Monday 26 March 2007

PM Hosts Reception for Inspiring Scientists

Along with more than 100 other scientists, I was invited to attend a Downing Street reception to mark the contribution that young scientists, engineers and researchers make to the UK's economy and quality of life.

Stood on the doorstep of 10 Downing Street before attending Tony Blair’s reception for young scientists.

From the press release:

“The PM told them that science was vitally important to the future of Britain, which should be a magnet for attracting the best people in the field.  The event, part of National Science and Engineering Week, celebrated those who inspire other young people to become the scientists of tomorrow - including science and engineering ambassadors. Other guests included those who have made breakthroughs in medicine, transport and new technology.”

The Prime Minister said: "Science is vitally important to the future of Britain. We have to be a magnet for scientific endeavour, attracting the best people and turning scientific knowledge into commercial enterprise. We need our young people today to embrace science and to realise that a career in science is an exciting prospect. These scientists provide the advice and practical examples to truly inspire.

Saturday 3 March 2007

Voice of the Future 2007

I recently attended the Voice of the Future 2007 (VOF) event organised by the Royal Society of Chemistry at Portcullis House in London.

The event was designed to to enable dialogue between more than 200 young scientists, from A-level science students to postdocs and engineers, and members of parliament.  The main focuses of the event were an hour-long session with the Science Minister, Malcolm Wicks MP, followed by nearly two hours of questions answered by members of the Science & Technology Select Committee.

Also we had arranged beforehand to meet our local MPs Andrew Smith (Oxford East) and Dr Evan Harris (Oxford West and Abingdon and member of the select committee) which gave us the opportunity to address some issues face to face.

The Committee selected questions submitted by the audience during lunch and did their best to answer them - although in our opinion they seemingly hand-picked those which were relatively easy for them to discuss such as climate change and sustainable energy and scientific strategies to tackle them, nanotechnology, or if and how creationism should be taught in schools (as belief).

From the RSC Website:

More than 200 young scientists and engineers from all over the UK attended the House of Commons to meet Science Minister Malcolm Wicks and members of the Science and Technology Select Committee (STSC).

The Voice of the Future Event, organised by the Royal Society of Chemistry's Parliamentary Affairs team, saw Mr Wicks give a speech which covered a number of important scientific issues, including climate change and the fight to improve healthcare on all frontiers.  Mr Wicks said: "This is a tremendously exciting time to be involved in scientific disciplines."  He was then asked a number of questions by the audience. One student asked why the government had sanctioned cuts to the research budget - to which Mr Wicks replied that his department (The Department for Trade and Industry) had to balance its books just like any other organisation. In this case, the cuts had been made to compensate for loss making projects such as those in the collapsed MG Rover.  Whilst the government was not happy to make the cuts, Mr Wicks described them as a blip, and said that the Labour Government had doubled science spending since coming to power.  Mr Wicks was also asked about the closure of Reading University's Physics Department, as well as renewable energy and energy security.

Back Row (from Left to Right) Mr. James Cottam (Oxford University), Mr. Ramin Lolachi (Oxford University), Dr. Evan Harris MP, Mr. Phil Willis (MP and Chair of Select Committee), Dr. Richard Pike (RSC Chief Executive) , Miss Anne Osterrieder (Oxford Brookes University), Dr. Imogen Sparkes (Oxford Brookes University), Dr. Brian Iddon MP, Dr. Stephen Benn (Parliamentary Advisor to the RSC).  Front Row (from Left to Right) Mr. Leigh Fletcher (Oxford University), Mr. Richard Branch (Oxford University), Dr. Carly Howett (Oxford University), Mr. Hugh Mortimer (Oxford University)

Voice of the Future also featured a special science "Question Time", chaired by Phil Willis MP, in which STSC members fielded questions from the audience as in the popular BBC TV show of the same name. RSC chief executive Dr Richard Pike was on the panel, as were Des Turner and Brian Iddon MPs.  The panel were asked about creationism being taught in schools, clean coal technology and making the school science curriculum more exciting.  Voice of the Future is one of a number of events taking place in Parliament during National Science week - but the only one in which both Mr Wicks and the Select Committee have both taken part.  Members of the UK Youth Parliament and some A-level students were among the young scientists in attendance.

RSC chief executive Dr Richard Pike said: "This was a unique opportunity for young scientists from all over the country to find out first hand how science is dealt with by government and parliament.  The Select Committee spends its whole year asking questions - on this occasion they were answering them!"  The young scientists and engineers also had the opportunity to meet their local constituency MPs.