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As part of its industrial strategy, the government has announced investment of over £100m to create the Rosalind Franklin Institute, to be based at Harwell in Oxfordshire.

The Harwell Campus from the air (Courtesy of Harwell Campus)
The Harwell Campus and Diamond Light Source from the air (Courtesy of Harwell Campus)

Many of the most important life science breakthroughs of the 20th century - such as unravelling the structure of DNA, sequencing the human genome, or the development of MRI scanning - were only possible as a result of advances in underpinning technology made by physical scientists and engineers. But it can often take considerable time - and a degree of luck - for discoveries in the physical sciences to be applied to problems in the life sciences. 

Developed by a consortium of universities, led by Oxford, the Rosalind Franklin Institute (RFI) - named after the pioneering British chemist, whose use of X-rays to study biological matter played a crucial role in Crick and Watson's discovery of the structure of DNA - will pioneer new technologies that will have a disruptive impact on the health and life sciences. The Institute will speed up the process of innovation by co-locating physical scientists, engineers, life scientists and industry researchers who will work together to develop new techniques and instrumentation designed to tackle major challenges in health and life sciences.

The facility will focus initially on next-generation imaging methods (including techniques that will allow real-time study of molecular processes or chemical reactions - the microscopy equivalent of a move from a photo to a video) and on new chemical methods and strategies for drug discovery. When applied to the life sciences, these disruptive new technologies will enable better understanding of disease (in humans, animals and crops), faster discovery of new treatments (both drugs and herbicides), and less-invasive diagnostic methods. The RFI will also create new jobs and boost long-term economic growth, regionally and nationally.

Managed by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the RFI will draw on expertise from across the UK. Its central hub will be based at the Harwell Oxford Science and Innovation Campus, with linked activity and investment at partner universities including Cambridge, Edinburgh, Manchester, Oxford, Imperial College, King's College London, and UCL.

The idea for the new Institute originated in Oxford: academics from the departments of Chemistry, Engineering Science, and Materials, and from the Medical Sciences Division, have worked with colleagues from around the UK to draw up the plans for the Institute - and will continue to be closely involved in its delivery in the years ahead.