Transcript for EPSRC Physical Sciences Town meeting video
Dr Andrew Bourne, EPSRC Theme Lead for Physical Sciences
A warm welcome to our Physical Sciences Town Meeting today, it's great that so many people could come and find out what the physical sciences programme has been doing. What I want to talk through is some of the things that we have been up to as a team. I appreciate that there is probably a lot of nervousness around the concept of shaping, so hopefully we are going to go through some of that as well today. What I would like to get across is that we have been working very closely with the physical sciences programme over the last three and a half years, whilst I've been leading this programme, so hopefully there is an element of trust that has been built up between the programme and the community over that time. I think a lot of what we are doing will be taken forward and we will continue to work with that trust as we carry on.
EPSRC is an organisation that continually engages with the community, that's both academic and the industry representative stakeholders, but it's a process that hopefully many of you will recognise that's not just happened over the last two months, but something that has been happening for many years. So as a programme, or as a theme, Physical Sciences has brought together a number of different advice streams and information sources that's been setting the framework for the future of our funding.
Clearly there has been a focus on some of the areas in the decisions we have taken, but I want to get across to you that the decisions have to be taken in terms of a broader context and that's part of the role of EPSRC to balance differing needs across the portfolio. I want to get across that setting priorities for EPSRC is not new, we've got some examples of things that we have done in the past and clearly as we have said when we have engaged with some of the learned societies and when we have been talking to our strategic partners, both at university and industry level, we continue to welcome evidence as part of this on-going process. So some of the slides some of you will have seen, some of the slides are the same that might have gone through our strategic advisory team, but there are also some new slides as well so hopefully there is something for everyone. This one is something we have been using as part of putting the shaping programme together, just to reflect that actually the world is changing, there continues to be a lot of economic uncertainty, there are a number of global challenges out there and I can just think of the ones that are important in terms of our portfolio, in terms of energy, healthcare, global uncertainty. They are all important areas that research needs to contribute to and one thing that is not changing is that EPSRC has responsibility to fund research in the next ten to fifty year timeframe. In terms of the final statement, whilst EPSRC is setting up the framework it still continues to be an important time to work together and clearly through peer review and the research proposals that will be submitted we will continue to work together.
Thinking about the scientific landscape in 2011 the big success is that the UK continues to be the most productive country in terms of citations achieved per pound invested, that's a real achievement. But the second bullet point is some of the issues that we are facing; we actually perform less well against competitive countries in terms of overall volumes of publications. There is still a lot of research publications out there and science that doesn't get cited from the UK base. Equally there are other countries that are upping their game in terms of their research investment. We know some of the big investments are being made in China, South Korea, Brazil and Russia and that the share of global citations is also changing which is illustrated on this next slide which shows that, over the two reporting periods the share of EPSRC citations has relatively remained stable which again is a good thing, but the USA is significantly contracting and there are some other areas that are actually significantly growing. So whilst we are keeping our head above water we need to think about how best to use our investments. I'm not going to read this whole slide because it will be on the web at some point, but just to go through our governance in terms of our organisation. Many of you will appreciate that our senior decision making body is Council; it's responsible for determining our policy priorities and strategy and is appointed by minsters. We also have an internal Resource Audit Committee which looks at efficiency, as it says on the tin, audits parts of the process just to make sure they are robust in terms of a wide reckoned academic and industrial community. We now have a newly formed strategic advisory network and that's replaced the former Technical Opportunities user Panel and Society Issues Panel and then all the themes have Strategic Advisory Teams with a much more focused representative of the research community. I spend a lot of time discussing issues and working through some ideas that we have as part of that process. And just to be clear that Council is at the centre of the scoping of the current EPSRC Strategic Plan and Delivery Plan, so the priorities and the goals set out were clearly signed by Council. We work very closely with Council about the approach for shaping which was not to take a wide consultation, but use our unique position to put together the evidence and test recommendations with members of the SAT and key representatives of the community. The actual exemplars were tested, not the actual areas themselves, but exemplars about the approach used were also tested with Council.
