Wales: a Place and Nation with a World-leading Reputation for Research and Innovation

A picture taken during UKRI representatives' visit to Bangor University

The UK government has recently reaffirmed its ambition, as outlined in its Innovation Strategy, of making the UK the most exciting place for innovation talent. But what does this mean in more tangible terms?

One consideration could be whether a place has a rich history of innovation. Take for example, Swansea, where inventor Sir Robert Grove developed the idea of the first fuel cell which – nearly two centuries later – seems set to reinvigorate the car industry due to increasing popularity of electric vehicles. Or, perhaps, Denbighshire, where farmer’s son Isaac Roberts devised the first method of deep space photography and in doing so, helped to develop fundamental theories about stars and galaxies.

UKRI is working with leading minds in Wales to support the nation’s world leading reputation for research and innovation

You might also ask whether a place is supporting modern breakthroughs and setting the course for a brighter future. In Bangor, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is funding cutting edge research into the next generation of cancer therapies with the potential to deliver localised doses of radiation to damage the DNA of cancerous cells while leaving the surrounding healthy tissue unaffected.

Or perhaps you could consider the work being done in a place to understand today’s society. Across Wales, academics working as part of the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Deep Mapping project are achieving this by creating an online archive of records of historic Welsh landholdings to better understand the historic environment and its role in modern Wales. 

In short then, a place with a history and future of outstanding innovation, that has and will continue to impact the lives of people around the world for the better. 

And this is why UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the government body responsible for publicly funded research and innovation, is investing in Wales. 

UKRI is comprised of seven disciplinary research councils, including EPSRC and AHRC, the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK, as well as Research England. We are working with partners such as the Wales Innovation Network, a collaborative initiative set up to strengthen research and innovation in Wales, and the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales Universities, to support researchers and innovators to continue the proud Welsh tradition of game changing ideas and discoveries to move Wales forward.

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Our £12 million UKRI Regional Impact from Science of the Environment (RISE) programme is driving economic development in Wales by bringing together research organisations, businesses, policymakers and the third sector to develop solutions to a range of local problems. For example, research into the impacts of mussel fishing funded as part of RISE has helped to safeguard North Wales businesses by supporting the Menai Straits mussel farming industry to produce higher yields. 

The £210 million UK-wide Industrial Decarbonisation Challenge (IDC) is also supporting growth in Wales as well as helping the nation to achieve its net zero targets. This includes funding for the South Wales Industrial Cluster which is leading the development of the ambitious decarbonisation plan to address the 16 million tonnes of CO2 produced annually by industry in South Wales. 

Wales has a crucial role to play in addressing urgent challenges such as climate change, and threats to public health

These are just some examples of the ways in which UKRI is working with leading minds in Wales to support the nation’s world leading reputation for research and innovation. 

Last week we brought together academics, innovators, and entrepreneurs and government representatives for a two day event in Bangor to discuss the future of Welsh research and innovation, engage widely on UKRI’s 5 year strategy and hear reflections on how best UKRI can  support them and our shared endeavour.

We saw for ourselves the outstanding work taking place at Wales’ first Science Park, M-Sparc, and the pioneering research carried out by the University of Bangor research vessel, the RS Prince Madog.

We heard how important ‘place’ is in anchoring, clustering and spurring the next generation of discovery and solutions to real world problems. Wales has a crucial role to play in addressing urgent challenges such as climate change, and threats to public health. We must ensure that it is supported and equipped to do this to secure a healthier, better future for all.  

Wales has a rich history of research and innovation and it is imperative we, together, sustain this momentum far into the future. 

All articles published on the welsh agenda are subject to IWA’s disclaimer.

Isobel Stephen is UK Research and Innovation Executive Director of Strategy

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