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Cardiff wins £5 million SMARTExpertise funding


(R to L) Education Minister Kirsty Williams AM, Cardiff University President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Colin Riordan and Bouygues UK CEO Rob Bradley sign a beam to ‘top out’ the Translational Research Facility

An £80m Cardiff University powerhouse for Welsh scientific research has been ‘topped out’ by Bouygues UK – backed by over £5m support from Welsh Government and industrial partners.

A consortium led by the University’s Centre for High Frequency Engineering and the Compound Semiconductor Applications Catapult has won £2.4m in Welsh Government SMARTExpertise funding to develop high-frequency electronic devices for ‘next generation’ technologies – from 5G and radar to satellite systems. Eleven industrial partners have pledged a further £2.8m of support.

The industry-led project will involve partners in the South Wales compound semiconductor cluster –CSConnected – working in chip design, fabrication, innovative waveform-based characterisation, testing and production. It will help researchers develop Radio Frequency Gallium Nitride (RF-GaN) technologies to make high speed, cost-effective, higher reliability and smaller chips that outperform traditional silicon.

Professor Khaled Elgaid, who leads the academic team, said: “Gallium Nitride (GaN) is quickly becoming the technology of choice for many emerging applications, including 5G communications, high-resolution phased-array radars, electronic warfare equipment, automotive collision avoidance radar, healthcare and imaging applications.

“The popularity of GaN stems from the attractive properties the technology exhibits, including high operating voltage and high operational frequency (supporting emerging 5G markets providing high-efficiency tele-communications system, with higher data rate and wider coverage area). In addition, the high-power density and excellent thermal performance offers compact designs and operational robustness in hostile environments, including space applications.”

The funding announcement coincided with a ‘topping out’ ceremony for the University’s Translational Research Facility, a high-tech centre designed by HOK London Studio that will house researchers and industry involved in compound semiconductor and catalytic science.

Education Minister Kirsty Williams, Bouygues UK Chief Executive Rob Bradley and Cardiff University Vice-Chancellor Professor Colin Riordan ‘topped out’ the facility by adding their signatures to a beam on the building’s highest point.

Welcoming the award, Kirsty Williams said: “I am looking forward to today’s visit to learn more about the real opportunities being created through the SMARTExpertise programme in Wales.

“The programme is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government and offers financial support to innovative collaboration projects between industry and Welsh research organisations.

“These collaborative projects address strategic industrial challenges and provide opportunities to commercialise new products, processes or services and growth in key areas.”

Rob Bradley added: “Topping out employs an age-old construction industry tradition to mark the most modern of technical buildings. We are very proud to mark the high-point of the Translational Research Facility – a centre for world-leading sciences that will bring benefits for industry and the wider economy.”

Professor Riordan said: “The SMARTExpertise RF-GaN award perfectly complements the topping out of our state-of-the-art Translational Research Facility. The building and the project are devoted to working with industry to unlock the power of research. The Cardiff Innovation Campus will be a true Home of Innovation.”

Cardiff University is a founding member of CSConnected – a cluster of CS expertise across South Wales which brings together academic, industry and supply chain partners.

The University has developed the Institute for Compound Semiconductors – to be based within the TRF - and founded the Compound Semiconductor Centre (CSC), a joint venture with IQE to help translate CS academic knowhow into job creation with industry.

Cardiff’s School of Engineering will work alongside the Compound Semiconductor Applications Catapult (CSAC) and ICS to deliver the CS project.

Dr Tudor Williams, Head of RF & Microwave at CSA Catapult said: “It is exciting that the CS Cluster has the opportunity to deliver a substantive project that will fill gaps identified in GaN RF devices across the UK supply chain. The SMARTExpertise project has a strong consortia with end users in defence and consumer markets driving a tailored technology development. SMART Expertise will be a catalyst for future projects and activities, leading to tangible economic benefits for both Wales and the UK.”

Cardiff Catalysis Institute will also be based in the Translational Research Facility. The Institute is improving the understanding of catalysis, working with industry to develop new catalytic processes and promoting the use of catalysis as a sustainable 21st century technology.

The Institute’s Director, Professor Duncan Wass, welcomed the ceremony. “The Translational Research Facility will provide the Cardiff Catalysis Institute with bespoke facilities that allow us to build on our outstanding track record for developing fundamental academic research that fulfils the needs of industry.”

The building is due to open on the Cardiff Innovation Campus in 2021.

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