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Rising to the challenge of 2020

16 December 2020

Despite the stark trials of 2020innovation at Cardiff maintained continuityPartnerships thrived, talented people secured funding and future innovation places headed skywards towards completion.  

HEFCW’s Research Wales Innovation Fund provided welcome additional resources to support our spin-out pipeline and enterprise ecosystem, aligned to a refreshed strategyThe Way Forward – a guide to help the University play an active part in Wales’ post-COVID-19 renewal. 

More students than ever before made enquiries about 1-2-1 business mentoring in 2020. SPARK – the Social Science Research Park – gathered momentum through shared funding wins and joint COVID societal research projects across member groups.  

Cardiff Catalysis Institute and the Institute for Compound Semiconductors – who will make their home on our future innovation campus – notched up notable results, too.  

Here, we outline some of Cardiff’s 2020 innovation successes: 


The ‘oculus staircase’ from design to reality

Cardiff University takes a share of £18.5m in funding for postgraduate research training in biosciences from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) for a Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP).  

The final flight of the ‘oculus staircase’ is installed in the sbarc I spark building – Cardiff’s future Home of Innovation, where social science researchers, enterprising students, external organisations and entrepreneurs connect, collaborate and create.  

Cardiff researchers identify a new genetic link to schizophrenia – the largest study of its kind sheds further light on underlying causes. And the discovery of a new T-cell raises the prospect of ‘universal’ cancer therapy 

Cardiff Catalysis Institute holds its annual conference, delivering a vision for clean growthAnd DECIPHer reveals the scale of substance misuse among adolescents in residential care 


Cardiff recognised as centre of excellence

The MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics at Cardiff University announces it is joining 13 other institutions worldwide to investigate links between rare genomic disorders and psychiatric conditions  

Dr Phillip Morgan, School of Psychology, leads a new Airbus Accelerator in a bid to better understand human cyber strengths and vulnerabilities within organisations.  

The University is recognised as a centre of excellence for precision medicine by Innovate UK, part of the national research funding agency, UK Research and Innovation.  

Regrow Borneo – led by SPARK’s Sustainable Places Research Institute and Malaysia’s Danau Girang Field Centre – reaches its annual fundraising target of £15,000 four months after launching. 


WISERD Launch event at the Senedd

The Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research and Data (WISERD) launches its five-year plan for civil society research. 

Cardiff and GW4 Alliance partners, together with the Met Office, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), and partners, are awarded £4.1m by the EPSRC to create Isambard 2, the largest Arm-based supercomputer in Europe. 

Cardiff scientists join the £20m COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium (COG-UK), bringing together experts from across the NHS, academia and public health agencies for large-scale, rapid sequencing and analysis of the disease. 

Collaboration to 3D print masks



Fledge, a business that tackles isolation by helping students find the perfect housemate, wins Cardiff University’s Student Start-Up Awards. 

A suite of 3D printers originally destined for Cardiff’s PARC Institute are repurposed and relocated to manufacture visors for NHS Wales in the fight against COVID-19. 


National trial for COVID-19 vaccine


Cardiff co-leads the £4.85m Prime Centre Wales – an all-Wales Centre with Bangor and Swansea universities and the University of South Wales to research primary and emergency care in Wales. 

The University’s Centre for Trials Research teams with Health and Care Research Wales, Public Health Wales and Aneurin Bevan University Health Board in vaccine trial sponsored by the University of Oxford and funded by CEPI (Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations) through UK Research and Innovation


Compound-Semiconductor Powerhouse funding

Graduate start-up Alpacr – an innovative social network for travel and adventure lovers founded by Daniel Swygart- closes a £160k ($200k) investment round. 

A Cardiff-led consortium wins a £43.7m bid to develop a Compound Semiconductor (CS) powerhouse in South Wales. Backing through UK Research and Innovation’s flagship Strength in Places Fund will build a world-leading cluster of excellence in CS technologies – CSconnected – bringing economic investment and highquality jobs.

Cardiff University remains the number one university in Wales, according to the latest rankings by The Complete University Guide 2021.

Pilot project could provide early warning system for new Covid-19 outbreaks


‘Home of innovation’ reaches highpoint

sbarc | spark – Cardiff’s #HomeofInnovation – is topped out. The flagship centre brings together researchers, entrepreneurs, student start-ups and academic spinouts in a state-of-the-art building at the heart of Cardiff Innovation Campus, including Cardiff Innovations@sbarc – our future focal point for developing industry partnerships.

