Tag Archives: EPSRC

Competition for funds (feasibility studies about accelerating commercial applications of graphene in the UK)

The UK’s Technology Strategy Board and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) have given notice of their funding competition for feasibility studies on commercialising graphene  (registration opens April 7, 2014) according to a Feb. 11, 2014 news item on Nanowerk,

The Technology Strategy Board and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) are investing up to £2.5m in feasibility studies to accelerate commercial applications in the novel material, graphene. It will include related carbon-based, two-dimensional nanotechnologies that have recently emerged from the science base.

This competition will invest in projects that explore the realistic potential of graphene to yield new products that could disrupt markets. We expect them to stimulate development of a robust and competitive supply base to support the nascent graphene-using industry.

Proposals must be collaborative and business-led. We are looking to attract consortia drawn from small and medium- sized enterprises (SMEs) and/or large companies.

Universities and other research organisations can be partners in consortia where their high-end academic knowledge and innovation expertise is needed to deliver the project.

The Technology Strategy Board’s competition (Realising the graphene revolution) webpage contains more information such as this,

We expect to fund feasibility studies (mainly pre-industrial research projects) in which a business partner will generally attract up to 65% public funding for their project costs (75% for SMEs). Research organisations can attract funding of up to 100% of their costs.

We expect projects to last up to 12 months and to range in size up to total costs of £200k.

This competition opens on 7 April 2014 and the deadline for receipt of applications is noon on 4 June 2014. A briefing for potential applicants will be held on 24 April 2014. Consortium building events will be run by the Graphene Special Interest Group between 27 February 2014 and 18 March 2014. We strongly advise potential applicants to attend at least one of these events.

There is a deadline for registration (May 28, 2014 noon UK time) and you must register before submitting your proposal.

The Technology Strategy Board offers a competition brief (PDF) and more details on its Realising the graphene revolution webpage.

ETA Feb. 12, 2014 11:15 am PST: I forgot to include this  graphene image from the website which is quite pretty,

[downloaded from https://www.innovateuk.org/competition-display-page/-/asset_publisher/RqEt2AKmEBhi/content/realising-the-graphene-revolution]

[downloaded from https://www.innovateuk.org/competition-display-page/-/asset_publisher/RqEt2AKmEBhi/content/realising-the-graphene-revolution]

Controlling crystal growth for plastic electronics

A July 4, 2013 news item on Nanowerk highlights research into plastic electronics taking place at Imperial College London (ICL), Note: A link has been removed,

Scientists have discovered a way to better exploit a process that could revolutionise the way that electronic products are made.

The scientists from Imperial College London say improving the industrial process, which is called crystallisation, could revolutionise the way we produce electronic products, leading to advances across a whole range of fields; including reducing the cost and improving the design of plastic solar cells.

The process of making many well-known products from plastics involves controlling the way that microscopic crystals are formed within the material. By controlling the way that these crystals are grown engineers can determine the properties they want such as transparency and toughness. Controlling the growth of these crystals involves engineers adding small amounts of chemical additives to plastic formulations. This approach is used in making food boxes and other transparent plastic containers, but up until now it has not been used in the electronics industry.

The team from Imperial have now demonstrated that these additives can also be used to improve how an advanced type of flexible circuitry called plastic electronics is made.

The team found that when the additives were included in the formulation of plastic electronic circuitry they could be printed more reliably and over larger areas, which would reduce fabrication costs in the industry.

The team reported their findings this month in the journal Nature Materials (“Microstructure formation in molecular and polymer semiconductors assisted by nucleation agents”).

The June 7, 2013 Imperial College London news release by Joshua Howgego, which originated the news item, describes the researchers and the process in more detail,

Dr Natalie Stingelin, the leader of the study from the Department of Materials and Centre of Plastic Electronics at Imperial, says:

“Essentially, we have demonstrated a simple way to gain control over how crystals grow in electrically conducting ‘plastic’ semiconductors. Not only will this help industry fabricate plastic electronic devices like solar cells and sensors more efficiently. I believe it will also help scientists experimenting in other areas, such as protein crystallisation, an important part of the drug development process.”

