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Department of Engineering

The University’s Research Equipment and Facilities Sharing Database

The University’s Research Equipment and Facilities Sharing Database

Cleanroom Wet Bench within the Cambridge Graphene Centre.

The University’s digital portfolio of shareable equipment has been accessed by over 19,000 members of staff and students. Over 9,500 members of the public have engaged with the University’s parallel, open-access, equipment sharing portal, and together, this digital infrastructure has facilitated the generation of over £5M of Core Equipment funding. The key factor to the success of these projects has been engaging users in solution development; seeking their input, understanding their needs and desires, and improving system interaction based upon their feedback.   

In an increasingly competitive environment, funding agencies look more favourably on paying for equipment when it will be shared. We also find that sharing is the only way to recover running costs so we can continue using and maintaining equipment post-warranty.

Dr Katherine Stott, Department of Biochemistry

The project is managed by engineering alumnus Dr Christopher Wilkinson who graduated with a PhD in Engineering Design in 2012. He explains the equipment database project below:

How can I access the equipment database?

The University’s Research Equipment and Facilities Database provides access to almost 4000 individual items of equipment and over 100 facilities within Cambridge, and provides information on access to 225 Facilities across Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial, UCL and Southampton.

If you are a current student, researcher, or member of staff, you will have access to the Equipment Sharing Database via your raven log-in. This can be useful if you are searching for particular or specific equipment to work with, to develop collaborations both internally and externally, or if you need to find replacement equipment in a hurry:

The equipment sharing project fosters efficient use of university resources as well as research collaborations. There are obvious benefits such as efficient resource use, and perhaps less evident benefits such as being increasingly attractive to University funders.

Ultimately, the project and platforms ensure the University is compliant with UKRI and other funders’ requirements regarding making equipment available to share, increasing existing use, and return on investment from a funder perspective.

Agreeing to share on the local platform permits awareness across the University and data can be automatically shared with the National Equipment Portal (consisting of some 50+ UK institutions), facilitating local, regional, national and international awareness of equipment.

Referencing this infrastructure in grant applications adds a crucial aspect that is under increasing scrutiny by funders and increases potential income generation to individual PI’s, Departments, and the institution as a whole.

Since January 2014 a two-page business case has been required in applications for items of equipment above the Official Journal of European Union threshold and universities must check for opportunities to share equipment with internal departments and other institutions prior to submission of grant applications.

The database as a platform and piece of infrastructure continues to form a pivotal part of strategic equipment funding bids and is referenced in numerous equipment funding applications to UKRI and other funding bodies. To date, we’ve been involved in successful applications to the EPSRC’s Core, Capital, and Strategic Equipment funds totalling over £5M and provided input into a multi-partner £3M funding application for the AHRC’s Capability for Collections Infrastructure Award. 

Engaging with the project also provides the potential to foster better local, regional, national and international collaborations, and strengthens our ability to be at the forefront of research and benefit from the latest scientific developments.

It might be that you’re in a lab at 3am and your equipment fails (something studying a PhD taught me indirectly) and you need replacement equipment at short notice, or it may be that you have a research proposal but not the resources to explore it locally. The database and national portal can signpost you to both equipment and expertise that may be crucial to developing your ideas, research, and collaborations.

I believe that sharing research facilities is extremely helpful for researchers, as it opens up possibilities to move forward with research ideas, even without an all-contained laboratory of your own

– Dr Ewa Marek, Department of Engineering

When the UK was gripped by the first wave of the COVID-19 tsunami in 2020, I was tasked with speaking directly to laboratory and equipment managers to see how we could support the Government’s rapidly developing COVID-19 Test Facility in Milton Keynes to help ensure they had sufficient quantities of reagents and equipment to meet their 100,000 daily testing target.

The late PVC for Research, Professor Chris Abell, who was instrumental in the development of the Cambridge Screening Centre; a collaboration between the University of Cambridge, GSK and Astra Zeneca, asked me to locate relevant equipment to help it become functionally operational. Utilising the power of the database, within four days the offers of equipment exceeded our original request, and allowed us to develop contingency plans for back-up equipment should the need arise, as well as additional expertise to train users. To witness the support and collaborative efforts of people pulling together was awe-inspiring and a fitting testament to Chris’s vision as well as a great opportunity work with colleagues across departments, institutions, and external organisations.

Thank you so much...that is incredibly helpful to reach so many people...and great to know such a productive exchange is taking place

– Catherine Hasted, Head of Business Partnerships, University of Cambridge

There is also good news from an environmental and sustainability perspective. Not only does it benefit researchers by reducing the need to travel to reach specific equipment that might actually be available locally, a recent analysis of the 4000 or so items on the equipment database indicate that the average item was first in service (purchased, installed, and made operational) in 2013. This means that equipment is being used well beyond its 4-year depreciation point and is maximising its return on investment and is further evidence that the University is committed to prioritising reuse in the long term.

Guidance, too, is available on the disposal, rehoming, and recycling of equipment with links to the University’s WARPit account and opportunities to donate usable equipment to Africa and further afield.

Do look at the equipment available across the institution and remember to look at the guidance and get in touch if you’re writing an equipment grant proposal for details of the processes in place and information on existing equipment to include in your proposal: 

You can also view numerous articles by existing users and follow us on Twitter where details of upcoming equipment and research-related funding opportunities are highlighted on a daily basis

Main points of contact


Equipment Database:

Public Access Equipment Portal:


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