REF 2021 recognises the world-leading research environment provided by the EaStCHEM partnership

12 May 2022

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The results of the Research Excellence Framework (REF 2021) recognise the enduring strength of EaStCHEM’s partnership, which provides the largest chemistry research unit in the UK. Together, we are one of only three chemistry submissions to achieve a 100% “world-leading” score for our research environment. This result rewards our provision of state-of-the-art research facilities, recruitment of high-quality academic, research and professional services staff, extensive collaborations across other disciplines and with industry partners, as well as our supportive environment for career development and nurturing of talent. In particular, we are proud of the creation of the Christina Miller and Ettie Steele Fellowships, designed to help researchers from under-represented groups start their independent research careers. Our excellence across research and impact was rewarded by >99% of our research outputs being assessed as either “world-leading” or “internationally excellent” by the REF panel of experts, and 100% of our impact case studies being assessed as “outstanding” or “very considerable”.

The Head of School at Edinburgh, Professor Colin Pulham, said:

“I am absolutely delighted that EaStCHEM’s results in REF 2021 highlight the outstanding research achievements of our academic staff alongside the amazing contributions of our postdoctoral researchers, research students, professional services staff, and external partners – all of whom are critical to our success. 

We would like to extend a sincere thank you to everyone who has contributed to this success through their hard work, dedication and support.”

Head of School at St Andrews, Professor Chris Baddeley, adds:

“The REF 2021 results provide clear recognition of EaStCHEM’s world-leading research environment. The EaStCHEM partnership delivers a critical mass of research staff and students generating enhanced opportunities for interaction and collaboration and driving research excellence with access to a range of state-of-the-art shared facilities. As a partnership, we can access larger funding opportunities and deliver collaborative research and training programmes that would not be possible as individual Schools. We’re looking forward to taking the next steps together as we continue to build a more diverse and inclusive research environment.”

To learn more about some of the research and impact highlights from our REF 2021 submission and about why EaStCHEM is such a great place to work, study, and collaborate, read on below.


15 years of the EaStCHEM Research Environment

Submission of REF 2021 marked fifteen years of EaStCHEM. Combined we are the largest chemistry research unit in the UK. Our REF Environment Statement highlighted the strategy, resources, infrastructure and research culture that support research and impact across EaStCHEM and we are thrilled to achieve a 100% “world-leading” rating in this category from the REF panel of experts.

Transforming our research environment was a core EaStCHEM aim for REF 2021. Together, our wide-ranging and complementary expertise provides enhanced opportunities for collaboration, with an exceptional range of state-of-the-art facilities accessible to all researchers. EaStCHEM prides itself on providing a supportive environment for career development and nurturing talent to fulfil the potential of all our staff and students.  Some of our proudest achievements include the creation of the Christina Miller and Ettie Steele Fellowships, designed to support researchers from under-represented groups to start their independent research careers, leading on to prestigious fellowships and open-ended lectureships. 

PhD students benefit from the possibility of co-supervision and research time at both institutions, and the annual EaStCHEM Conference for Early Career Researchers provides opportunities for collaboration and networking to post-doctoral research assistants and early career researchers.

The excellence of our staff across all career stages is demonstrated by external recognition through the award of 40 prestigious national and international prizes, the election of 9 staff as Fellows of prominent UK learned societies, and the award of 13 highly competitive European Research Council grants.

We are extremely proud of our EaStCHEM staff and students who support the discipline of Chemistry through their roles on national and international advisory panels and committees, their work to support women in Chemistry and STEM, and inspiring the next generation of Chemists through public engagement and outreach activities.


World-leading research

Over 99% of our research outputs were classified as world-leading or internationally excellent, with 50% receiving the highest possible rating. This outstanding result reflects the incredibly high quality of research carried out across EaStCHEM.

These research outputs demonstrated major fundamental advances in chemical knowledge across our research themes, and the application of that knowledge to understand, and solve, major problems in healthcare, industry and sustainability.

Almost 50% of the research EaStCHEM submitted to REF2021 was interdisciplinary. Chemistry is the central science, and our researchers collaborate across disciplines to bring chemical insight to tackle important problems.

EaStCHEM Impact

The REF assessment also considers the economic, environmental, health, and social benefit that research has generated in the world beyond academia – an element termed “impact”. We are delighted that all seven of our impact case studies have been rated as “outstanding” or “very considerable”, highlighting the tremendous positive impact that EaStCHEM research makes in tackling global challenges and improving people’s lives.

Across EaStCHEM our researchers collaborate extensively with external partners across diverse sectors, bringing fundamental chemical insight to tackle real-world problems. Our partners are key to making impact happen, and we are very grateful to all those who have supported our work and contributed to our success.

EaStCHEM’s impact case studies told diverse stories of how our research has driven exciting new developments in the world, including:

  • New phase-change materials that form the core of Sunamp’s next generation thermal storage technology and have already reduced carbon emissions, saved consumers money, and reduced fuel poverty;
  • Expertise in porous materials leading to commercialisation for medical and skincare applications and implementation of innovation policy in Sweden;
  • New companies Gemini Therapeutics and Invizius, developing therapies to tackle blindness caused by age-related macular degeneration and cardiovascular damage caused by dialysis, respectively, using atomic-level understanding of complement control protein Factor H;
  • Expert witness testimony leading to enhanced protection for biopharmaceutical patents;
  • Commercialisation of the first direct detection of microRNA disease biomarkers by spin-out Destina Genomics, including tests for quicker and more accurate identification of liver injury;
  • A leading role in policy and project implementation for the development of hydrogen as a fuel for public transport, culminating in significant Scottish Government investment in the hydrogen economy through the Hydrogen Accelerator, and;
  • How molecular simulation and high-pressure experimentation have transformed product development for major lubricant additive producers and uncovered solutions to reduce emissions and enable new sustainable technologies.

With the REF2021 exercise now complete, we are looking forward to building on our success in order to inspire and develop the next generation of researchers, build a more diverse and inclusive research environment, and tackle the next set of research challenges.

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