Dr Stingelin and research associate Neil Treat looked at two additives, sold under the names IrgaclearÒ XT 386 and MilladÒ 3988, which are commonly used in industry. These chemicals are, for example, some of the ingredients used to improve the transparency of plastic drinking bottles. The researchers experimented with adding tiny amounts of these chemicals to the formulas of several different electrically conducting plastics, which are used in technologies such as security key cards, solar cells and displays.

The researchers found the additives gave them precise control over where crystals would form, meaning they could also control which parts of the printed material would conduct electricity. In addition, the crystallisations happened faster than normal. Usually plastic electronics are exposed to high temperatures to speed up the crystallisation process, but this can degrade the materials. This heat treatment treatment is no longer necessary if the additives are used.

Another industrially important advantage of using small amounts of the additives was that the crystallisation process happened more uniformly throughout the plastics, giving a consistent distribution of crystals.  The team say this could enable circuits in plastic electronics to be produced quickly and easily with roll-to-roll printing procedures similar to those used in the newspaper industry. This has been very challenging to achieve previously.

Dr Treat says: “Our work clearly shows that these additives are really good at controlling how materials crystallise. We have shown that printed electronics can be fabricated more reliably using this strategy. But what’s particularly exciting about all this is that the additives showed fantastic performance in many different types of conducting plastics. So I’m excited about the possibilities that this strategy could have in a wide range of materials.”

Dr Stingelin and Dr Treat collaborated with scientists from the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB), and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, US, and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology on this study. The team are planning to continue working together to see if subtle chemical changes to the additives improve their effects – and design new additives.

There are some big plans for this discovery, from the news release,

They [the multinational team from ICL, UCSB, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and Swiss Federal Institute of Technology]  will be working with the new Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)-funded Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Large Area Electronics in order to drive the industrial exploitation of their process. The £5.6 million of funding for this centre, to be led by researchers from Cambridge University, was announced earlier this year [2013]. They are also exploring collaborations with printing companies with a view to further developing their circuit printing technique.

For the curious, here’s a link to and a citation for the published paper,

Microstructure formation in molecular and polymer semiconductors assisted by nucleation agents by Neil D. Treat, Jennifer A. Nekuda Malik, Obadiah Reid, Liyang Yu, Christopher G. Shuttle, Garry Rumbles, Craig J. Hawker, Michael L. Chabinyc, Paul Smith, & Natalie Stingelin. Nature Materials 12, 628–633 (2013) doi:10.1038/nmat3655 Published online 02 June 2013

This article is open access (at least for now).

Latest on UK and graphene

The Brits are at it again with another graphene funding announcement, from the Dec. 28, 2012 news item on Azonano,

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne MP, today announced £21.5 million of capital investment to commercialise graphene, one of the thinnest, lightest, strongest and most conductive materials to have been discovered, marked by the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics as one of the world’s most ground breaking scientific achievements.

Three research projects at Imperial will share the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) funding as part of a new programme with a number of industrial partners, including aeroplane manufacturer Airbus. The scientists receiving the grant hope to develop graphene technologies that will contribute to the UK economy and can be applied by industries around the world.

The Imperial College of London Dec. 27, 2012 news release, which originated the item, describes how the college’s £4.5M award will be used for three of its graphene projects,

In one project worth £1.35 million, led by Professor Tony Kinloch from the Department of Mechanical Engineering with colleagues from the Departments of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, researchers will explore how combining graphene with current materials can improve the properties of aeroplane parts, such as making them resistant to lightning-strikes. They hope the same technology can also be used to develop coatings for wind-turbine blades, to make them scratch resistant and physically tougher in extreme weather conditions.

Professor Eduardo Saiz, from the Department of Materials, will develop new manufacturing processes using liquids that contain tiny suspended particles of graphene, in order to reduce the cost of currently expensive industrial techniques. This project will receive £1.91 million funding and involves scientists from Imperial’s Departments of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, and Queen Mary, University of London.