So, unless you've been in a hole and not looking at anything that EPSRC has been doing, these are the three goals that EPSRC has set out in its current Strategic Plan. Shaping capability which of course is the main issue that we are thinking about today, but equally we need to be thinking about developing leaders and delivering excellence with impact. The three are interrelated and you can't do one without the other so in terms of some of the shaping decisions we made, we are also thinking about what that means in terms of the leadership and the culture within the research community. Clearly we have got some excellence impact that is being demonstrated by our researchers and one of the key things that we want to do is that we need to make it smarter. We are not trying come up with new areas that we haven't thought about and second guess things, but some people do it very well and how can we share that best practice to make sure more people do it better.
In terms of the landscape, this is something that, as I said in the beginning is an on-going process, so I could go back many years but I will start at 2009. In 2009 EPSRC published its EPSRC landscapes. It had swat analysis in there, it had our key research groups and it had our studentship investment areas. We had opportunities for people to give us feedback including when we went out on community visits. Then you can see the time line had the development that was the strategic plan, the delivery plan that was then formed once we had the delivery plan settlement and finally we started publishing our portfolio in July 2011 and there is obviously a commitment as stated on the web that it will be completed by March 2012. Therefore it is quite clear that there's been on-going engagement throughout that process. So this is the new style of the portfolio that we are being presented with, which at the heart is where it says mathematical sciences, engineering, physical sciences and ICT is the national capability. That's the core research and that's where the bulk of my research funding will continue to be invested. You can see outside of the rings are actually the challenge themes and clearly encompassing all that, and actually quite challenging at the moment, is the importance of infrastructure where we have severe limitations at the moment on those investments.
So this line is really basically to say well what have we done as EPSRC employees in terms of understanding the current portfolio. We have been looking at the value of EPSRC support in the research area, we have been looking at the number of people receiving support in that area, we have been looking at some of the major investments that have previously been made and obviously we have been looking at the links between the current area for physical sciences and the broader capability and challenge themes. It's really important I think moving forward and the intention of Council is not just to think of physical sciences as a physical sciences programme, it's what physical sciences also underpins some of the other capability themes in engineering and ICT, mathematical sciences and also what is physical sciences doing to actually contribute to energy, to healthcare, digital economy etc. And as part of that we've been working very closely with our university partners as well. Actually thinking about what makes a good portfolio, we've been thinking in terms of three kinds of dimensions, in terms of the quality of the portfolio, the importance of the portfolio and the capacity of the portfolio. Here are some examples that we have been using as part of that framework, so examples of international standing could be where something might when a Nobel prize for example, or publications in high citation journals, where there is potentially an area of research that has a very disruptive potential where there is a unique capability for the UK, so you might think of something like anti hydrogen and here is something that the UK excels at and there is a very small research team working on that.
Clearly the impact on UK economy science does have a global impact, but as a tax payer we have to think first about what might be to the benefit of the UK and clearly with energy, healthcare and global uncertainty and all the challenge themes we need to think about what is contributing to the UK and of course that the fact that there are other benefits to global research activities is fantastic. We need to think about how we enable future and emerging industries so, for example, graphene here is something that we don't have a clue about, where that's going yet, but we've got some fantastic research going on there and we now need to think about working to see whether it can actually be made a reality into something that delivers a good return to the UK investments. Whether they are contributing to other societal challenges and particularly for physical sciences, to what extent is the key under-pinning research area, for example, much of my portfolio is very important for BBSRC, STFC, MRC and NERC as well.
We also have to think about the current size of EPSRC investment, how much have we actually got to spend on some of these research areas, we need to think about what else is being spent in that area that is not through EPSRC and clearly we have to think about what the user needs are. So our approach has clearly been articulated and it is on the web for you to see although it might not be as obvious, you actually have to click on the previous screen on the 'Our approach' text to actually see all this - I wouldn't want you to think that it was just a two liner which is what the introduction on the previous web page says, but there's a lot of detail on the approach here. I'm just going to walk you through some of the knowledge and evidence that we have used. So what is it, here we have funding data, reports and reviews, grand challenges, strategic university discussion, business views, engagement with learned societies and the on-going engagement of EPSRC.
