The University’s Professor Richard Jones provides key input into regenerating Greater Manchester

Drawing of Prof Richard JonesRichard Jones, Professor of Materials Physics and Innovation Policy and Vice-President for Regional Innovation and Civic Engagement has appeared in The Guardian discussing ‘Atom Valley’ and the regeneration of Greater Manchester.  

In the article, the Mayor of Greater Manchester commented that there was once an industrial arc running from Wigan in the west to Rochdale in the north and Oldham and Tameside in the east. When coal and cotton went into decline, these towns did too, and that they never really recovered. But Andy Burnham has announced a plan – called Atom Valley – that be believes can help. 

Atom Valley is a public-private partnership with plans to build an advanced manufacturing hub and create 20,000 jobs across three separate sites in Bury, Rochdale and Oldham. The name references The University of Manchester’s role in splitting the atom (Ernest Rutherford, in 1917) with a deliberate nod to California’s Silicon Valley. 

Professor Jones explained that Greater Manchester – with its outstanding university research base, an evidence-based local industrial strategy, translational research centres like the University’s Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre, and a strong start-up/spin-out ecosystem – is ideally placed to lead on innovation-driven levelling-up, fulfilling its potential as a driver for the economy of the whole of the north. 

Jones’s vision of success would be the arrival in Atom Valley of two or three big international companies with major manufacturing capability, along with research and development functions. These would act as a magnet for smaller companies, spin-outs from the university, and a translational research facility that can adapt ground-breaking discoveries into marketable technologies. Existing businesses would flourish, colleges would work with companies to provide skills, and there would be jobs at all levels. 

Yet while the potential for spinning out businesses from academics with bright and marketable ideas is there, the limited nature of Britain’s manufacturing base is affecting the ability to commercialise graphene. For example, Jones said that “The most interesting applications will be in electronics and we don’t have an electronics industry anymore. 

Manchester is not doing well as a whole. You can’t have booming businesses downtown and people in the northern boroughs left high and dry. Greater Manchester should be driving the economy of the whole north-west.” 


The answer, Jones offered, was to learn from countries such as Germany and Taiwan. He has advocated for: 

  • boosting Research and Development (R&D) spending; 
  • setting up research centres to translate ideas into new products; 
  • developing clusters of manufacturing excellence. 


You can read the full Guardian article here as well as a follow-up editorial piece.