The Queen has opened an £89m technology and innovation centre in Glasgow. But what lies behind its walls?
It tackles the mysteries of atoms, plasma, lasers, bio-nano-micrology and even street-lighting.
On one floor, chemists are working on the rapid turnaround of blood tests, using impossibly small particles, leading to rapid diagnoses.
On another, they’re drawing together vast amounts of data for the intelligent lamppost of the future.
This is a striking, triangular building close to the oldest part of Glasgow, being held up as a potential transformer of the Scottish economy.
The Technology and Innovation Centre (TIC), at the University of Strathclyde, cost £89m to build.
A lot of that was government funding, through Scottish Enterprise and the Scottish Funding Council (for universities and colleges). It houses £30m of capital research equipment.
The idea is to draw together different science and technology disciplines with outside business partners, creating a chemical reaction, with explosive economic potential.
Strathclyde University principal Prof Sir Jim McDonald says the business plan is for £300m of gross value added over the next five years, with 800 jobs in and around the centre.
But he insists that’s just the start. It’s “the ripple effect” that he wants to see following from that.
He says: “What Scotland has now is a platform for unprecedented levels of research activity that brings world-class capability in photonics, pharmaceuticals, energy, advanced manufacturing and connecting it to industry, as a hub and a magnet to bring inward investment from highly innovative companies.”
People have been moving into the building since the end of 2014. On Friday, the principal will be showing the Queen around several of the laboratories, as part of TIC’s official opening. She will get to learn about the low carbon energy research and smart energy grids.
Large pharma companies are already signing up for research projects. Next to the blood test nano-metrology team, one of the partners was this week deep in discussion about an instant roadside drug-testing kit.
It has long proven hard to bring smaller and medium-scale companies into collaboration with universities. Scotland’s private sector has been comparatively very poor at research and development spending.
Sir Jim McDonald wants to see that changed.
In the case of TIC, the plan is to draw in the “tier one partners”, such as big pharma, and including Scottish-based firms Weir Group, SSE and Scottish Power, and then bring in their supply chain partners. That can remove some of the risk from getting into complex and potentially expensive research.
The City Laboratory is where social science meets the mathematicians. It is a project using vast quantities of data to see connections across Glasgow, and to make comparisons with other, similar cities.
There are around 300 measures being drawn together of the way people live across Glasgow. That includes mobile and broadband use (without it being identifiable to individuals, we are assured), traffic, energy, policing and health. By crunching them together, connections can be seen in current behaviour.
It also helps indicate how behaviour can be changed, and how public services can respond.
The street lighting project brings in light technology expertise, and maps behaviour of people across the city.
Richard Bellingham is director of the City Observatory project: “Intelligent lighting could help us vary the brightness and colour of light in response to various conditions.
“We can dim lights where they don’t need to be, but we don’t want to do that when there’s a big chance of crime. So by modelling crime across the city, we can say which lights we want to be bright or dim.
“Or lights can respond to live events on the streets, or to a big event, like a football match or a pop concert.
Mr Bellingham adds: “That creates a piece of infrastructure where we can attach new sensors to those lighting columns, sensing environmental conditions, monitor movement on the streets, noise and air quality to help people live better lives in cities or help systems work better.”
TIC is the prestige project within a £350m, 10-year programme of investment in Strathclyde University’s campus.
Last year brought a new engineering hub. Teaching facilities are soon to see a £100m upgrade, says the principal. A new home for Strathclyde Business School is soon to be opened.
The parallel is drawn with San Francisco, Boston and New York, where run-down or neglected downtown areas have become the hubs for innovation.
A stone’s throw from the oldest buildings in Glasgow, the TIC building could barely be more downtown.