£1.37 million of funding received by Professor Norbert Klein, also from the Department of Materials and shared with Imperial’s Department of Physics, will pay for new equipment to deposit extremely thin sheets of graphene, so scientists can explore its electrical properties. They hope that new medical scanning technology may be developed as a result of how graphene responds to high frequency electromagnetic waves, from microwave to terahertz frequencies and all the way to the wavelengths of visible light.

As noted on numerous occasions here  (most recently in an Oct. 11, 2012 posting), there is a competition for two prizes of 1 billion Euros each to be awarded to two European research projects in the European Union’s Future and Emerging Technologies Initiatives (FET). There are six flagship projects (whittled down from a larger number a few years ago) competing to be one of the two winners. There’s more about the FET Graphene Flagship project here. As you might expect, the Brits are heavily involved in the graphene flagship project.

Phyto-mining and environmental remediation flower in the United Kingdom

Researchers on a £3 million research programme called “Cleaning Land for Wealth” (CL4W) are confident they’ll be able to use flowers and plants to clean soil of poisonous materials (environmental remediation) and to recover platinum (phyto-mining). From the Nov. 21, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

A consortium of researchers led by WMG (Warwick Manufacturing Group) at the University of Warwick are to embark on a £3 million research programme called “Cleaning Land for Wealth” (CL4W), that will use a common class of flower to restore poisoned soils while at the same time producing perfectly sized and shaped nano sized platinum and arsenic nanoparticles for use in catalytic convertors, cancer treatments and a range of other applications.

The Nov. 20, 2012 University of Warwick news release, which originated the news item, describes both how CL4W came together and how it produced an unintended project benefit,

A “Sandpit” exercise organised by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) allowed researchers from WMG (Warwick Manufacturing group) at the University of Warwick, Newcastle University, The University of Birmingham, Cranfield University and the University of Edinburgh to come together and share technologies and skills to come up with an innovative multidisciplinary research project that could help solve major technological and environmental challenges.

The researchers pooled their knowledge of how to use plants and bacteria to soak up particular elements and chemicals and how to subsequently harvest, process and collect that material. They have devised an approach to demonstrate the feasibility in which they are confident that they can use common classes of flower and plants (such as Alyssum), to remove poisonous chemicals such as arsenic and platinum from polluted land and water courses potentially allowing that land to be reclaimed and reused.

That in itself would be a significant achievement, but as the sandpit progressed the researchers found that jointly they had the knowledge to achieve much more than just cleaning up the land.

As lead researcher on the project Professor Kerry Kirwan from WMG at the University of Warwick explained:

“The processes we are developing will not only remove poisons such as arsenic and platinum from contaminated land and water courses, we are also confident that we can develop suitable biology and biorefining processes (or biofactories as we are calling them) that can tailor the shapes and sizes of the metallic nanoparticles they will make. This would give manufacturers of catalytic convertors, developers of cancer treatments and other applicable technologies exactly the right shape, size and functionality they need without subsequent refinement. We are also expecting to recover other high value materials such as fine chemicals, pharmaceuticals, anti-oxidants etc. from the crops during the same biorefining process.”

I last mentioned phyto-mining in my Sept. 26, 2012 post with regard to an international project being led by researchers at the University of York (UK).  The biorefining processes (biofactories) mentioned by Kirwan takes the idea of recovering platinum, etc. one step beyond phyto-mining recovery.

Here’s a picture of the flower (Alyssum) mentioned in the news release,

Alyssum montanum photographed by myself in 1988, Unterfranken, Germany [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alyssum]

From the Wikipedia essay (Note: I have removed links],

Alyssum is a genus of about 100–170 species of flowering plants in the family Brassicaceae, native to Europe, Asia, and northern Africa, with the highest species diversity in the Mediterranean region. The genus comprises annual and perennial herbaceous plants or (rarely) small shrubs, growing to 10–100 cm tall, with oblong-oval leaves and yellow or white flowers (pink to purple in a few species).