I've shown the next few slides to my SAT, they were presented at the standing conference of physics professors and also showed them to the RSC Science policy board and so the point of this slide here is really to understand where we are at the moment, which is an important starting place, so this is all in relation to the physical sciences programs, the positioning of these other themed areas should be in the context of physical sciences and not necessarily between the other theme areas. This is representing individual researchers that we support and whether they get their funding currently from both the Physical Sciences programme and the other thematic programmes in the portfolio. You can see there's quite a lot of overlap with engineering and with ICT and that's probably not surprising, because we have a strong chemical engineering portfolio and the way the materials funding is distributed there's clearly strong overlap with the ICT programme and applications. But what is very interesting is there is very little overlap between physical sciences and the manufacturing programme and particularly with the energy programme there is this little tiny wedge down here which is the kind of overlap between physical sciences and energy. Now that's not to say that there aren't people working in both portfolios, but that's how our current portfolio looks and I think it gives us cause to question about is that the best way to encourage the underpinning research in the challenge areas as well as the main national capability areas as well.
So this is the physical sciences blobs that some people may or may not have heard about. This is really just trying to look at our current funding and actually think about well how does the landscape look and so here these are clusters of sub themes, so these aren't specifically a certain group of sub themes, we have tried to do it in a stylistic way to give a representation of the portfolio. Here is the chemistry investment with physical chemistry, synthetic chemistry and analytical sciences. We have our physics contribution here in terms of plasmas and lasers atomic molecular, condensed matter physics, bio physics etc and then we have our materials investments here as well, where we have got materials for energy, functional, ceramics etc so that gives you the current portfolio that's been taken from data on Grants on the Web put across in a visual way for you.
Difficult to read but you will be able to look at these in more detail, so this is plotting the major research investments in that portfolio like programme grants and critical mass grants. I'm not sure if they are all on here, but actually they show that there are some areas that are very well served by some strategic investments, there are some areas like condensed matter physics, analytical sciences and catalysis for example, where there are little strategic investments in the portfolio as currently supported. Of course fusion is actually outside of this funding envelope here, so clearly this is starting to get a picture about where some of our research groupings are. The next thing we have done is we've looked at our fellowship portfolio and unsurprisingly for physical sciences theme is a very even distribution of fellowships amongst the portfolio, that's a good thing and I am sure you'll recognise that in your departments, but again it's important to show that we actually know and analyse this so here you can see and the different symbols relate to either both the current fellowships or the previous fellowships that we support, but the most important question is again is that the right distribution when we need to think about the capability of the research landscape. And finally we've been looking at our post graduate training portfolio, again work that we started prior to the spending review outcome, but it was important. We already thought at the time about what was the relationship of our research training portfolio to the research portfolio. Clearly we also need to understand the different types of post graduate training, so this represents our doctoral training grant, post-graduate training, our centre for doctoral training, our project studentship training and industrial case training, and so here you can see there are different sizes and levels of investment of training across the portfolio and the circles indicate where there are centres for doctoral training in those portfolios. The thing that I don't think has been added to this slide yet is that I think there are now some LSI doctoral training centres that are also part of the physical sciences theme.
So let's talk about report and reviews. As I said when I was going around the community in 2009/2010 that the physical sciences has been very privileged, you might argue some might say very unfortunate that we've been reviewed to death. So we've had a chemistry international review, we've had a material international review; we've had an RCUK Wakeham review of physics. So these have clearly given us lots of evidence and opinions about the portfolio and most recently there's been the RCUK review on energy. Both the chemistry and physics reviews have formulated action plans that we have taken forward as a council and so clearly some of the actions that we've been doing follow very much on from some of the issues raised in those international reviews. There are clearly many other streams of evidence, there's been the Research Assessment Exercise, we've been looking at some other international reports that are out there that have been highlighted to us like the Directing Matter and Energy which are five grand challenges. We've talked about the landscapes, we've been working with the Royal Society of Chemistry with their CO3 and that's led to, I think, three reports, the third one which happened a couple of weeks ago where a colleague of the team was in China as part of that. There's the RSC roadmap on Chemistry for Tomorrows World. We did a review on nuclear physics and nuclear engineering with STFC and there is also a review of the nano science portfolio. I could go on, but there are quite a number of reports out there that we take into consideration and clearly there are training issues as well, so we have been working on the vitae reports about what researchers do clearly with organisations like TSB and BIS thinking about some of their advanced materials strategies. Not one of those reports will highlight a particular research area about whether it should be a grow, maintain or reduce, but contextually there's lots of information in there which EPSRC has a kind of a role in bringing together.
