Impact in research and enterprise
The public benefit that Imperial delivers through its research and enterprise activity can have truly transformative potential: our expertise in science, engineering, medicine and business means that our researchers work on problems of exceptional importance, frequently contributing to global efforts to address humanity’s most pressing challenges.
The College’s strong commitment to research integrity, support for researchers and outstanding facilities underpins the impact that Imperial research has on the world.
We are signatories to the UK Research Integrity Concordat, which means that we are committed to maintaining the highest standards of rigour and integrity in all aspects of research, and have established appropriate ethical, legal and professional frameworks to support this. In supporting our researchers, we provide guidance for preparing research proposals, managing research projects and disseminating findings.
We continually invest in research facilities and partnerships to ensure academic staff and doctoral researchers have the resources needed to pursue ideas, undertake research and transfer knowledge.
Partnership, multidisciplinarity and courage play a critical part in Imperial’s delivery of public benefit through research. Our partners – in sectors including business, healthcare, non-profit and academia – broaden the scope of what we can achieve, and enable us to integrate a global and multi-faceted perspective into all that we do.
This spirit of collaboration also informs the way our researchers work across disciplinary boundaries, drawing on the expertise of others to develop novel solutions to intractable problems.
Courage in research comes in many forms, from frontier research which pushes the boundaries of a discipline, to ground-breaking collaboration that can shape an entirely new area of inquiry.
In 2017–18, the College launched or expanded several initiatives designed to maximise the impact and societal benefit of our research:
- At our newest campus in White City, researchers moved into the Molecular Sciences Research Hub. The Hub brings together almost 800 scientists, clinicians, engineers and business partners in a space dedicated to collaborative working, with state-of-the-art equipment and infrastructure.
- The College unveiled its first Networks and Centres of Excellence, which join our existing Global Challenge Institutes in providing a structure and support system for multidisciplinary, problem-oriented research. The first cohort included the Nutrition and Food Network, involving researchers from the Departments of Medicine, Design Engineering, Chemistry and the Business School, and the Centre for Quantum Engineering, Science and Technology, which explores new quantum technologies.
- The Excellence Fund for Frontier Research awarded College research funding to new potential breakthrough projects, including a project that will engineer specialised immune cells to induce a potential cure for Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) infection.
Every day, Imperial researchers publish new findings with the potential for significant benefit to society. In 2017–18, research impact highlights included:
- Imperial celebrated the new knowledge about Saturn that the Cassini mission has delivered to researchers. The magnetometer on board the spacecraft, which was developed by Professor Michele Dougherty and colleagues from the Department of Physics, has provided data that could help us understand exploding stars and the possibility of life in the solar system.
- Researchers have developed a prosthetic hand which interprets muscular signals from brain activity, using machine learning, to make movements more natural. The bionic limb, developed by Professor Dario Farina and colleagues from the Department of Bioengineering and the University of Gottingen, provides more natural, fluid movements for amputees than currently available technology.
- Imperial experts from the Department of Computing informed government debate on AI. The responses of Professor Chris Hankin and Professor Maja Pantic were included in a House of Lords report on AI in the UK, addressing challenges including the use of AI to benefit humanity, and the potential for AI in the field of cybersecurity. At the start of 2018, Science and Universities Minister Sam Gyimah visited Imperial to learn more about Professor Pantic’s use of robotics to improve learning and emotional understanding in children with autism.
- A cross-disciplinary team, led by Professor Franco Sassi of Imperial College Business School, launched the STOP (Science and Technology in childhood Obesity Policy) project, to test the efficacy of policy and public health interventions in the prevention and treatment of obesity among younger children. The Imperial team are part of Europe’s largest research project to tackle obesity in children, which is associated with several chronic conditions, including heart disease and diabetes in later life.
- Researchers from the Department of Aeronautics have joined forces with bioengineers and medics to predict and improve results for kidney dialysis patients. A study on patients at the Imperial College NHS Trust suggests that creating 3D images of blood vessel structures prior to dialysis can help clinicians understand the likelihood that dialysis will be successful in removing waste products and excess fluid from the blood.
- A new antibiotic could offer an alternative treatment to an antibiotic-resistant infectious disease, according to new research from Imperial and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Some strains of gonorrhoea, a sexually transmitted disease, are currently untreatable due to the overuse and misuse of existing antimicrobials. The new antibiotic, closthioamide, proved effective against gonorrhoea samples in the laboratory, suggesting that it could help in the fight against antimicrobial resistance.