Six partnerships which tackle issues ranging from food poverty to HIV are showcased at Cardiff. The projects highlight the University’s work to connect, collaborate and create as it builds a future #HomeofInnovation campus to boost wellbeing in Wales. 

A convenient, low-cost dried blood spot test for Covid-19 is developed by scientists from the University Hospital of WalesCardiff University and the Welsh Blood Service  

Discovery of new immune targets inside flu virus offers hope for universal vaccine



Cardiff to unlock the power of ammonia

Cardiff University secures nearly £3m to scale up state-of-the-art technology that harnesses power from ammonia. 

Research by WISERD’s Professor Alan Felstead shows nine out of ten employees who have worked at home during lockdown would like to continue doing so in some capacity. 

Cardiff University led consortium has won £50k in seed funding as it bids to transform the Cardiff Capital Region’s (CCR) media sector from a strong regional cluster into a global hub for media innovation.


Crab shell bid to tackle COVID-19

Cardiff signs an agreement with Cytox to help the company develop a genetic risk assessment tool for Alzheimer’s disease. 

Clwstwr, led by Cardiff University with the University of South Wales and Cardiff Metropolitan University, announces 33 projects to nurture media production around the Welsh capital. 

Virology experts from Cardiff’s School of Medicine team with Pwllheli-based Pennotec to evaluate the antiviral properties of Chitosan – the chemical derived from crab shells. 

Cardiff life sciences spinout Alesi Surgical strikes an exclusive deal with Olympus to distribute the company’s Ultravision surgical smoke control system in the United States. 

Sensors which detect micro-defects in materials are being developed by the Compound Semiconductor Centre – Cardiff University’s joint venture with IQE. 


Future Generations Commissioner and Cardiff join forces

Researchers from Cardiff University’s Violence Research Group use machine learning to map violent crime against alcohol outlets and, crucially, locations where alcohol is not sold. 

The Office of the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales and Cardiff formally join forces to work on shared strategic goals. 

Professor Anthony Bennett wins £1m from the EPSRC to build a team dedicated to developing a room temperature quantum light source – a key component for future technologies. 

Cardiff joins the Future Leaders Fellowships (FLF) Development Network, providing training and development to 210 new Fellows and 40 early career researchers and innovators. 

A £10m Cardiff Capital Region (CCR) Challenge Fund to develop innovative solutions to societal problems is launched in partnership with Cardiff University. 


Award drives collaboration across Research Hub

Dr Dayne Beccano-Kelly, School of Medicine, and Dr Jose Camacho Collados, School of Computer Science and Informatics, are awarded Future Leaders Fellowships as part of £900m UKRI scheme. 

Cardiff joins the £4.3m National Interdisciplinary Centre for Circular Chemical Economy (NIC3E), bringing together seven universities and more than 20 industrial and international partners to devise ways of reducing our reliance on the import of raw materials. 

Researchers from Cardiff University start work on a £6.1m UKRI-EPSRC programme to transform the way data is sensed, transferred between and processed on silicon chips. 

A new Electron Microscopy Facility at Cardiff University will work across academic disciplines to drive research thanks to £185K from the EPSRC’s Research Impact Fund. 

Cardiff maintains third place in a UK league table of universities’ spinout success. Octopus Ventures’ Spinning out Success: Entrepreneurial Impact Ranking 2020 measured generation of universities’ IP, creation of spinout companies, and successful exits from spinouts relative to total funding. 


Cardiff’s Social Science Research Park (SPARK) joins a £2m International Public Policy Observatory (IPPO) to tackle the social, economic and public health impacts of COVID-19. Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the project brings research and policy together to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic and accelerate the UK’s recovery. 



The year ahead… 

We will work towards completion of our research-related building projects and our #HomeofInnovation Campus in 2021, positioning Cardiff in line with post-COVID revival and renewal opportunities. Partnering local authorities, the Cardiff Capital Region, third sector and Welsh Government, we aim to develop major strategic initiatives able to deliver major economic benefit to the region, including new private and public sector collaborations for a post-COVID world, in alignment with UK research and development priorities. We will also develop our key strategic partnerships, with the aim of enhancing our teaching, research and civic mission contributions to Wales and the UK. 

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