ScotCHEM is a major collaborative venture for the pooling and enhancement of resources for chemistry research in Scotland.
Chemistry is a central and vital science. It is the basis of many technological developments in a diversity of fields from medicine to the energy industry. Chemistry also underpins many other sciences. There are strong and fruitful interactions at the interfaces with physics, and with the rapidly developing fields of biology and biomedicine. It is therefore vital to Scotland, both in terms of its intellectual vitality and as a player in the global economy, to sustain a strong academic chemistry sector within its universities. However, the task of remaining competitive, both within the UK and globally, presents increasing challenges. The complex nature of modern research has led to the most successful teams being concentrated in larger, often interdisciplinary, units supported by the necessary sophisticated facilities.
ScotCHEM is the Scottish academic chemistry community’s response to these challenges. It is a strategy and action plan to bring together the major players in research in chemical sciences in Scotland. In all, this represents a community of 190 academic staff, 240 postdoctoral researchers, and 480 postgraduate research students. New structures have been created, both to generate the necessary enhanced critical mass and to enable joint access to major resources. The model devised is a partially distributed one, which has emerged from three originally separate initiatives. It is represented in the figure below. Within the overall ScotCHEM umbrella, the structure acknowledges practical aspects of geographical proximity, together with commonality and complementarity of existing research themes and future strategies. Two new “pairing” initiatives will be formed. WestCHEM comprises Glasgow and Strathclyde Universities. EaStCHEM brings together Edinburgh and St Andrews. A separate Heriot-Watt initiative will also be funded. Dundee and Aberdeen Universities are now also involved. These joint activities will be promoted by a new ScotCHEM Advisory Group, with representation from each of the schools in Scotland at which there are research-active chemists.
The three funded initiatives within ScotCHEM will exploit major investments from the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council (~£9.0M) and in part from the Office of Science and Technology (~£4.6M). Together with major commitments the Universities involved are making from their own funds (~£9.7M), the total additional investment is of the scale of £23M over the period of the awards. New staff of international calibre in research will be recruited and the research infrastructure will be developed. This will enhance research in a diverse and complementary range of scientific themes. EaStCHEM will undertake research on biophysical chemistry, chemical biology, organic synthesis, structural chemistry, materials chemistry, inorganic chemistry and physical chemistry/chemical physics. WestCHEM’s research strengths will be in functional materials chemistry, medicinal chemistry, organic and inorganic synthesis, structural chemistry, analytical and biological chemistry, chemical proteomics, and heterogeneous catalysis. At Heriot-Watt, researchers will investigate biomimetic and medical organic chemistry, inorganic synthesis and computation, the synthesis and properties of new materials, photochemistry and applied spectroscopy, and strengthen the links between chemistry and chemical engineering in biomanufacturing. Aberdeen has recently invested in its strengths in materials, medicinal and environmental chemistry. Dundee has particular research interests in Medicinal Chemistry, Organic Chemistry and Chemical Biology.
These developments will make Scottish Chemistry a magnet for the best researchers, and a target of major funding agencies, worldwide. It will promote a significant growth in the number of postgraduate research students and more highly skilled postdoctoral research fellows. This activity will help to sustain and develop links with the Scottish chemical and other vital, knowledge-based industries.