University of Liverpool announces work on HIV/AIDS nanomedicines

Given that Vancouver (Canada) is a world centre for HIV/AIDS  research (courtesy of Dr. Julio Montaner‘s work), the Aug. 30, 2012 news item on Nanowerk  about nanomedicines being developed at the University of Liverpool, which are less toxic therapeutic alternatives to current HIV/AIDS medications, caught my eye. From the news item,

Scientists at the University of Liverpool are leading a £1.65 million project to produce and test the first nanomedicines for treating HIV/AIDS.

There aren’t many details about how they are going to produce these nanomedicines other than what’s in these paragraphs in the Aug. 30, 2012 University of Liverpool news release,

The research project, funded by the [UK] Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), aims to produce cheaper, more effective medicines which have fewer side effects and are easier to give to newborns and children.

The new therapy options were generated by modifying existing HIV treatments, called antiretrovirals (ARVs). The University has recently produced ARV drug particles at the nanoscale which potentially reduce the toxicity and variability in the response different patients have to therapies. Drug nanoparticles have been shown to allow smaller doses in other disease areas which opens up possibilities to reduce drug side-effects and the risk of drug resistance. Nanoscale objects are less than one micron in size – a human hair is approximately 80 microns in diameter.

If I read the news release for this project rightly, there aren’t any immediate plans for making these nanomedicines widely available for treatment (from the University of Liverpool news release),

The project aims to deliver highly valuable data within three years and provide a platform for continual development and testing during that time

Elsewhere in the news release they do mention clinical trials,

Professor Andrew Owen, from the University’s Department of Molecular and Clinical Pharmacology, added: “We have integrated an assessment of pharmacology and safety early in the research and this has allowed us to rapidly progress lead options for clinical trials. The work has been conducted with the Medical Research Council (MRC) Centre for Drug Safety Science also based at the University.”

“Our data so far looks really exciting, offering the potential to reduce the doses required to control the HIV virus.  This work builds on initiatives by Médecins Sans Frontières and other groups to seek ways to improve ARV therapy and could have real benefits for the safety of ARVs globally. Importantly we also hope to reduce the costs of therapy for resource-limited countries where the burden of disease is highest.”

Interestingly, the other mention of taking this medicine into the field is in a  photo caption for the research team’s other featured member,

Professor Steve Rannard: “This project is the first step towards taking nanomedicine options out of our labs and into the clinic”

Good luck to them all!

Cold Water Washing Initiative

Are diamonds going to be everywhere including our clothes detergents? From the June 26, 2012 news item on physorg.com,

Nanodiamonds, pieces of carbon less than ten-thousandths the diameter of a human hair, have been found to help loosen crystallized fat from surfaces in a project led by research chemists at the University of Warwick that transforms the ability of washing powders to shift dirt in eco friendly low temperature laundry cycles.

The June 26, 2012 news release on EurekAlert provides some information about current issues with detergents and coldwater washing,

These new findings tackle a problem that forces consumers to wash some of their laundry at between 60 and 90 degrees centigrade more than 80 times a year. Even with modern biological washing powders, some fats and dirt cannot be removed at the lower temperatures many prefer to use for their weekly wash.

A desire to reduce the significant energy burden of regular high temperature washes, and understand the behaviour of these new materials, brought University of Warwick scientists and colleagues at Aston University together in a project funded by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and P&G plc.

This “Cold Water Cleaning Initiative” funded a group of chemists, physicists and engineers led by Dr Andrew Marsh in the University of Warwick’s Department of Chemistry to explore how new forms of carbon might work together with detergents in everyday household products.

Here according to researcher Andrew Marsh is what happens when you add nanodiamonds to your detergent/washing powder (from the June 26, 2012 news release),

“We found that the 5 nanometre diamonds changed the way detergents behaved at 25 degrees centigrade, doubling the amount of fat removed when using one particular commercial detergent molecule. Even at temperatures as low as 15 degrees centigrade, otherwise hard-to-remove fat could be solubilised from a test surface. The physical and chemical insight already gained paves the way for future research to explore how this unique behaviour might be exploited in other ways.”

There is no mention of what happens to the clothing when exposed to nanodiamonds in the wash water.

What is Dr. Who’s sonic screwdriver?