So in terms of community engagement physical sciences has been working very closely with the community on some grand challenges, so these were community consultations. If I think back to the chemists, the chemical sciences engineering grand challenge, we had an opportunity for all universities to submit. I think we received approximately 130 of potential ideas for grand challenges, we had a very open community driven workshop for chemistry, for physics we had a web survey that followed on from an advisory team meeting to come up with a number of different challenges. So all in all a conservative estimate of engagement as part of this grand challenge process has been 500-plus individuals, us talking to the directed assembly network on Friday and from their network I know that they have engaged in somewhere in excess of 400 people just for that network, moving it forward, so lots of community consultation as part of that process. You can read the report, we are just trying to get it re-instigated on the web as I think since the web has been re-stylised its dropped off, but we will get that put back on and also we have got the physics grand challenge survey which is also on the web. Again my colleague Emma, if I have not stolen too much of her thunder, will take you through some of that work after tea break.
So in terms of strategic university discussions some of you will be aware that we have had regular dialogue on shaping capability with senior management in a number of different universities - I would say without question there has been endorsement from senior management on the principle of shaping and we've shared information as the approach is developed. I can't say that we have shared everything on day one, but as the process has evolved we've certainly been talking with universities and we've certainly been asking for additional information, certainly we have at the institution I'm involved in. In confidence, and we can talk about this in a minute, we've not only been thinking about our own investments, but perhaps investments that universities are making, so what's important to the university, are you setting up another energy centre or nanotechnology centre or materials centre, let's try and get some intelligence about where the portfolio is going from a university perspective. Clearly universities get many income streams, they might get income from other research councils where many of you do, but also what other funding do you get that we might not be aware about, so industry contracts and finally a tough evaluation, where does the university see their own kind of research strengths in terms of the UK. So these have been put into knowledge maps. This is a stylised version because we did say quite openly with universities that these would be in confidence, so just trying to give a representation of what these knowledge maps might be, but basically they give a ring, like a tree, for each university and in each university they then have highlighted where they are major players, which is identified by a blue dot, whether they are a significant contributor, which is green, or where they are a contributor, which is lilac. I think, on the screen here and around the outside, there will be an orange ring if there is also a research area where they make significant funding from other sources and if it's a colour with a hatch symbol on it where the university has strategic intent. So round the outside we have research disciplines - this might be physics, chemistry materials for the physical sciences team, but similarly this has been done for all the themes in capability and then down here on a section would be a particular research area. So there has been quite a lot of work done on that, quite controversial when we started it off, but actually universities have willingly engaged and maybe as heads of department or heads of faculties you will have been consulted about what you think of strengths in your own institution.
Thinking about business, so EPSRC began a formalised engagement with business as far back as 2000 and I know that because that's one of my first jobs when I was promoted in EPSRC. We worked with sectors to better understand user needs for both research and training. The first outputs back in 2002 were some of these black documents which I think you might find hidden in the bows of a website somewhere, but I have got copies in the office. Here we have an approach where we have tried to put our understanding of how our research relates to a particular sector. Initially this was very much about a brokerage role, because we have a large portfolio of research, a lot of grants that are funded which may be impenetrable to the user to try and find out what research is going on, so we've been working very closely with people when they phone up and say do you know who might be researching an area X and we can put people into contact. So the formal list of sectors, may be quite traditional sectors that we have been working in, are listed here, but clearly one of the challenges, particularly if I take a large sector like aerospace it is not just understanding what the big primes are actually saying, but also what their suppliers and their secondary international organisations require. And now ten years later we have a number of strategic partners ranging in value and commitments, but I think there are about 28 of them starting at the letter a with Airbus, all the way up the Wellcome Trust and again all the strategic partners are listed on the website.
So learned societies. I hope that we have a very good relationship with the learned societies. We have certainly been working with them over a number of years with regular bi-laterals. I've listed here the meetings where we were talking about shaping in various forms, but I would like to think that if I go back to the international review of chemistry, the action plans and the outcomes from that were discussed in a lot of detail with senior management at the Royal Society of Chemistry. Equally with the Institute of Physics when we had the outcome of Wakeham. I very clearly remember having discussions with them about what it might mean for the physics community, what can EPSRC do to help and what where the core messages. So I'm not suggesting that there is any kind of major secret activity that has been undertaken, but this is typical of an on-going engagement with strategic partners and I'd like to think that moving forward that we will continue to work in partnership with those organisations. Clearly in terms of shaping we have been presenting the portfolio and landscape view at these meetings and certainly there was a meeting of all the learned societies on 14th July prior to the announcement of our shaping policy.
