REQUIMTE – “Laboratório Associado” for Green Chemistry was the first large multipolar research centre, involving Universities in separate cities, granted Centre of Excellence status by the Portuguese Ministry of Science (end of 2001). “Green Chemistry at 300 km distance” was its motto at the beginning, as Lisbon and Porto, home to the Universities of Porto and NOVA Lisbon, and the two main Portuguese cities, are 300 km apart. Several other multipolar Institutes in different scientific areas were later given the same type of status, following REQUIMTE’s example.
REQUIMTE is a science-driven institution focused on the development of Sustainable Chemistry. It is acknowledged in the Portuguese Chemistry and Chemical Engineering community as a leading player in fundamental science, but also in technology transfer, spin-off creation and scientific service provision. REQUIMTE’s scientific production has tripled in ten years, from less than two hundred papers in journals abstracted in the web of Science in 2004 to just under 600 in 2013. The number of yearly citations of these papers has climbed from 0 in 2002 to above 8500 in 2013. The h number is currently 69, and 33 papers have already received more than 100 citations. Most papers were published in specialised journals, but some saw their way into journals of general interest in the area of Chemistry: 21 in ChemComm, 14 in JACS, 9 in Angewandte Chemie, 6 in AIChEJ, 7 in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, 2 in Chemical Reviews and 31 in Green Chem.
The most important factor contributing to the notable increase in scientific production during REQUIMTE’s existence was the high quality of the young researchers that were hired with the funds attributed to the Laboratório Associado. This must be considered the most relevant success of REQUIMTE: the possibility given to 50+ young researchers to be hired for five years as full time researchers with a salary of an Assistant Professor, and launch their scientific careers. Due to REQUIMTE’s high standards in human resource management, including hiring and contract renewal, and a general environment favourable to research progress, many of those hired succeeded brilliantly.
As a major research center in the area of Chemistry, REQUIMTE has coordinated inter-University activities in several areas. It is the central node of the Portuguese NMR network, and it coordinates two other multi-University PhD Programs (Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Heritage, and MIT Portugal Bioengineering). 150 PhD theses have been successfully defended in the 2008-12 period.
REQUIMTE has been active in the support of the activities of the Portuguese Food Safety agency (ASAE) in the area of Toxicology. Its researchers have established collaborations, signed research contracts, and invented patents jointly with local industry. Three start-ups were launched, dedicated to diverse subjects – synthesis of ionic liquids, separation of cholesterol-fighting nutraceuticals from olive oil residues, high performance cell culture media. A fourth start-up, a spin-off from a previously existing company, was based on research developed at REQUIMTE on dyes and switching colors in paper support.
REQUIMTE has now decided to respond to a new challenge of the Portuguese Science funding agency, FC&T, by dividing in two separate research centres. It is a measure of the success of this inter-University, inter-city collaboration that, 12 years later, this division is done along disciplines and not along Universities. The two new proposed sister organisations keep the same multi-University pattern, as each of them includes significant numbers of researchers from the Universities of Porto and of NOVA Lisbon. Members with activities on Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Biotech and related subjects, who feel comfortable in a research centre focused on Sustainable Chemistry, integrate REQUIMTE/LAQV. Current members with a more biological approach to research will integrate a separate proposal, of a sister organisation (UCIBIO) dedicated to Biomolecular Sciences.
The “new” REQUIMTE/LAQV will continue to play a pivotal role in the Portuguese academic/ scientific system in all areas related to Chemistry. Sustainability permeates all economic activities in this area, as the leading role taken in Suschem by the European Chemical Industry clearly shows. LAQV is in fact the only research centre in Portugal completely aligned with the Suschem vision.