Leicester’s cutting-edge research and innovation delights Minister

Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation discovers how pioneering plans for Space Park Leicester will transform the economy.

Minister Chris Skidmore MP was in Leicester today (Friday 8 March) at the start of British Science Week, visiting the University of Leicester to see first-hand how the University and the region is at the cutting edge of life sciences and space research and innovation.

Mr Skidmore discussed the University’s plans to transform Leicester into a major UK space city through the creation of Space Park Leicester - a partnership between the University of Leicester, Leicester City Council, the Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership (LLEP) and the National Space Centre.

Space Park Leicester will be a world-leading hub for space and space-enabled industry and will benefit the regional economy by an estimated £715 million and 2,500 jobs. It will also support the Government’s strategy to capture 10% of the £400 billion global space market by 2030.

Building on the University’s proud heritage of having a Leicester-built instrument in space every year since 1967, Mr Skidmore met Dr Suzie Imber, winner of the 2017 BBC Two television programme Astronauts, Do You Have What It Takes? and students from the University who showed the Minister a model of the Mercury Imaging X-ray Spectrometer (MIXS) instrument, currently aboard the BepiColombo mission to Mercury. The MIXS instrument was partially developed and built in Leicester.

The Minister also toured the University’s £6 million-plus Cryo-Electron Microscope facility, the only one of its kind in the Midlands and led by the University on behalf of the Midlands Innovation group of Universities. The microscope allows scientists to generate three-dimensional structures of bio-molecules in exquisite detail, supporting precision medicine approaches and aiding new drug discovery.

President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leicester, Professor Paul Boyle CBE said: “We were pleased to welcome the Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation to our University. Our life science and space research are world-leading and in both areas we have ambitious plans to build on our productive collaborations with industry.”

The visit to the University coincided with the announcement from the Minister that new UK government funding will ensure UK scientists – including those at the University of Leicester – play a leading role in a new space weather mission and to find new Earth-like planets. The Solar wind Magnetosphere Ionosphere Link Explorer (SMILE) mission will study how the solar wind interacts with the Earth's magnetosphere, which can impact on satellites, power grids and communications networks integral to our modern lives.

Chris Skidmore said: “Space weather – such as solar wind – is a potential threat to our communications systems here on Earth so this research examining how this wind interacts with our planet’s electromagnetic system is important. Meanwhile, work to discover Earth-like planets around other stars may eventually lead to us answering the question of whether extra-terrestrial life exists.

“This £35 million of space science funding is part of our ambitious Industrial Strategy, boosting research investment and helping the UK’s space sector to thrive.”