Partnership fuels chemicals future 

Scottish Development International

Copyright: Rex Features

Moves are underway by industry, academia and government agencies to develop the skills that are essential for the growth of the chemical sciences sector

By Karen Harries-Rees, London

The need to increase industry R&D is not unique to the industrial biotechnology sector. It is also an issue across the chemical and life sciences industries. Scotland has a high-quality research base and has had some successes in translating academic research into benefits for businesses and the industry, but in many cases is not doing that very effectively, says Paul Hagan, director of research and innovation at the Scottish Funding Council. “There is an untapped potential,” he says.

The Scottish Funding Council has supported smaller-scale projects that have been fairly successful, he says. However, what it has not been doing is securing a significant culture change and a bigger impact across the country. “That’s what is needed if we’re going to make a big difference,” says Hagan.

The Scottish Funding Council began its work with Scottish Enterprise as well as Highlands and Islands Enterprise on establishing innovation centres two years ago. The drive to establish these centres was about encouraging businesses and the industry to come forward with the issues that they have and seek help and support from the university research base. At the same time, the centres will also try to encourage a wider spread of a research culture in the business community.

“It’s not just about stuff flowing out of university, but also about the flow from businesses to university and between businesses. It about a culture of innovation being established,” says Hagan. “Obviously we want to see the benefits in terms of products and impact on the economy, but the fundamental change needed here is the cultural change in engagement of businesses with universities. It’s already underway. Our universities are already good at working with business and the industry, but we want them to be the best in the world at doing it,” he says.

The Council put out a call for those interested in establishing an innovation centre. They received 30 applications and supported three which were launched in 2013 – CENSIS is the centre of excellence for sensor and imaging systems technologies, supporting world-leading collaborative research in intelligent sensor networks and systems; Digital Health Institute – offering a fusion of health, design, technology and business knowledge; and Stratified Medicine Scotland Innovation Centre – supporting the development of new and better targeted medicines by pharmaceutical and biotech companies.

Five other centres have come out of a later workshop process, with industry and universities working together to identify what innovation centres are needed and what they would look like. The resulting centres, which have either recently launched or will be launching in the coming months, are: Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre, Scottish Aquaculture Innovation centre, Construction Scotland Innovation Centre, Oil and Gas Innovation Centre, and The DataLab, to help Scotland capitalise on the growing market in analytics and “big data” technology.

“The fundamental change needed is the cultural change in engagement of businesses with universities” 

Paul Hagan
Director, research and innovation, Scottish Funding Council
 

Innovation factor

These centres are key to the establishment of a culture of innovation. “They’re meant to help transform the economy, and if we get this right some of them have the potential to do that,” says Hagan.

The aim is for the centres to also work together rather than remaining in silos. “We’re seeing the first signs of activity across the sectors. For example, digital health, stratified medicine and the data lab are talking together,” says Hagan,

These eight new innovation centres will join other activities already established through alternative funding paths, such as CMAC. Hagan says the other innovation activities that are already up and running are an important part of the innovation landscape. “We don’t see innovation centres as the only places to have innovation. We know we need to develop different models for different industries. We’re interested in innovation wherever it emerges from,” says Hagan.

Another way for businesses to access innovation support is through Interface, which provides a central point of access to the expertise available in Scotland’s Higher Education and Research Institutions. Interface helps businesses by matching them to the right academic expertise.

As a result of funding from SFC, businesses also get a £5,000 innovation voucher to begin that initial engagement. The aim is to bring more SMEs into working with universities. “It’s been a huge success over the last two to three years,” says Hagan.

 

University chemistry department pooling

Collaboration opens access to Academia

ScotCHEM IS the access door to chemical sciences academia in Scotland. Launched in 2005, it is a strategic initiative to generate collaboration, enable wider access to major facilities and enhance chemistry research and research training in Scotland.

It is important for Scotland to sustain a strong academic chemistry sector within its universities. However, the task of remaining competitive, both within the UK and globally, presents challenges. The complex nature of research has led to the most successful teams being concentrated in larger, often interdisciplinary, units supported by the necessary facilities.

ScotCHEM is the Scottish academic chemistry community’s response to these challenges. It brings together the major players in research in chemical sciences. Its umbrella structure consists of two integrated university pairings - WestCHEM, comprising Glasgow and Strathclyde, and EastCHEM, bringing together Edinburgh and St Andrews. Aberdeen, Dundee and Heriot-Watt are the other full members.

A ScotCHEM International Graduate School has been established for research students. It builds on the collective facilities and courses available through all seven universities and their collaborators in Scotland and overseas.

 

Scientific publications

Benchmark puts Scotland among the top

Scotland has a strong research base in chemical sciences with high-quality research, a growing output and high levels of international collaboration,saysarecent report from science publisher Elsevier.

The report, entitled “The International Comparative Performance of the Scottish Research Base in Chemical Sciences”, was prepared for Scottish Enterprise, and benchmarks the Scottish research base in chemical sciences against selected countries.

It focuses on contrasting the situation before ScotCHEM was launched in 2005 and after, to help understand the impact ScotCHEM has had on the research environment.

It found that Scotland shows high and increasing the levels of international collaboration in chemical sciences.

Its level of collaboration between universities and industry is above the world average, but levels decreased slightly from 5.7% in 2000-2005 to 4.9% in 2006-2011.

However, when the number of researchers, GDP and R&D expenditure are taken into account, Scotland’s output and citations are among the top of all the comparison countries.

The report shows that Scottish output accounts for 0.6% of all chemical sciences publications worldwide. This output is growing and the growth rate is increasing, from 4.1% in 2000-2005 to 5.9% for 2006-2011. Also, Scotland has a relatively high and rising citation impact. This is an indicator of the quality of the publications. Scotland’s field weighted citation impact rose from 1.34 in 2000-2005 to 1.48 in 2006-2011.

Scotland has also produced a relatively high percentage of highly cited publications, and this has increased after 2005. Its chemical sciences research is also, on average, cited more often by patents than most of the comparison countries.

 

Scotland has a thriving chemical sciences cluster recognised as one of the most accessible, well connected and collaborative in Europe. We are home to some of the world’s leading chemicals companies, and have a growing number of supply chain opportunities for international companies. To find out more, please visit www.sdi.co.uk.

Local Support

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