£100 million investment for new research institute with Harwell hub

23 February 2017

Harwell Campus

Harwell Campus
(Credit: Harwell Campus)

A major new £100 million investment by the government into the development of an innovative multi-disciplinary science and technology research centre was announced today (Thursday 23rd February) by Business Secretary Greg Clark.

The new Rosalind Franklin Institute (RFI) will bring together UK expertise to develop new technologies that will transform our understanding of disease and speed up the development of new treatments. It will have a hub based at Harwell Campus, a world leading site dedicated to the advancement of science, technology and innovation.

The announcement forms part of the government’s Industrial Strategy to maintain the UK’s global leadership in science, innovation and research.

Business Secretary Greg Clark said: “The UK has always been a pioneer in the world of science, technology and medical research. It’s this excellence we want to continue to build on and why we made science and research a central part of our Industrial Strategy - strengthening links between research and industry, ensuring more home-grown innovation continues to benefit millions around the world.

“Named after one of the UK’s leading chemists, the new Rosalind Franklin Institute will inspire and house scientists who could be responsible for the next great discovery that will maintain the UK’s position at the forefront of global science for years to come.”

The new Rosalind Franklin Institute (RFI) – named in honour of the pioneering British scientist whose use of X-rays to study biological structures played a crucial role in the discovery of DNA’s ‘double helix’ structure by Francis Crick and James Watson – will bring together UK strengths in the physical sciences, engineering and life sciences to create a national centre of excellence in technology development and innovation.  It will be delivered and managed by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

The central hub at Harwell will link to partner sites at the universities of Cambridge, Edinburgh, Manchester and Oxford, Imperial College, King’s College London, and University College London. Industry partners will be on board from the outset, and the Institute will grow over time, as more universities and researchers participate.

The Harwell Campus is a public private partnership between Harwell Oxford Partners, U+I Group PLC, the Science and Technology Facilities Council and the UK Atomic Energy Agency (UKAEA). As one of the world’s most important science and innovation locations it is seeing rapid growth in the Life Sciences and HealthTec sector with over 1,000 people working in this field alone at Harwell.

Dr Tim Bestwick, STFC’s Executive Director, Business and Innovation said: “We welcome this large investment from the Government and are delighted that the Harwell campus will be the main hub for this prestigious institute. With its interdisciplinary nature and focus on industry from the outset, Harwell, which brings together industry, academia and world leading facilities to help speed up the process of innovation, is well set up to support the institute. We look forward to the opportunities for collaboration with our partners and a whole network of scientists that this will provide.”

One of the facilities on the Harwell Campus is Diamond Light Source, the UK’s national synchrotron. The science undertaken at the RFI will have strong thematic links to Diamond.

Professor Andrew Harrison, CEO at Diamond comments: “The RFI will develop new technologies designed to tackle major challenges in health and life sciences, and will have a strong synergy with Diamond’s interdisciplinary research programmes. It is named after the pioneering scientist who helped discover DNA using the same technique which underpins much of today’s experiments at the Diamond synchrotron.”

“A key element to this success will be the close proximity to, and collaborations with Diamond, the Central Laser Facility and Research Complex at Harwell which all have tremendous synergy with each other. Diamond’s two electron imaging centres (ePSIC and eBIC) will soon be the largest microscopy centre for biology and physical sciences globally, and together with the RFI, will form a key driver of life science research over the next decades.”

The announcement today was marked by RFI partners, including funders and academic representatives, who gathered at Diamond joined by Lord Prior of Brampton, Parliamentary Undersecretary of State at BEIS.

The RFI will bring together academic and industry researchers from across the UK to develop disruptive new technologies designed to tackle major challenges in health and life sciences, accelerate the discovery of new treatments for chronic diseases affecting millions of people around the world (such as dementia), and deliver new jobs and long-term growth to the local and UK economies.

Chair of the Research Councils and EPSRC Chief Executive, Professor Philip Nelson said: “The UK is currently in a world leading position when it comes to developing new medical treatments and technologies in the life sciences. However, other countries are alive to the potential and are already investing heavily. The Rosalind Franklin Institute will help secure the country as one of the best places in the world to research, discover, and innovate.”

The development of the RFI has been led by Professor Ian Walmsley, FRS, from the University of Oxford.

Dame Carol Robinson, FRS, who is leading the RFI’s biological mass spectrometry theme, and received the 2004 Royal Society Rosalind Franklin Award that recognises outstanding scientific contributions and supports the promotion of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, said: “It is fitting that this new Institute bears Rosalind Franklin’s name. She achieved so much in a relatively short life and without her work many of the advances that have taken place since would not have come about. Work in the Institute will include development of the next-generation of physical tools including mass spectrometry, instruments for X-ray science and for advanced microscopy – fields directly descended from her research interests.” 

Further information

More details can be found in EPSRC’s press release.

Science and Technology Facilities Council Switchboard: 01793 442000