About the Unilever Centre

The idea to create the Unilever Centre for Molecular Informatics (UCMI) sprang from the realisation that in the future, much of science would depend on the innovative use of data. Unilever and the University of Cambridge (Dr Ian Anderson and Professor David King) formulated a plan to create a new institute, part of the Department of Chemistry, that would grow to become a leader in Molecular Informatics. The presence of the CCDC, the EBI, the Newton Institute, the Science Parks and the many other organisations and Departments in Cambridge placed the new venture at the focus of science and innovation.

Unilever support is fundamental to the success of the Centre, providing guidance and funding within the concept of the 'twin pillars' upon which the Centre was founded:

  • Academic Freedom
  • Alignment of our interests with Unilever

This enables the UCMI to work on blue sky science, commercially orientated projects and importantly as an academic institute, to collaborate with other companies and funding bodies. The Centre benefits from a strong interaction through funded research projects with Unilever but also has the freedom to work with other groups in Industry and Academia.

Picture of the Chemistry LibraryThe UCMI was established in 1999, with a brand new building designed by Eric Sorenson and Zibrandtsen Architects and opened by Lord Sainsbury in 2000.There are three floors, Research, the Library and the Cybercafe (and a pyramid!). The Research area consists of offices, a lecture theatre, a training area and meetings rooms. There is accommodation for about forty researchers. The Centre has two large multi-processor computers and numerous PC's, linked to form a computing grid. Much of the computer software used in Molecular Informatics is available in the UCMI. This image shows the 'Tree of Knowledge' extending from the library floor to the roof of the UCC. It is named for Yggdrasil, the 'World Ash Tree' in Norse mythology, which encompasses the whole of the earth and the heavens. The tree has three roots, each of which extends into a well. The first root is in Vanaheim and ends at the Well of Wyrd, thus keeping the Tree replenished. Another root extends to Jotunheim (the land of the frost giants) and ends at the well of Mimir, containing the waters that are the source of all wisdom. Odin sacrificed an eye for one drink from this well, in order to foresee the future. The third root stretches into the Well of Hvergelmir in the realm of Niflheim, where the dragon Nidhogg constantly eats away at the roots of the tree.

Molecular Informatics continues to underpin research in any situation where scientific data is collected, created or interpreted. It is often understated, but of course true, that the major output of any scientific experiment results in data, which ideally should be stored and analysed in such a way that the results are easily retrieved for future analysis. This objective, to design better ways of capturing and interpreting molecular data are major objectives.

The Centre offers a stimulating and exciting working environment for research in one of the world's leading chemical laboratories to do just this.

Over the last ten years, the Centre has published about 300 papers, given scores of presentations and trained about thirty PhD students. Currently there are five research groups and about forty scientists.

Research topics are quite diverse, and reflects the pervasive nature of computing in science. From materials properties to drug discovery, natural language to synthesis - we have very wide interests.

Recent publications from group leaders are listed here: Andreas Bender, Lucy Colwell, Robert Glen, Jonathan Goodman.