Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Advice on dating scientists

Matching research projects with funding is tough work. In this country, the money tends to promote scientific discovery only when commerciality is ensured. If there's a sniff of risk, VCs either price the deal accordingly, or bolt. Pioneers 09, an event run by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) at London's Olympia, is essentially a matchmaking effort: grey-bearded scientists rubbing shoulders with slim-suited financiers.

It all felt pretty relevant. Gordon Brown's vision is for university spin-outs to somehow drag us out of recession. The ideas are certainly there. Our research is top-notch. But where's all the money to back that research? The money markets must be un-gummed before the £2.5bn we spend annually on university R&D can hope to get us out of this mess.

Professor David Delpy, chief executive of the EPSRC, had some sharp advice for the recession-obsessed cynics. He spoke after Richard Noble, the ebullient project director of Bloodhound SSC, who is bidding to manufacture a car capable of breaking the world land-speed record. Noble had seemed positive enough—his project involves the participation of 541 schools, an arrangement that simultaneously crowdsources talent and inspires schoolchildren into science and engineering: a worthy effort. But Delpy seemed irritated by Noble's suggestion that UK manufacturing needed a boost.

"Manufacturing may only be responsible for 13 per cent of the economy, but that makes us the 6th largest manufacturing economy in the world. We ought to be far more positive."

Delpy was mainly referring to the buoyant pharmaceutical industry. The automotive sector is Noble's game. Maybe they were both right.

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