Western Mail Profiles – Meeting of minds at top research event

Dr Sara Williams – Welsh Crucible Programme Manager

‘Meeting of minds at top research event as experts pool knowledge to help wider world’

Welsh Crucible is a programme of personal, professional and leadership development which brings together 30 of Wales’ most promising researchers to encourage the development of novel and sustainable multi-disciplinary ideas and collaborations. Here, Prof Peter Halligan and Dr Sara Williams outline the programme’s objectives

WHAT do you get if you put a physicist in a room with a psychologist, an engineer with a lawyer, or a microbiologist with a statistician?

This summer, for the second year, Welsh Crucible took thirty of Wales’s up-and-coming research stars and asked them to start thinking of ways they could work together to use their research to improve our health, our economy and the environment we live in.

Welsh Crucible provides participants with the opportunity to get to know about the work and academic disciplines of others.

The success of last year’s Welsh Crucible made it clear that this is an effective way of getting researchers to work together on projects that will ultimately benefit Wales and the wider world.

As previously reported in the Western Mail, participants on the 2011 programme are now working together on a wide range of projects.

These include tackling obesity in Wales, harvesting energy from the sea, modelling the effects of climate change, engaging with young people who are not in employment, education or training and looking at how laboratories can reduce their waste to developing a ‘smart pill’ that will send out information to doctors about a patient’s digestive system.

As well as providing an environment for researchers from different backgrounds to work together, Welsh Crucible encourages participants to think about who and what their research is for, and helps them to improve the skills that make them effective researchers.

An independent study of the 2011 programme showed a significant change in the attitudes of the participants after taking part, with the majority of participants reporting an improvement in their capacity to innovate and collaborate.

The 2011 Welsh Crucible made it clear that there is a large number of talented researchers in Wales looking to work with researchers from other subject areas.

There is a great deal of exciting and innovative research taking place across Wales, research that is notable for both its depth and its breadth.

In its first year the programme received 80 high-quality applications for 30 places – that’s almost three applications for each place.

Based on the success of the 2011 Welsh Crucible, the St David’s Day Group of universities, which includes Aberystwyth, Bangor, Cardiff, Glamorgan and Swansea, decided to run Welsh Crucible again this year for 30 new researchers, and will work with the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales to provide two further programmes in 2013 and 2014.

The 2012 Welsh Crucible took place over a three-month period, with the 30 participants taking part in three intensive two-day meetings. At these meetings participants looked at how they can work together to tackle the grand challenges facing society, and how they can do this in partnership with the public, the media and politicians.

This year’s participants include researchers from Wales’ leading research universities, as well researchers from both private and charity sectors.

Over the next 30 weeks, the 2012 cohort will write about their research and what inspires them to do it.

There will be articles about genetics, bilingualism, microscopic marine animals, and Premier League football clubs.

You will learn about how researchers are trying to help tackle global water shortages and tracking climate change by studying the shells of molluscs.

Over the past two years Welsh Crucible has led to the development of a strong network of 60 confident, outward-looking researchers with expertise in different areas.

One participant said: “Participating in Welsh Crucible has made me think about my research in new ways. It has opened up possibilities of interdisciplinary collaboration in ways I would not have imagined.”