Finally engagements, I keep mentioning it because I think I want you to take that message away, but physical sciences has had 21 visits with the community since 2009, they were interactive, they were hopefully consultative, hopefully we were telling you something, hopefully you were telling us something. So typical engagement again, not uniform because things change over time, but we had an invitation for universities to tell us what their research strengths and weaknesses were and this was mapped into the 2009 landscapes exercise. We did a presentation at all 21 of the current strategy and current priorities of the program, as it was then. We had a choice of workshops and the most common ones were ones on peer review, early career and impact. We worked very closely because lots of people wanted advice on programme grants. We also had displays where we tried to get information and ideas on where you were working internationally and who you recognise as research leaders within the UK and finally there were Q&A sessions. I took most of the team to most of the visits so there was an opportunity for one to one networking and I had quite a lot of strategic discussions with senior management while the workshops were taking place. In terms of the landscapes, whilst they were published on the web we only had about 30 to 40 responses in total. And let's not forget that since April 2009 we have processed about 1600 proposals through the physical sciences team which translates into approximately 5600 reviews, at a conservative estimate, and every review is read by the office and that's been through forty or so prioritisation panels. So in terms of the action plans that might come out of the International review of chemistry and materials in the Wakeham review of physics, thinking about the grand challenges and the landscapes, much of this goes to our advisory streams and they've been taken along with us as we've undertaken the development of the theme area.
In terms of shaping, the first kind of priority is where we start to think about some of the challenges we're facing went back to the September 2010 joint meeting with TOP, UP and SIP. I've been walking through at the pace that I've known the information, so as we've had it we have shared it with the Strategic Advisory Team and we have a meeting this Thursday which I am sure will be a very interesting meeting and lively discussions there. We are not being insular, clearly we have a strong alignment with the healthcare programs so the Healthcare Strategic Advisory Team has also been looking at the physical sciences theme as part of their deliberations. Physical sciences, I'd like to think as being in a relatively strong position so we've been presenting exemplars to the TOP and UP at their meetings and they were giving us feedback on the types of things that we need to actually understand as part of shaping and of course Council have been taking oversight of the process on a regular basis. There is also an advocates meeting held with a number of colleagues across the UK on 24 May and some elements of shaping capability have clearly needed further work because we didn't get it right the first time, so there was a meeting in November thinking about EPSRC and its sponsorship role and actually on-going portfolio management in a new environment and quality importance and capacity, which I presented earlier today. Again I have been very emotive in actually what/how can you define those things, what is important, what is at capacity, so we worked very much with a sub set of members to try and bottom out those definitions and potentially the tool kit that we might use to populate the landscape moving forward.
So I said at the beginning that shaping is not new for EPSRC, so here are some examples where we have shaped on a research basis not on a schematic basis, so we've had interdisciplinary research centres and particularly in my portfolio area there has been activities in Quantum information and bio materials. I forget it's about eight years ago EPSRC was very innovative in actually forming a life sciences interface programme to really think about the research that we support at the interface between EPSRC, engineering and physical sciences, with other parts of the portfolio and that's been extremely successful. We've been signposting research so here we formed policy about research areas that were important in the past and so we've had physics with LSI, we currently have matter far from equilibrium and we also have control of self-assembly. And following on from the International review for example, where there was concern about actually how much outreach the chemistry community was doing, we had a big pitch to try and get communities to think more broadly than their own research portfolios, so this is just like a set of examples of things that have been happening on quite a regular basis.
So identifying the future shape, you will know by now that EPSRC has come up with three categories: grow, where a research area will be grown relative to other areas in the portfolio, that's quite important in a falling budgetary envelope; maintain, where research will be maintained relative to other areas; and reduce, it will be reduced relative to other areas in the portfolio. Quite clearly we will not be stopping, as is sometimes the perception I've heard, research funding in an area that's reduced. A reduced area is equally important to the programme in terms of capability as some of the grow areas, part of it is nudging and aligning the programme to get the best use of the investments that we have available and equally just because it's a grow area does not mean to say it's an easy ride. There will still be a lot of pressure on the peer review process to make sure only the very best research proposals are supported. But in all these three areas we may be encouraging some focus to think about asking, what are the main priorities that we see as a theme and as we've said repeatedly, but just to stress it again, that the changes would take gradually over time as the portfolio gets refreshed. We are not doing anything major to the existing investments that are already out there.
