The Maxwell Centre

University of Cambridge

 

The Maxwell Centre seeks to overcome inter-departmental boundaries, provide improved access to state of the art facilities and equipment, and foster collaboration between university research staff and industry. It is located on the West Cambridge Campus and is designed to establish a model for integration of research and best practice in what will become the primary location for Cambridge University's engineering and physical science research. Over £42m of co-investment was committed to the project in 2013, with substantial funding from philanthropic sources (such as the Winton Programme) supported by investment from industrial partners (Hitachi, Tata Steel and Toshiba).

Key Findings:

  • The centre aligns long-term academic 'blue skies' research with industry interests by encouraging interaction of activities and research in the new purpose-built facility;
  • The centre acts as a 'facilitator', providing a platform for collaboration and presenting the university's work to external actors that would not be possible under the former highly departmental approach;
  • By 2017 the number of full- and part-time residents of the office space amounted to 27 individuals, representing 11 companies;
  • The initial bid included £42.1m of committed co-investment. This has been increased by additional co-investment committed since project inception, and to date Maxwell Centre has £50.9m of received and committed funds from third party sources. This includes £45m co-investment received to date and an additional £5m committed to project programmes;
  • The centre is leveraging in £2.42 for every £1 of UKRPIF funding invested.

Project outputs

Workspace and equipment

Office space and research facilities are provided for internal and external researchers, allocating space based on criteria emphasising industry-focused research. This includes hot-desking facilities as well as modern and purpose-built laboratory space. The centre houses shared equipment facilities made available to academia and industry; this includes the EPSRC/Winton advanced materials characterisation suite and specialised optics laboratories for 'fast' laser experiments with advanced fibre optics and spectroscopy capabilities. Researchers were consulted during the design stage of the laboratories, resulting in high quality premises and a smooth transition for end users. 

The university is currently benefiting from £10m in capital spend from the Royce Institute. Maxwell Centre users are benefiting from access to the new equipment and the Royce capital contribution has been built into the centre with the view to act as a "unifier of activities".

The Maxwell Building also hosts the SKF University Technology Centre and provides a hub for two EPSRC Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs).

Co-location and cross-departmental interaction

The Maxwell Centre provides meeting facilities and front-facing promotional space for industry, as well as inviting laboratory space for researchers. It facilitates meetings and hosts an annual showcase for industry as well as events with other parts of the university to create networks between departments. The centre also works with the Cambridge Network to organise industrial seminars where researchers present their research, offers workshops for academics and industry representatives, and is the home of the Impulse entrepreneurship programme catering primarily to PhD students and researchers across physical sciences and engineering.

Staffing and academic outputs

The building brings together research staff from different teams and departments, and the welcoming space has made it a natural place to meet. Beyond links formed across departments, partnerships are established with industry actors in terms of shared facilities and co-located staff and an increased number of individuals employed by industry can also be seen spending time in the centre.

Research outputs and commercialisation

The Maxwell Centre functions as a first port of call for external and international actors that wish to engage with the university. Current collaborations include Jaguar Land Rover, BAE Systems, and ARM as well as smaller tech SMEs. Researchers in the centre are working with industry partners to explore subjects including the future of solar energy, nano-conductors and magnesium ion batteries.

The focus on blue-skies research renders impact evaluation challenging since activities are centred on research areas where real-world application may not always be apparent, and is highly exploratory. However, early impacts can be seen in the engagement of additional departments in the centre's activity, and the various collaborations in place with industry partners, ranging from more complex research around sustainability and energy efficiency to direct provision of skills and support to fill immediate industry needs.

Additionality of the UKRPIF

To establish the level of additionality of the obtained funding is difficult considering the grant-financed nature of research. However, the funding provided to construct a dedicated centre enabled co-location of research projects and is expected to enable stronger coordinated bids in the future.

Future activity and lessons learned

The university is looking to expand the Maxwell Centre model to other departments and activities, and current concerns are to set up structures and processes that are scalable and accommodate needs going forward.

The centre, and university research more generally, are expected to benefit from the high level of education and skills in the local population, and the concentration of high tech employment in the area.