Helping universities to achieve and deliver impact through knowledge generation

Universities have historically been at the heart of knowledge generation in the UK and have sought to demonstrate the impact of the new knowledge that is generated in several ways. In the field of materials chemistry, the Knowledge Centre for Materials Chemistry (KCMC) plays an important role in helping universities achieve impact in many materials-related applications.

Helping to Deliver Impact through Knowledge Generation

Universities have historically been at the heart of knowledge generation in the UK and have sought to demonstrate the impact of the new knowledge that is generated in several ways. In the field of materials chemistry, the Knowledge Centre for Materials Chemistry (KCMC) plays an important role in helping universities achieve impact in many materials-related applications. Delivering impact is important to the UK by, for example, delivering broad societal benefits and supporting economic growth. In turn, this helps generate tax revenues, a proportion of which will be invested through UKRI and the Research Councils in further university-based research.

To encourage UK universities to look for opportunities to deliver impact from curiosity-driven research, a number of measures have been introduced by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). The measures taken include the Research Excellence Framework (REF) and the Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF), which are planned to be implemented later this year, as allowed by the evolving situation with COVID-19 [1]. The information generated by REF and KEF are used by central government to inform the allocation of around £2 billion per year of public funding across the whole of the UK research and innovation landscape. 

Delivering impact through industry collaboration

There are at least two mechanisms by which universities can achieve impact. They are knowledge push” and knowledge pull”. In the case of knowledge push”, a university will often protect the new knowledge generated in a Research Council-funded project through one or more patents. Once protected, the university will often seek to generate opportunities to exploit the new intellectual property through collaborations with companies. This usually offers a fast route to market. For knowledge pull”, a company with a challenge it is looking to overcome will seek to develop a collaboration with an academic with the knowledge and expertise needed to help address the challenge. This will help a business solve technical challenges during product and / or process development and again, speed up the route to product or process launch. 

Academics can also benefit from collaborating with industry.[SM1] Working with companies gives academics a wider and deeper understanding of the drivers, requirements and issues that companies face in growing their businesses. The understanding gained through the interactions with industry help academics to develop research project proposals that address strategic drivers such as energy storage, light-weighting and mobility, healthy aging, and decarbonisation. 

It is for these reasons that academic and industry collaborations are considered such an important driver of innovation and economic growth [2]. They help focus curiosity-driven research and provide efficient routes through commercialisation to market, which in turn, drives economic growth. Finally, this circles back and provides access to further funding for new investment in research and innovation. 

Recent studies have shown that there is plenty of headroom for the UK to grow the impact achieved from UKRI-funded research. In 2015, a UK Innovation survey estimated that only 4.8 % of manufacturers cited universities as a source of innovation information [3].

The KCMC solution

KCMC is the UK’s leading knowledge transfer organisation for academia and industry in the materials chemistry industry. At KCMC, we understand that there is a great opportunity to improve how the UK utilises and accomplishes academic-industry collaborations[SM2] . With many years of experience in the materials landscape, KCMC has a deep understanding of how industry and academia operate and how to bring the two parties together to achieve successful collaborations. One of the key steps is to generate a clear understanding of what each party is seeking to achieve and to develop a mutually beneficial collaboration. To connect the right companies and academics, KCMC draws from its extensive academic network, comprising the Universities of Manchester, Liverpool, Southampton and Bolton, as well as STFC Hartree Centre.

Through this activity, companies, academics, the UKRI and Innovate UK can be confident that a materials chemistry innovation is supported from research to commercialisation, which will ultimately benefit the UK economy. 

Case Studies

The MagnaPharm research project is a good example of KCMC facilitating collaborations between academia and industry to drive the commercialisation of materials chemistry innovations. Led by Dr Simon Hall, Reader in Materials Chemistry at the University of Bristol, this project aims to create controlled crystalline structures of pharmaceutical molecules through the use of strong magnetic fields. This can have a transformative effect on a significant proportion of pharmaceutical compounds. Through KCMC’s established network of contacts, a partnership with AstraZeneca was facilitated, whereby testing is performed on the materials produced as part of the project.

Another instance of KCMC forging a partnership between its academic network and industry contacts is in the development of a commercially viable smart sensor technology platform. This project, known as iPESS, combines the expertise of researchers from the University of Manchester and the University of Cambridge with knowhow from companies via the KCMC network. The output of this project is a sensor, capable of providing sensitive and selective detection of gas molecules at industrially-relevant concentrations, while operating at low voltage operation and low power consumption.

Expanding the network

So how can a university join the academic network? KCMC is always on the lookout to expand its portfolio of academic partners and the associated expertise in materials chemistry. As part of this, KCMC is also aiming to broaden its geographical reach. This is because it recognises that many SMEs will reach out to local universities for the information and knowledge they need to solve a problem or issue, rather than seeking to develop an interaction with a geographically-remote UK university. 

Moreover, KCMC’s ongoing strategic objective is to offer UK businesses the widest and best possible access to materials chemistry expertise in UK universities. The two main criteria considered when a university approaches the KCMC about joining the academic network are:

Does the university offer complimentary materials chemistry expertise to the existing university partners?

Does the university broaden KCMC’s geographical reach?

By recruiting more complementary academic institutions, KCMC can build connections with more companies in new locations — further strengthening the interface between academia and industry in the UK. As such, KCMC is always ready to discuss how it can help the UK materials chemistry landscape to thrive.

If your academic institution would like to open a discussion, please contact: info@​materialschemistry.​org.

Photo description

Does the university offer complimentary materials chemistry expertise to the existing university partners?

Does the university broaden KCMC’s geographical reach?

By recruiting more complementary academic institutions, KCMC can build connections with more companies in new locations — further strengthening the interface between academia and industry in the UK. As such, KCMC is always ready to discuss how it can help the UK materials chemistry landscape to thrive.

If your academic institution would like to open a discussion, please contact: info@​materialschemistry.​org.