Impact! campaign overview with EPSRC's Chief Executive

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EPSRC invests more than £750 million a year in research and postgraduate training to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change.

In this film Chief Executive Dave Delpy talks about the wide range of EPSRC funded research across the UK and how science and engineering will help meet the challenges of the 21st Century.

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David Delpy (DD) – EPSRC Chief Executive

What we would like to achieve with this Impact campaign is to make it clear to a wider audience what the enormous benefits are of funding basis science and basic engineering. One hears regularly about new developments in the clinical area or in the monitoring of climate change and yet these are all dependent upon the chemists, physicists, mathematicians, engineers who are all being supported by the EPSRC .

MRI , of course, is an obvious one. The practicalities of MRI require the sort of engineering of really quite complex instruments. There are a whole pile of underpinning disciplines which feed into the success of what is now seen as simple MRI .

The whole of climate modelling relies upon supercomputers, satellites up in space, temperature, wind speed, humidity monitoring, all of which have come out of physics, chemistry, engineering.

The research that we do is absolutely essential to both the ability to live within our means and to live within a sustainable and non-renewable environment, and yet maintain the standard of living that we currently enjoy and want to improve upon.

At the moment we’ve got a very large energy programme and this is part of a cross-council programme that we’re spending almost £400 million on, over a three-year period.

[Researcher talks about his project and then fades out back to DD]

We have work on both tidal energy and wind energy and computational work on, for instance, the air flow around wind turbines both to improve their efficiency, to reduce the noise, to minimise the impact that they have on the environment because we are going to have to have an awful lot more wind turbines around. And there’s work on devices that convert sunlight into electricity efficiently.

One of the programmes that we are currently trying to build upon is called our digital economy programme and that’s where we’re trying to really see if we can ensure that developments that we’ve funded in what’s conventionally being called the information and technology and computing areas. Those new techniques, those developments, can really be seen to benefit other areas of society. Some of the techniques that we’ve developed have already been picked up in the healthcare area, but we want to now expand that into the retail area, into the creative industries and parts of society that perhaps don’t see themselves as the natural users of technology, but in fact when you start to look at exactly how those industries work they are dependent on what are called the STEM subjects, science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

We need to renew our manufacturing base and ensure that our manufacturing industries are no longer employing the technologies of the last hundred years almost.

One of the mechanisms that we’ve used and used extremely successfully in providing both training and research is the IMRC's (the Innovative Manufacturing Research Centres).

[Researcher talks about his project and then fades out back to DD]

The IMRC's bring the best experts in the academic domain together with the best companies, together with a critical mass of research – PhD students and post doctorates. This mechanism is a way of solving both the problems that society has and providing the skilled people who can apply those solutions.

The question of how we provide training is a really important one and the classical PhD in the UK was one student and one researcher spending three years delving into the minutia of some research topic. It finished up developing, I would argue, PhD students who had a real knowledge in-depth but often couldn’t put their work in context. Through the mechanism of doctoral training centres the students are doing individual projects but for their first year they get some additional teaching in skills that industry says they would like students to have, but more important than that they are more exposed to one another and therefore really get to understand what’s happening outside their discipline. It means that when they leave university and go out into industry they can see the value of team working, they can argue how a particular skill may be used in a much broader context and they have some additional transferable skills which industry wants. I think it’s the mechanism for the future.

Apart from America, the second place in the world for academic excellence is the UK. We are the sixth largest manufacturing economy in the world.

We have, in fact, a £154 billion-a-year turnover coming from manufacturing, the majority of which is underpinned by science, technology, engineering and mathematics. If we lost that underpinning we could very easily lose what I think is going to be the future of the economy as we come out of recession.