Dr. Who, a British Broadcasting Corporation science fiction television programme, has an enormous following worldwide. I am not one of those followers as you might have guessed from the headline, which means I didn’t understand this pop culture reference, from the April 23, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

For fans of the hit series Doctor Who, the Sonic Screwdriver will be a familiar device. But now an international team of EU-funded researchers has taken equipment designed for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)-guided focused ultrasound surgery and demonstrated a real Sonic Screwdriver, lifting and spinning a free-floating 10 cm-diameter rubber disk with an ultrasound beam.

I’m going to concentrate on the project first since this EU (European Union) funded project has a somewhat confusing configuration, which I’ll try to tease apart later in this posting. From the news item,

Dr Mike MacDonald, of the Institute for Medical Science and Technology (IMSAT) in the [University of Dundee, Scotland] United Kingdom, comments: ‘This experiment not only confirms a fundamental physics theory but also demonstrates a new level of control over ultrasound beams which can also be applied to non-invasive ultrasound surgery, targeted drug delivery and ultrasonic manipulation of cells.’

The theory the team were testing had not previously been proved in a single experiment; it is valid for both sound and light, and is used in fields like quantum communications and biophotonics. The theory states that the ratio of angular momentum to energy in a vortex beam is equal to the ratio of the number of intertwined helices to the frequency of the beam.

Dr Christine Demore from IMSAT comments: ‘For the first time, our experimental results confirm directly the validity of this fundamental theory. Previously this ratio could only be assumed from theory as the angular momentum and power in a beam had only ever been measured independently.’

The ultrasound beam generated by the researchers resembles the ‘double-helix’ structure of DNA but with many more twisted strands, or helices. This vortex beam generates a rotating, angular component of momentum that can exert torque on an object. In the recent publication, they showed how they could generate vortex beams with many intertwined helices, using a 1 000-element ultrasound transducer array as an acoustic hologram. These beams are so powerful they can levitate and spin the 90 g-disk made of ultrasonic absorber in water.

Here’s a 30 secs. video of the ‘sonic screwdriver’,

Ray Walters in his April 20, 2012 article  for Geek.com offers a description using measurements that are more commonly used in Canada and the US for what we’re seeing in the video [I have removed a link from the following passage],

Depicted in the video above, the “Sonotweezers” [aka, sonic screwdriver] project as it’s officially known, uses an ultrasound beam that is structured like a strand of DNA. The difference being that there are many more twisted strands that can be used to bring torque to bear on objects for movement. The team has used its device to levitate and spin a 3.17 ounce, 10cm diameter rubber disk that was suspended in water.

To make this happen, the research team used a 1000-element ultrasound transducer array to create what’s called an acoustic hologram.

The project known as ‘Sonotweezers’ at the University of Dundee,  is part of a larger European Union project, Nanoporation, which is investigating drug delivery to cancer cell using MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and guided focused ultrasound. The larger project includes a couple of Israeli teams, neither of which seem to be involved with the Sonotweezers/sonic screwdriver project. I gather some of the funding for the Sonotweezers project comes from the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Ressearch Council (EPSRC). You can find out more about the Scottish team at the University of Dundee, Sonotweezers, and EPSRC in the April 19, 2012 press release on the University of Dundee website.

Care to commercialize graphene in the UK?

The UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has announced a call for proposals for research that is directly linked to commercializing graphene. From the Feb. 28, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

The aim of the call, where there will be up to £20 million of funding available, is to focus research on manufacturing processes and technologies linked to graphene in order to accelerate the development and generation of novel devices, applications technologies and systems.

In 2010 the Nobel Prize for Physics was awarded to UK researchers Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov from the University of Manchester, who demonstrated graphene in 2004. EPSRC has funded their work for over a decade.

The call is divided into two parts: research programmes and equipment bids. EPSRC is committing £10 million to the call, with up to £10 million more available by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) to fund the capital equipment as part of either research programmes or for equipment-only bids.