Imperial’s Royal Charter calls for the College to carry out research and education with particular regard to their application to industry. The commitment to getting our knowledge out of the laboratory and into the world is as critical to Imperial’s impact on the world today as it was in 1907 when the College was founded.
Enterprising activity can take many forms, for example, academics might work in partnership with industry to address a particular challenge; students may wish to develop their entrepreneurial skills for the future, or students and researchers may establish their own startups to bring their research to market.
Our focus on science, technology, medicine and business, together with a comprehensive ecosystem that can support student and staff entrepreneurs from the earliest stages of an idea through to a sale or initial public offering, means that Imperial has been ranked the most innovative university in the United Kingdom.
In 2017–18, the College continued to strengthen and expand its entrepreneurship ecosystem:
- Following its establishment in the Translation & Innovation Hub in 2016, the White City Incubator reached capacity in its first year, providing office, laboratory space and support for science and technology startups to grow and take advantage of the research and innovation clusters at White City Campus. Also located in the Hub, the Research England-funded MedTech SuperConnector, provides facilities for early career researchers to turn their discoveries into new diagnostic tools, medical devices and digital healthcare solutions.
- Elsewhere at White City Campus, the Imperial College Advanced Hackspace’s new flagship space at The Invention Rooms became a hub for the College’s makers, hackers, inventors and entrepreneurs. The Advanced Hackspace’s prototyping equipment and professional experts support students and academic staff at all stages of the entrepreneurial journey.
- The College launched new programmes to encourage entrepreneurial activity. The Imperial Venture Mentoring Service connects Imperial innovators with a pool of highly qualified volunteer business mentors, for impartial advice on helping them develop their product or service, identify markets, build businesses and secure funding. The Techcelerate programme offers postdoctoral students specific training and support to fast-track the commercial development of their ideas and strengthen their entrepreneurial skills.
- Existing programmes to support entrepreneurship and innovation continued to thrive and generate exciting student-led initiatives. The winner of the 2018 WE Innovate final, Saujanya Vruddhula, will use her prize money to drive forward her initiative to use blockchain technology in the fight against counterfeit drugs, while the winners of the 2017 Faculty of Natural Sciences Make a Difference programme will develop their idea to use infrared spectroscopy to identify different types of plastic at a low-cost.
Enterprise successes celebrated by the Imperial community during 2017–18 span the full range of the College’s disciplinary expertise:
- MINA Therapeutics became the first ‘graduate’ of the White City Incubator, as it moved to new and bigger facilities at White City Campus. The company, co-founded by Professor Nagy Habib of the Department of Surgery and Cancer, pioneers ‘small activating RNA’, a new class of medicines which restore normal function to cells of patients with diseases including cancer and ischaemia. One drug candidate is currently in clinical trials for the treatment of advanced liver cancer.
- CustoMem, an Imperial startup founded by Imperial students, has received a €1.4 million grant from the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme to bring its water filtration system to market. The new biomaterial developed by the company can capture and recycle hazardous micro pollutants found in industrial water, offering the promise of addressing the global scarcity of clean, accessible water. The grant enabled the company to become one of the first early startups to graduate from the shared lab space in the I-HUB to the White City Incubator.
- Kopernio, an AI-powered tool which provides researchers with quick access to millions of journals across the world, was acquired by Clarivate Analytics. The tool, developed by alumnus Dr Ben Kaube, detects what individual or institutional subscriptions a user already has and sources the most appropriate paper for them instantly, or suggests free, alternative legal versions of the content that might already exist on open-access platforms.
- Gyrogear, founded by Imperial alumnus Dr Faii Ong, develops wearable technology that can improve quality of life for people who suffer from hand tremors, such as those with Parkinson’s disease. The company’s first product, the Gyroglove, uses gyroscopes to counteract hand tremors, making it easier to perform everyday tasks including eating, drinking and writing. In July 2018, Gyrogear received €1.8 million from the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme for small and medium enterprises, in recognition of its potential to create an entirely new market or revolutionise an existing one.
- Imperial announced a joint venture with digital venture builder Blenheim Chalcot to develop Scale Space, a 200,000 sq ft new technology and innovation centre on the south site of the College’s White City Campus, which will provide space for high-growth technology companies to co-locate with Imperial researchers.