£42m grant 'will be game-changer in developing nanotechnology manufacturing'

Map showing the eight partners in the new collaboration
Map showing the eight partners in the new collaboration

A SPECIALIST consortium created to develop nanotechnology manufacturing in Northern Ireland has the potential to cement the north's place as a global leader in new technologies, according to politicians and academics.

Smart Nano NI, which is led by Derry-based data company Seagate Technology, has secured a £42 million grant from the government's national science funding agency UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). It has also leveraged more than £20m more from other sources.

And the funding has been described as a "game-changing opportunity" for the region’s nano technology and manufacturing sectors to scale up capacity in medical device manufacturing and to underpin and develop hundreds of jobs.

Nanotechnology is the application of knowledge to create extremely small components that are at the scale of atoms and molecules.

Other members of the consortium are Analytics Engines, Causeway Sensors, Cirdan Imaging, Digital Catapult NI, North West Regional College, Queen's University, Ulster University and Yelo.

Northern Ireland has a unique cluster of expertise in this globally expanding field, and this collaboration between located along the Derry-Belfast corridor will enable the creation of a Centre of Excellence.

This, it is envisaged, will enable advances in the life and health sciences as well as exploiting the potential of photonics and nanotech in other high-growth sectors through knowledge transfer.

Smart Nano NI's Dr Mark Gubbins said: "We can now advance Northern Ireland's niche capability around smart nano-manufacturing and world-leading knowledge in photonics to create a self-sustaining local industry.

"It allows us to capitalise on the combined expertise of our companies and the availability of trained researchers and resources across our academic institutions."

Stormont economy minister Gordon Lyons said: “Securing this funding is a major boost for our economy and our post-Covid recovery journey and is a testament to the power of collaboration and the calibre of Northern Ireland companies.

“It will create new commercial opportunities, will drive economic growth and help tackle productivity challenges, and invigorate our manufacturing sector.”

SDLP economy spokesperson Sinéad McLaughlin said: “This is great news for the north west and helps to cement our place as a leader in new technologies. The partnership will deliver millions of pounds in investment to our economy.

“The future of our economy will be led by innovative companies like Seagate Technology - which has around 1,400 staff in Derry - and the others involved in this consortium leading the way on new technology that meets the needs of our workforce and society.”

But she added: “We now need to maximise our potential by expanding the higher education package in the north west to create a supply of high quality graduates to meet the needs of our economy.”

Consortium Members:

• Analytics Engines - leader in data analytics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning

• Causeway Sensors - photonic therapeutic device specialists

• Cirdan Imaging - leading provider of medical informatics and imaging solutions

• Digital Catapult - advanced digital technology innovation centre

• North West Regional College - a national award-winning business support centre for skills development, R&D and innovation

• Queen’s University Belfast - leads the EPSRC & SFI Centre for Doctoral Training in Photonic Integration and Advanced Data Storage

• Seagate Technology - a world leader in data storage and management solutions. Its facility in Derry is recognised as one of the foremost 200mm wafer fabrication plants in the world.

• Ulster University - ISRC is the Intelligent Systems Research Centre (ISRC) is an established Centre of Excellence in Intelligent Systems specialising in artificial intelligence.

• Yelo - photonics test equipment vendor.