Proposals for research programmes should range between £1.5 million and £3 million and should seek to understand how to commercialise and enhance the ‘manufacturability’ of graphene as the material of choice. Programmes should have an emphasis on applications, strongly align with industry needs and foster an environment of collaboration across the UK. The programmes of research should also focus on developing people to stimulate the future sustainability of UK graphene engineering research and future commercialisation opportunities across a variety of sectors.

Proposals for equipment are to allow groups with existing capability in graphene research to help researchers advance the commercialisation of graphene and improve the emphasis on applications.

There’s a 10 pp. PDF description for the call, which includes gems like this, as well as, details about the call,

Recognising this opportunity, on 3 October 2011, the Chancellor (George Osborne, UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer [roughly equivalent to a Minister of Finance]) pledged a £50M investment to establish the UK as a graphene research and technology ‘hub’ with the aim to capture the commercial benefits of graphene (http://www.epsrc.ac.uk/newsevents/news/2012/Pages/graphenehub.aspx). The chancellor stated “We will fund a national research programme that will take this Nobel prize-winning discovery from the British laboratory to the British factory floor…” “We’re going to get Britain making things again.” (p. 2)

There’s a six-page PDF called an Expression of Interest for interested parties to fill out. For anyone who experiences difficulties filling out PDF forms and/or submitting them, there is a set of guidelines.

Frankly, I found the description for eligibility in the EPSRC Funding Guide a little confusing but it seems a fairly safe guess that pretty much everyone involved in the proposed project, investigators, postdoctoral students, and research assistants must be resident in the UK.

It’s fascinating to track this graphene effort, which seems designed to lift the UK from its economic doldrums, from afar. It seems there’s some sort of announcement on this front on a weekly basis, at least (my most recent posting about these efforts is Feb. 21, 2012).

My experience with these kinds of announcements is that they are often recycled. For example, an announcement is made in Oct. 2011 about government funding for graphene research then months later, a research funding agency announces a call for proposals with references to the amount of research money available. Next on the agenda will be an announcement of the recipients for the grants. This practice can make it seem as if the second and third announcement are for new funds when it is money that was promised months before.

Funding competition for nanotechnology-enabled healthcare solutions in UK

This UK funding competition for nanotechnology-enabled healthcare projects is the first time I’ve seen where they offer the academic and business funding together.  From the Sept. 14, 2011 news item on Nanowerk,

The Technology Strategy Board in partnership with the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is to invest up to £9m in grant funding to support highly innovative, business led collaborative research projects focussed on nanoscale technology-enabled solutions for the healthcare sector.

The competition encourages applications for business-led projects focussing on the targeted delivery of therapeutic agents and diagnostics, where nanoscale technologies are at the heart of the innovation.

Here are some more details from the Technology Strategy Board Competition page,

Up to £3m will be invested by the Technology Strategy Board for business and up to £6m by EPSRC for academia.

All projects must be business-led and collaborative, with at least one partner drawn from large or small businesses, academia, research and technology organisations, or not-for-profit organisations. We will invest in projects requiring a public sector funding contribution of typically between £500,000 and £2m over the whole project. We intend to invest in projects that, in the main, will contain a mix of applied research (attracting up to 50% public funding), and industry-orientated basic research (attracting up to 75% public funding).

The competition opens on 1 November 2011 and the deadline for registration is noon on 6 December 2011. A briefing day will be held on 15 November 2011.

To clarify my initial statement, I have seen situations where they cobble together funds from various agencies to cover the research and the business aspects of a project but I haven’t seen a joint offering here in Canada, at the federal level.

Democracy, participation, and science culture

Should citizens have any input into how science research is funded? Dan Hind in his Dec. 14, 2010 article, Time to democratise science, for New Scientist argues yes persuasively (from the article),

THE natural and social sciences exert a huge influence on the ways our societies develop. At present most of the funding for scientific research is controlled by the state and the private economy. Perhaps it is time to look at their track record and consider an alternative.

Science is not, and can never be, disinterested insofar as its objectives are concerned. Decisions to fund this research instead of that research can never be purely technical. Assessments of what is likely to produce interesting or useful knowledge are inevitably alloyed with the desires of those who control the money to develop particular forms of knowledge and with them new resources of power.

