Science comes of age in Wales

Wales is a small country with big ideas; no more so than in scientific research, where strong policy commitments from the Welsh Government, backed by substantial amounts of public funding, combined with collaboration from higher education and businesses, means that the nation is fast becoming the ‘go-to’ destination for scientists wanting to make a significant contribution in their field.

As one of the architects of the industrial revolution, it’s no wonder that Wales in the 21st Century is making what the world renowned scientific magazine, Science, has called a “bold bid for scientific greatness.” Built around the nucleus of attracting leading researchers from around the globe, the sector has long been aware of Wales’s potential as a scientific research hub and academia has welcomed the clear policy direction being provided by Welsh Government – answering many of the ‘asks’ of universities themselves.

Ser Cymru

Central to the strategy, Science for Wales, and the cause of much excitement both in Wales and abroad, is the Sêr Cymru (which translates as ‘Stars Wales’) programme launched in 2013 and aimed at attracting the brightest and best scientific researchers and their teams to Wales.

With strong support from Universities Wales, the body that represents universities, and underpinned by £50 million over 5 years, the Welsh Government leader, First Minister Rt Hon. Carwyn Jones, explained: “Here in Wales we certainly have a lot to be proud of, but we now need to build further on our science base to develop a dynamic and strong research community based on international excellence.”

The Sêr Cymru programme funds the recruitment of Research Chairs in the three Grand Challenge fields, namely, advanced engineering and health, life sciences and health, and low carbon, energy and environment.

The initiative got off to a flying start with the appointment of Professor Yves-Alain Barde, who has come to Cardiff University’s School of Biosciences as a Research Chair in Neurobiology. Professor Barde is currently recruiting a research team and building collaborative relationships with other research institutions across the world. Describing the programme as a “truly wonderful and remarkable initiative” he said: “This is a really exciting time for me, and for advances in neurobiology and for science in Wales.”

Welsh Crucible

Whilst the Sêr Cymru programme is for the stars of science, early-to-mid career researchers can also find opportunities for professional development through Welsh Crucible. Now in its fourth year, the programme supports research-inspired innovation and collaboration across disciplines in Wales. Each year, 30 researchers are selected to participate in a series of residential workshops or ‘skills labs’ where they explore how they can benefit from working with researchers in other disciplines, how their research can have greater impact and how they can build international research careers in Wales.

It’s all part of getting the word out about science in Wales, and there hasn’t been a better time to consider Wales as a place to carry out research, where scientific and academic excellence combined with strong policy leadership make it a great environment to live and work.