So some examples of strategies - what would be a realistic kind of approach in shaping and this is still very much work in progress so, for example, for cold atoms and molecules which is an area that we have identified for reduce, because of the capital limitations a focus around where we've made our previous investments, we can't afford new capital in new places, so therefore it seems to us quite reasonable to think about investing our resources where the facilities already exist. Bringing expertise together - so here I could use examples like Supergen that the engineering programme has done, where consortium building is actually again nothing new, for EPSRC to bring the right expertise together to tackle research challenges is something that's well within, I think, the responsibility of research councils. And focused towards a key research area in quantum optics, which is something else that we published as a strategy, is recognising that there's a very inter-related portfolio and actually you can't just reduce something in isolation, you have to think about the consequences of that and where you would like your additional investments to be.
Again a question that gets asked: 'What's actually changed as a result of engagement?'. I would like to think we've had a pretty good awareness of our portfolio so there hasn't been too much change, but there has been some change so, for example, anti-hydrogen which was an area that was severely at risk prior to the spending review because of the levels of cuts that we were facing, we were having to make decisions about whether that would be an area that we could maintain, whether we should be stopping it because actually in an international environment, and we have one key group or two key groups in the UK, what is our role in supporting that. When we actually shared with our Strategic Advisory Team the level of investment, they had recognition through things like, Physics World Break-through of the Year and in Nature and actually much of the investment would take that group through to 2014 therefore it was quite easy to actually come to the conclusion, with advice, that it should be a maintain portfolio, but when we are facing cuts one has to actually think about the portfolio in that area. If we take graphene, again prior to the Nobel prize, we already had it on our radar as a grow area because we are very successful of that. EPSRC has made significant investment in terms of science and innovation awards, but actually again on discussion with colleagues outside of the office, we understood better the relationship of graphene and its fundamental starting point on carbon based nanomaterials, looking at the previous investments and where there is a capacity to naturally grow it at a rate that might be qualified by the grow, we have merged these areas together and it's now a maintain category. If I take catalysis as a grow area when we've been talking to people we've had our evidence confirmed, our understanding, so actually the definition has remained the same, but because of dialogue and actually working with the community, as is the case in a couple of the examples, the definitions have been strengthened to better represent the portfolio.
Taking all that evidence together and bringing it together, this is the final outcome that we've come up with. This shows that the mapping of work in progress, you'll know by now whether you would be a green dot, a pink dot, an orange dot or a blue dot waiting for further instruction from the office, clearly has to come from the Strategic Advisory Team, where they pushed us very hard about the relationships between one area and another. So we know being alert to actually what changes you might make here and the impact it has on these other research areas, was a very important part of the discussion process and so that's the kind of work we have been doing. We've made some assessments and although the starting points are quite crude in terms of the size of the circles because some research areas are very small and some are very large, but for management purposes there are just three sized circles, this is the product of a lot of those deliberations over the last two years.
But physical sciences are not just doing it themselves; there is shaping and understanding going on across the whole portfolio. We have already established that we have been working with the healthcare team as well as manufacturing and energy, but this is an exemplar, which you will also find on the website, that actually they've looked at their portfolio in terms of technologies and they are listed here, but within each of these technologies they will link the research themes and sub themes in the capability part of the programme. You will see a consistent view across the portfolio so you will not find physical sciences growing something and another part of the portfolio reducing it. Basically if it's a grow for a programme, for a theme area, it's a grow for the organisation and vice versa. If it's a maintain, it's a maintain for the organisation as well. It's a dynamic process - this is where we are, we have mapped the research portfolio and we've identified the direction of research areas. Nothing will happen until we get proposals coming into the portfolio and thinking about the future of replenishing that. Or course new ideas will come in from left field and I can't think of a single peer review panel that hasn't been amazed by a left field idea. I think they welcome those ideas coming in to the panel, so we will get proposal development and we will still get input through our peer review process. The portfolio will evolve as we populate new grants those - blob diagrams are probably already out of date because they were taking on data back in October 2010. Or course as the portfolio value evolves, we will be updating and thinking about what the map of research portfolio is telling us and any future direction we need to set. Just to clarify the perhaps misunderstanding of the community, on where we are at the moment in terms of synthetic organic chemistry, there were a large stimulus of investing which it says on the website back in 2007 and 2008 and those grants are still current and that's what forms £44.4 million of the portfolio. Those grants will start finishing towards the beginning of next year and through 2012. The current replenishment rate of grants in that area through competitive peer review is less than what was commissioned two or three years ago, so the portfolio will naturally fall as part of that replacement and refreshment process. What will be clear as well just because it is falling, we wouldn't be doing something with that area already because we have picked up in some of the reviews that there's still lots of opportunities for that research area to work on the challenge themes and that's why one of the focuses is part of looking at how we can get synthetic chemists/organic chemistry into the challenge programmes.