Given the mixed track record of the patrons of science it is surely time to consider an alternative. If we are serious about science as a public good, we should give the public control over the ways in which some – and I stress “some” – of its money is spent.

At the end of the article there is this note about the author,

Dan Hind is author of The Return of the Public (Verso), which argues for a new kind of participatory politics

There does seem to be seem sort of trend towards more participatory science as per citizen science or crowdsourced science projects such as Foldit (my Aug. 6, 2010 posting) and Phylo (my Dec. 3, 2010 posting).I’m not sure how much traction participatory science research funding is going to find. That said, there was a UK project run by EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research) where members of the public were allowed to ‘vote’ on particular projects. You can read more about the project in the May 25, 2009 news item on Nanowerk describing the grants that were chosen. From the news item,

Ten research grants to help solve some of the biggest health problems facing the UK have been awarded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

The projects focus on developing new techniques for screening and treating major public health issues such as cancer, stroke, AIDS, influenza, MRSA and dementia.

The grants, worth £16.5m, have been given by the EPSRC, acting as the lead Research Council in a cross Research Council Programme called “Nanoscience through Engineering to Application.”

Segue: As for participatory politics (as per Dan Hind), I’ve noticed a local (Vancouver, Canada) backlash response to the notion of public consultations (city government officials want to increase population densities). Oddly enough, when people take the time to participate in a ‘consultation’ they expect that at least some of their comments will have an impact on the decisions that are being made. I gather some experts find this irksome and a challenge to their professional authority.

Back to the main topic: My impression is that the UK enjoys a science culture that is not to be found in Canada—not yet, anyway. There is discussion about public dialogue and engagement in science not just in the UK but elsewhere too that simply doesn’t exist in Canada. Yes, there are a few fragile attempts at creating a science culture here. I’m thinking of the Café Scientifique groups, Canada’s National Science and Technology Week, and the open houses put on by the universities but there really isn’t much.

The Year of Science (a science culture project) was declared in the province of British Columbia (BC) in the fall of 2010. From my Oct. 14, 2010 posting,

To inspire young minds across the province and foster a culture of research and innovation Premier Gordon Campbell today proclaimed the 2010-2011 school year as the Year of Science in B.C.

It’s good to see these kinds of initiatives, unfortunately this particular one is undercut by news such as this (from the Dec. 2, 2010 article, Teacher blasts cuts to Vancouver school science budgets; School science budgets slashed by 56 per cent compared to last year, by Naiobh O’Connor for the Vancouver Courier),

School science budgets were slashed by 56 per cent compared to last year and the district now allots only $4.61 per student each year to cover expenses—far below what Mike Hengeveld, Templeton secondary’s science department head and teacher, argues is adequate.

Limited budgets mean it’s difficult to replace equipment like broken beakers or to buy new equipment. Hengeveld even worries about buying a dozen eggs for a relatively cheap egg drop experiment or what’s needed to grow crystals for chemistry class.

“If I went and bought iodized salt or de-iodized salt and [students] make a solution by heating stuff in a beaker—which I hope doesn’t break—if I spend 15 bucks on salt at the store, I’ve blown three or four students’ worth of budget for them to learn how to grow crystals. It’s neat, but I can’t do that in a science class every day. I would just completely and totally run out of money and that’s just on cheap stuff,” he said.

I’m not trying to fault the Year of Science initiative just pointing out that the initiative is problematic when the science education budget for schools cannot support even simple research projects.

This is a larger issue that I can adequately cover in this posting but I did want to draw attention to some of the fragilities of the Canadian situation (and our own situation in BC) vis à vis creating a science culture and/or democratizing science.

Meanwhile, I read with some envy a report titled, International Comparison of Public Dialogue on Science and Technology,  from a UK organization, Sciencewise-ERC – the UK’s national centre for public dialogue in policy making involving science and technology issues. Canada is not mentioned and I imagine that’s due to the fact that we don’t have any public dialogue to speak of.

ETA Mar.3.11: I made some minor changes for clarity (added Segue: and Back to the main topic: and removed an extra space.