Prime Minister Tony Blair and Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt made a visit to Imperial College London today following the announcement of a £10 billion investment in UK science.
The PM and Trade and Industry Secretary visited the laboratory of Professor Donna Blackmond, who carries out research within the Departments of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Imperial. Her work on understanding how chemical reactions can be improved by catalysts is essential to help industry develop cost-effective new medicines for diseases such as cancer, heart disease and AIDS.
The government funding, which will be rolled out over the next three years, is aimed at closing the research gap with the USA. It will be focused particularly on biotechnology, climate change science and promoting collaboration between universities and industry to encourage commercialisation of research. Today's announcement details the new allocations from the science budget agreed in the 2004 Spending Review.
Welcoming the announcement, Sir Richard Sykes, Rector of Imperial College London, said: "I am delighted that the Government is focusing money in ways which will really help move science forward. For too long, the UK has underinvested in science while our society has become more and more dependent on technology. Today's announcement is a major step forward in rectifying this serious failing.
"It is particularly encouraging that the Government is not only injecting significant funds into supporting the UK's science base but is also recognising that this support needs to be long-term."
Imperial was ranked 5th in Europe and 14th in the World in the recent Times Higher Education Supplement world university rankings, and is consistently ranked in the top three of all UK university league tables. Its Department of Chemistry is top rated for research (5*) and maintains stable undergraduate numbers (312 in 2003-04) at a time of decreasing interest in chemistry among young people. The department has been home to five Nobel Laureates.
Professor Blackmond's work is recognised for both its fundamental value and its application to the needs of the pharmaceutical industry which contributes valuable funding to the work.
Sir Richard said: "The interdisciplinary nature of Professor Blackmond's research exemplifies a strength of research at centres of excellence such as Imperial – breaking down the barriers between subjects and disciplines, and bringing people from different areas together to work on big problems. Only a few universities have the critical mass of the brightest people brought together to work like this."
Professor Blackmond's lab has recently been refurbished with money from the government's Science Research Investment Fund, and in January she launched a three year study funded by Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (see Notes to Editors).
Today's visit is Tony Blair's first to Imperial's South Kensington campus and his second to the College while serving as Prime Minister. In 2002 he opened the Wolfson and Weston Research Centre for Family Health, housing the Institute of Reproductive and Developmental Biology, on the Hammersmith campus in west London.
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