has globally competitive R&D excellence in life sciences to attract collaboration opportunities and inward investment to the right places.

The launch of the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy follows a year of intense collaboration between a group of life sciences organisations including Northern Health Science Alliance, MedCity, Life Science Hub Wales and the GW4 Alliance.

The group has been working together to better understand how regional clusters can support the delivery of the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy, with support from the Academy of Medical Sciences and Wellcome.

Whilst geographically diverse, this group shares common values and aims:

  • They are typically self-assembled to exploit regional expertise and excellence, and promote improved health and wealth both regionally and nationally.
  • Many act as multi-faceted ‘convening’ bodies which bring together the breadth of the value and supply chain including academia, NHS, Government, industry and membership organisations, to drive the economy.
  • They are supported by formal governance systems, strategies and infrastructure to deliver collaborative research and development at scale.
  • These groups are distinct from membership organisations which exist to represent member needs. Clusters have different finance and operational systems that enables independence, and aim to support regional organisations to drive economic value and health improvement.

This group has welcomed the recommendations of the Life Science Industrial Strategy and has called for the UK Government to continue to work closely with its members and the Academy of Medical Sciences to deliver a sector deal that will ensure that the sector remains at the leading edge of life science research and health innovation globally.

Commenting on the report:

Dr Hakim Yadi OBE, Chief Executive of Northern Health Science Alliance commented: “The Strategy offers the opportunity for a renaissance in UK health and life science discovery and innovation. The NHSA were delighted to have been highlighted specifically by the Strategy as a successful exemplar of regional strength. Through our current projects, such as Connected Health Cities we are already delivering world-leading programmes across a number of the Strategy’s recommendations including data and NHS collaboration and are looking forward to using this network of UK wide clusters to support further delivery of the recommendations in the Life Science strategy.”

Sarah Haywood, CEO of MedCity noted: “The strategy recognises the strength of the Golden Triangle of Cambridge-London-Oxford within the life sciences sector.  Nevertheless, we cannot take for granted what we have.  There is a continuing need to support joining up across academia, industry large and small and the NHS.  The strategy identifies the role that cluster organisations can play in supporting the places that drive the UK’s life sciences sector.  Working together we can provide a front door to the UK’s capability and make it easier for different groups to find and work with each other.”

Dr Penny Owen, Interim Executive Chair, Life Science Hub Wales commented: “At Life Sciences Hub Wales we welcome Sir John Bell’s positive and progressive report and look forward to seeing it put into action in partnership with our colleagues across the UK.  We have understood the necessity of linking our flourishing Welsh life sciences sector with the health and wellbeing of the nation since we launched the Life Sciences Hub Wales in 2014. Recognition and support for the vital roles cluster organisations have in ensuring that innovation is translated to patient benefits is important to expanding this sector to create health and wealth benefits for Wales and wider markets.”

Dr Sarah Perkins, GW4 Director, said: “Continued collaboration between academia, the NHS and industry partners – both within and across regions – is integral to developing an accurate picture of life sciences excellence across the UK. GW4 brings together world-leading capabilities across life sciences and we look forward to bringing these strengths to bear as we deliver on the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy alongside other regional clusters.”

Professor Ian Young, Chief Scientific Advisor, Northern Ireland noted: “The strategy recognises the strength of Northern Ireland’s life and health sciences sector, and in particular that the NI Health system is the only fully integrated health and social care system in the UK. It recognises too, NI’s success in diagnostics, in oncology research and health analytics. Through NI’s Strategic Action Plan NI is committed to growing its L&HS sector joining with academia, health professionals and industry to focus on health challenges.  We look forward to playing a key role in delivering on the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy alongside other regional clusters.”

Bringing major health discoveries to our doorstep

We hear from Professor Christiane Berger-Schaffitzel on the game-changing potential of a new GW4 shared facility for microscopy, and how it will accelerate cutting-edge research projects across the Great West.

Molecular processes decide whether we’re healthy or not. To really understand the cellular function or malfunction behind human health or disease, we need to be able to see the exact molecular processes at work – their modes of action and architecture.

Electron cryo-microscopy (known as cryo-EM) is a vital part of determining and analysing these intricate molecular processes.

The South West England and South East Wales region has long been home to notable and complementary expertise in human health and imaging, but not the state-of-the-art cryo-microscopy equipment needed to study molecular processes at this level of detail. Today, that all changes with the launch of the GW4 Facility for High Resolution Electron Cyro-Microscopy.

Joining the revolution

Electron cryo-microscopy has made incredible advances recently, with scientists hailing the “cryo-EM revolution” in accelerating insights into human health and disease.

Major improvements in microscope hardware, data-collection strategies and software have converged to catapult cryo-EM technology to a new level of precision. Molecular processes can be visualised at near-atomic resolution, opening up exciting new avenues for studying structure and function in unprecedented detail, from atoms to cells.

This means that researchers investigating biological function today must be provided with the opportunity to make use of cryo-EM technology if they want to advance their studies on regional, national and international levels.

Making the case

I joined with colleagues across the GW4 Alliance – from a variety of disciplines and academic/professional services roles – to develop collaborative proposals for support. The process of putting together these proposals identified clear complementary strengths in imaging and molecular biology as well as opportunities for research collaboration that would be created by shared access to cutting edge cryo-EM technology.

We were delighted to receive support from Wellcome and BBSRC and co-investment from our institutions to develop a GW4 Facility for High Resolution Electron Cryo-Microscopy. Their support demonstrated an overarching ambition that future scientific discovery will be a collaborative enterprise, and we are delighted to make this ambition a reality for our region.

A regional facility for the Great West

Today’s ceremony celebrates the installation of this state-of-the-art cryo-microscopy facility that will open up this technology to researchers across the South West and Wales. The event will bring together globally-renowned microscopy experts, doctoral students and senior university staff to discuss the future of imaging and share best practice and leading-edge techniques.

The GW4 facility will represent an important regional node to feed into the Wellcome-funded national facility for High-Resolution Cryo-EM at Harwell. We hope our high-profile resource for the Great West, together with the national facility, will entice researchers from diverse life-science areas and disciplines to join the cryo-EM revolution and generate new and exciting research.

Christiane Berger-Schaffitzel is a Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Bristol.

Christiane led two bids to develop the GW4 Facility for High-Resolution Electron Cryo-Microscopy, alongside Professor Phil Ingham at the University of Exeter who led the third bid to support the facility.