So moving forward, and I'm nearly done, Council has agreed that we will release the rest of the categories in two phases and will be completed by March 2012, subject to Council just reviewing that in October. At the moment I shall assume where we are is where we are going and we believe physical sciences will pretty much be in place to release the rest of the areas in the next phase. We have been working very hard over the last 12 weeks since the last publication to move forward with the rest of the areas subject to quality assurance and actually thinking about have you got it all right, that will be something we plan to do in November. So there is still lots of opportunities for you to submit evidence. We've requested it already with learned societies and universities, by mid-October would be most helpful, but as in the previous slide it's a dynamic process so if we miss something major it's something that we can act on and then once we've published in November we hope to continue our engagement more formally with the community, because actually a lot of the intelligence we get is part of our community visits with grant holders and with research teams. You should also expect further engagement not just from physical sciences, but from other parts of the portfolio because it's not just physical sciences that's shaping, it's the whole portfolio so if your area or your research is applicable to the other themes you should be taking account of what those themes are doing as well. I have already mentioned that dynamic kind of circular diagram, we are at a, at the moment which is the current landscape, b, is where we are heading, but actually the key thing is that b, is not just an EPSRC choice or fashion, its clearly there to try and think about what are the best long-term needs of users and we need to facilitate that through our UK research programme. We need to be resilient to make sure that we can respond to new changes so we're not in the process of locking something down for good, we need to think about actually how we continue to do that and I can assure you, and I am sure that the SAT members won't mind me saying, is that they keep me on this, they keep saying, well what about this community, what about early career researchers, can we keep a monitor on this part of what we do, what's happening in the portfolio to get early alert if things are perhaps not going as we plan and clearly continuing the excellence with impact is the watch word of the portfolio as well.
So that needs peer review - there will be a change in the application process where researchers will be able to write down not only about how excellent their research is, but also why its nationally important. Now many of you do that already, particularly if you come in for a larger research investment, be it a critical mass programme grant, platform grant, or even a training centre, you would have had to say why it is important nationally, so this is formalising something that should be happening as part of best practice. That will be happening from autumn onwards. Our portfolio will be quite open and transparently placed on the web for you to actually understand where we think it is and again, as we have said on some of the visits, it's a debate you can tell people in your research proposal why you think your research is important and peer review and scientific review will have that debate with you as part of the process.
Just to summarise what I said at the beginning, I hope I have shown you that we are an organisation that continually engages in the research community. There has not been some magic things that we have done in the last two months, it's been an on-going process. We have brought together different streams, some of it contextual, some of it through discussion, some of it based on our own portfolio and some of it based on portfolio from other research funders. We have to think about not just physical sciences as a theme on its own in isolation, we are part of an interconnected landscape setting priorities it's not new for the organisation, we've been doing it as the programme, as a theme, for the last three years or so, but we continue to do that across the whole of the organisation and there is no secret or magic document that we've had. We've been looking at all those evidence that are around in the community and if you've got something that you think will help this process, then we are more than ready to receive that as we move forward. If you want more information it will be here on the website, that should be your first starting point on anything, you just need to click on these interactive buttons and they'll take you to the part of the portfolio you are interested in. Thank you very much for your attention, we've got some discussion to have now so I would just like to invite the panel back up to the podium and then we can take it forward. Thank you very much.