Science Interviews

Interview

Sun, 2nd Aug 2009

State of the art facility opens at the Babraham Institute

Lord Drayson, Science Minister

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Chris - Now, also on the news this week, the Babraham Institute, which is located just outside Cambridge, has opened a new laboratory, and so we sent Ben Valsler down there to attend the opening and also find out what was going on.  Heís with us to tell us a bit about it now.  Hello, Ben?

Babraham InstituteBen -   Hello.

Chris -   So what was this new centre about?

Ben -   Well, this is the Instituteís new Bioscience Support Unit.  It cost £17 million to build and a further £5 million to equip. And it contains some state-of-the-art technology, including some funky robots that I was watching.  The Babraham Institute itself researches various biological mechanisms - how they work, how they sometimes go wrong.  And this gives us some insight into things like the causes of cancer, the causes of heart disease and actually the way that we age as well.  Now this sort of research underpins development of new therapies and this new Bioscience Support Unit will not only make the research easier and more accurate and quicker but itís actually designed in such a way to be really flexible, which makes the whole thing future-proof and should secure that investment for a good while yet.  The Babraham Institute itself is funded by the BBSRC, thatís the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.  They get their money from the UK government and Lord Drayson, whoís the science minister, was there to open the unit.  Twenty-two million pounds is a lot of investment especially during a financial crisis like this one but he believes that science is a priority.

Lord Drayson -   Science is vitally important to the UK, in part, because one has to ask the question, given the way in which the world is developing, given the UKís position in 2009 in that world, what are the things which the UK is going to be particularly good at?  What is it weíre going to earn our living in, as a country?  And the answer to that has to be science and the commercialisation of science, in terms of innovative new products and services.  We canít succeed as a nation by competing on this, if you like, low-tech side of life.  Our contribution has to be from those areas where the intellectual contribution that the in-depth understanding that we have shown over the decades Britain is particularly good at, is our future.  So my job as Science Minister is to raise the profile of science, to make heroes out of scientists and science entrepreneurs; to get the general public, who sometimes see science as a bit of an elitist endeavour, Babraham Inst Backsomething that is done by a group of brainy people but it doesnít really affect them; to understand that we, as a nation, have to be both scientifically literate, because science is going to be so important to our futures, but also comfortable in discussing some of the big issues in science.  And if we can do that, we can continue being a world leader in science and if we maintain our position as world leader in science, we will have probably the happy and prosperous society.

Ben -   Lord Drayson also commended the Babraham Institute for engaging local schools and the wider community because having a future-proof research facility is only any good if we have a good supply of future scientists.  He said that thereís one clear way to stay competitive in science in the future...

Lord Drayson -   Continue to invest in it and maintain our focus on excellence and making sure that weíre maintaining a strong pipeline of young people coming through from the schools who get excited by science at school; that science enthusiasm maintained as theyíre growing up, studying at science universities and coming through to be the next generation of leading scientific researchers.  If you can develop a sort of scientific approach to living life, of noticing things and asking questions: why is that like that?  Even at the most, if you like, most mundane level.

I mean, the thing that fascinating me as the science minister is that when you get to meet really brilliant scientists itís often something early in their life that they noticed which actually got them switched on to science.  The more we can get people to make that switch go on, the more likely weíll have a positive pipeline of young scientists coming to look forward and thatís going to be very important to our success as a country.

Ben -   So it now seems that doing Kitchen Science experiments with your children is both fun and itís patriotic!  That was Lord Drayson at the opening of the Babraham Instituteís new Bioscience Support Unit.

Chris -   Itís pretty impressive youíve got to talk to him.  I think it was fantastic.

Ben -   I was quite honoured though and he was really nice and he was very down to Earth.  I didnít get the impression that,  you know, he was there to see the little people at the opening, but he was very much with us, very much supporting what they were doing, very much supporting science in the UK.

Chris -   Thank you very much.  That was Ben Valsler who went down to the Babraham Institute when they opened the new facility this week. 

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