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Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry

Three students in protective Covid masks looking at research poster

Recent postdoc poster session for undergraduates, courtesy Department of Chemistry Photography

The results from the latest Research Excellence Framework (REF) assessment highlight the impressive amount of world-leading research undertaken in the Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry and its wider impact on society.

The REF is the system used to assess the quality of research in UK higher education institutions compared to international standards and to measure the wider impact of this research on society, with a focus on real-world benefits.

World-leading submissions

74% of the research submissions made by the Department were rated as ‘world leading,' demonstrating the significance and impact of our work. We entered 77 people into the REF, a 20% increase compared to the previous exercise in 2014. As a matter of policy we entered all the academic staff, including early career researchers and research fellows. The result is therefore very much a reflection of the department as a whole.  

Our average weighted score or ‘grade point average’ was 3.72 out of 4, putting us in second place, just behind the School of Chemistry at the University of Bristol with a score of 3.74.

Tremendous work

Head of Department Dr James Keeler said: “This result reflects a tremendous amount of work across the whole department over a sustained period. The REF also includes an assessment of the impact of our research outside academia, and due to the great work of our colleagues in commercialising their research we were able to point to significant success in this area too. More widely, the REF shows the very high standard of research across the UK chemistry community, which is heartening to hear. It would have been nice to achieve the top place overall, but that accolade goes (this time) to Bristol – we send them our warmest congratulations.”

Professor Chris Hunter, who chaired the departmental REF committee, said: “I would like to personally thank our REF committee members and other staff who devoted so much time and effort to putting all aspects of this complex submission together. The quality of our research is due to the supportive environment we provide across the department, and we’d also like to acknowledge the collaborators across the UK and globally whose contributions are so intrinsic to solving the increasingly complex scientific challenges we are tackling.”  

Professor Anne Ferguson-Smith, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research, added: “I would like to congratulate and thank everyone who has taken part in this year’s REF for all their hard work, which we believe has paid off in these results. What we see today is not just the excellence of Cambridge research, but also the breadth of its impact, with researchers across many disciplines bringing a fresh perspective on how we tackle major problems facing our world today.”

The REF programme is designed to provide accountability for public investment in research, and the results inform the allocation of around £2 billion of research funding per year. Based on the current funding formula, the REF 2021 results would give Cambridge Chemistry the largest allocation of central government funding of any chemistry department in the UK.

Global impact

Part of the REF submission involves case studies that describe the impact of each institution’s research and how it has made a difference to society, health, the economy.

“As a large department, we were required to submit six impact case studies, all of which scored highly,” said Keeler. “Our case studies ranged from the creation of next generation DNA sequencing to understanding the behaviour of the ozone layer, and we can be very proud of the impact and benefit our research has made on society.”

The Times Higher Education REF results places the University of Cambridge second in the Chemistry unit of assessment, with Bristol University placing first.