Learn more about our latest Covid-19 updates and resources

Leeds’ tradition of innovation continues at the University of Leeds and Nexus

The future is taking shape at Nexus, the University of Leeds’ innovation hub. New technologies and new thinking are creating the businesses of tomorrow. Looking back though, it’s clear that innovation has always been something of a tradition in the city of Leeds and at the University.

At Nexus, the University has created an open environment where the ideas that shape the future can be explored, developed and ultimately brought to life as businesses. It’s exciting stuff, and it’s happening today.

But while the future is coming together at the University right now, Leeds has a rich history when it comes to world-changing ideas. The city has a long history of innovation and can claim a number of world-changing technological advances. Among them, landmark developments in medical science, communications technology, environmental science and infrastructure management. Beyond technology and industry, there have been important developments in cinematography, gaming and even confectionery!



Consider the story of physicist William T Astbury whose work at the University of Leeds in the 1930s paved the way for one of the greatest scientific discoveries in history. Astbury developed a camera originally intended for the study of the structure of wool fibres for the local textile industry. From this beginning, Astbury became a world authority on the use of X-ray crystallography to study biological fibres and significantly, embarked on the first studies of the structure of DNA – so laying the foundations for later work by James Watson and Francis Crick. While Crick and Watson went on to receive the Nobel Prize and Astbury’s contribution was largely overlooked, the impact of his work is undeniable.

Fast forward to 1964 and an undergraduate student at the University of Leeds, David Rhodes began his research on the theory of microwave filters. His work over four decades led to the spinout of Filtronic plc, which by 2000 had become the world’s leading supplier of microwave frequency components for the telecommunications and aerospace industries. In the late 80s, Professor Rhodes turned his focus to the mobile phone market, convinced that it offered a huge growth area for advanced microwave filters. Where many failed to predict the exponential success of mobile communications, Rhodes saw the future, establishing Filtronic Comtek to manufacture filters for use in mobile phone base stations. Filtronic’s products are currently found worldwide in mobile phones, base stations, microwave links, satellite systems and radar. The company has created 3,000 jobs across the globe and is one of the most successful businesses to emerge from a UK university.

Why is it that Leeds has provided such fertile ground for innovation? Could it be the drive for research at the city’s universities? The strong commercial culture formed around the city’s textiles and engineering industries? The willingness of the city’s people to challenge constantly and change things for the better? Or something in the Aire’s waters perhaps? Whatever the reasons, while innovation in Leeds is historically diverse and has taken place across a wide range of sectors and disciplines, there’s a common feature. The extraordinary scale of impact. The ideas that found their origins in the city have reached out beyond its boundaries and exerted a significant influence in the wider world – whether intellectual, social, economical or environmental.

Today, impact remains the key focus for innovation at Nexus. We have established a centre that brings together a new generation of entrepreneurs, technologists, investors and regional stakeholders to create measurable growth among the companies taking part. Historically, the city’s greatest ideas have been developed separately and sporadically, either in its schools and universities or in the hidden corners of its industries. By contrast, Nexus is a community, reflecting a shared belief that successful, sustainable innovation is the product of collaboration, taking place within a fully supportive environment.

What’s happening here promises to pave the way for future innovation across the Leeds region and beyond, and we’re proud that the University of Leeds is continuing the city’s pioneering tradition. For Leeds at least, the business of innovation is nothing new.