Osborne announces science and engineering investment

Plans to invest £195m in UK science and engineering announced by George Osborne today have been welcomed by members of the research community.

The chancellor told the Conservative Party Conference that the government would spend £50m on a centre to commercialise the novel material graphene and £145m on developing high-performance computing and associated electronic infrastructure.

Osborne, who told the conference he wanted Britain to lead the world in engineering, said the graphene investment was designed to encourage the material’s Manchester University-based inventors to stay in the country to develop it commercially.

Imran Khan, director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE), said it was encouraging to see the government investing in science and engineering seven months after a pledge of £100m for research and development facilities.

‘The new money… should promote economic growth in these high-tech sectors for many years to come — beyond the next election. Supporting capitalisation of cutting-edge British research is something that politicians of all stripes should aspire to.’

He added: ‘We do need to be very clear and note that these new investments are coming in the wake of enormous cuts to the nation’s science and engineering base.

‘Last month we released an analysis showing that £1.7bn will have been cut from research and development funds by 2014–15.’

The computing investment is intended to encourage growth, innovation and investment across sectors that rely heavily on computing, including manufacturing, engineering and design.

A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) told The Engineer that £145m would be allocated by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STC) and would go towards infrastructure projects that would help UK companies.

Universities and science minister David Willetts said the investment would also benefit the UK’s research base.

He said: ‘It will enable universities to carry out highly sophisticated research and archive more data, keeping us at the very leading edge of science.’

The money will go towards developing software, computer power, data storage, wide bandwidth networks, cyber security and authentication, plus people and skills.

The Graphene Global Research and Technology Hub will be established through a competition run by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) after they have developed its business case.

As well as Manchester University, where the discovery of graphene led to Nobel Prizes for Prof Andre Geim and Dr Konstantin Novoselov, there are graphene centres of research at Cambridge, Lancaster, Exeter, Bath, Oxford and Durham universities and Imperial College London.

Dr Mark Miodownik, head of the Materials Research Group at King’s College London, said: ‘The UK is world class for materials science, it’s great to see the government recognising that.

‘Perhaps the Conservatives could have their conference in London next year, there are plenty of potentially revolutionary materials being developed down here that could do with £50m investment, instead of what we have at the moment, which is a freeze in funding.’