Research in Wales

A nation for high quality research

Over the past 10 years, the quality and international standing of Welsh research has increased faster than the rest of the UK. As well as being part of a world-leading UK science base which is second only to the US for its share of global citations, research at Wales’s universities has led to many ground-breaking discoveries and developments; including Nobel Laureates and life sciences research, impressive work in the fields of environmental protection, and innovative advances in materials research and testing.

The results of the UK’s Research Excellence Framework (REF) cemented Welsh universities’ position as a leading academic destination for world class research. The REF showed that more than three quarters of the research submitted was judged to be ‘world leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. In addition, Welsh universities were found to have the highest percentage of ‘world leading’ research in terms of its impact of any part of the UK.

Welsh universities have long established relationships with some of the leading companies in the world from NASA and Hewlett-Packard, through to Rolls Royce and British Aerospace. Their performance is reflected by the increase in total research funding capture and the number of Welsh academics elected to prestigious UK Learned Societies such as the Royal Society, Royal Academy of Engineering, Academy of Medical Sciences, British Academy and the Academy of Social Sciences.

The authoritative 2013 study by Elsevier, International Comparative Performance of the Welsh Research Base, concluded that Welsh research is of high quality, and impressively, more than two-thirds of the top 1% highest cited articles globally come from Wales.

The vision for research is straightforward: universities want to expand excellent research in higher education through strengthening the quality and growing the size of its research base. Universities in Wales want to be recognised as leaders not only in the UK, but across the globe. And here are just some examples of how Wales is excelling and impressing both at home and internationally:

Aberystwyth University: helping the European Space Agency to pinpoint life on Mars

Mars has a different atmosphere from the Earth which can influence how colours appear, and makes it impossible for conventional cameras to capture true colours. For the last five years, Professor Dave Barnes and his team, The Computer Science Space Robotics Research Group, have been working to make this possible by developing new calibration methods for the Panoramic Camera (PanCam) instrument on the ESA/Roscosmos led ExoMars 2018 rover mission. The mission will see the ExoMars rover travel across the Martian surface to search for signs of life as well as take high resolution colour images of its findings.

Cardiff University: helping to reverse the spread of malignant breast cancer cells

Most deaths from cancer result from its progressive spread to vital organs, known as metastasis. Cardiff University researchers found that by supressing a particular gene, Bcl3, the spread of cancer could be reduced by more than 80%. Dr Clarkson, Senior Lecturer in the School of Biosciences and his team joined up with researchers Dr Andrea Brancale and Dr Andrew Westwell from the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, to develop small chemical inhibitors of the Bcl3 gene. With financial backing from a pharmaceutical company, work is now underway to progress the compound to clinical trials, with the aim of developing a therapeutic agent capable of blocking metastatic disease in breast cancer and a variety of tumour types.

Glyndŵr University: world leading partnership with the European Southern Observatory

Scientists and engineers at Glyndŵr University are involved in a prestigious project to produce prototype mirror segments for the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), being constructed in Chile by the European Southern Observatory. Glyndŵr University was awarded the multi-million pound contract to build seven hexagonal prototype mirror segments, each 1.5m diameter, for what will be the world’s largest telescope, which on completion, will be 30 times more sensitive than the current largest optical telescopes, and have a 39m diameter primary mirror made up of 798 hexagonal segments. The work is not expected to be completed until 2022.

Swansea University: research and commercial partnerships with big corporates

Swansea University’s collaboration with global giant, Tata Steel, which makes steel strip products at their large plant in nearby Port Talbot, has led to pioneering new techniques now sold worldwide. The research work, on metallic coating, corrosion resistance and photodegredation mechanisms, has meant that Tata Steel has been able to vastly improve the performance of their products and can now offer 40-year full warranties on coated steels for construction. These new techniques are now sold commercially by Swansea University with customers including General Electric, Tata and Tokyo Electric Power. Swansea University has a track record spanning almost a century of working with the metals sector to generate world class research leading to new product development.