Professor Philip Nelson - Chief Executive, EPSRC [PN]
RISE is about recognising inspirational scientists and engineers. Making the whole system work, a really healthy research base, really does depend on some very special individuals. Those that are not only great scientists and great engineers, but they also have the leadership skills, the communications skills to really make things happen. So the universities working with EPSRC have helped us to select ten of the most outstanding research leaders and we are pairing them with rising stars, young scientists who can benefit from the coaching of the senior scientists. Not only that, but the senior scientists are also in turn being paired up with very senior people in industry, business and politics to help them generate the sort of leadership skills that we really need to make the research base really sing.
Professor Rodrigo Quian Quiroga - Director, Centre for Systems Neuroscience, University of Leicester [RQ]
I am Rodrigo Quian Quiroga. I am the director of the Centre for Systems Neuroscience here at the University of Leicester. Our main interest is to understand different aspects of how the brain works, particularly how we form memories and how we can develop engineering tools to understand very complex data coming from brain signals.
Dr Hernan Rey - Lecturer in Systems Neuroscience, University of Leicester [HR]
I work with the Jennifer Aniston neuron which is something that Rodrigo found around 15 years ago. Basically we found that there are neurons in a particular region in the brain, which is called the hippocampus, which can respond to particular stimuli. For example, you can find a neuron that will fire to a picture of Jennifer Aniston. You can show ten different pictures, but all the pictures release the same response from this individual neuron. We think that these neurons are the building blocks for memory and from these we can link the perception of a particular stimulus like Jennifer Aniston, to a concept of Jennifer Aniston, in an abstract way and in that sense we can then create memories and associations with other concepts, so from that point of view it will help us to understand how memory works in humans.
We are getting very valuable data that can give us some insights into the mechanisms, the pathological mechanism, that give rise to epileptic seizures. In Alzheimer's disease the hippocampus area of the brain is heavily involved, so I think in the long-term our research may have some important clinical impact.
Professor John Perkins CBE - Chief Scientific Adviser, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills [JP]
My name is John Perkins. Currently I am Chief Scientific Adviser in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. My responsibilities in BIS are to try to ensure that the scientific evidence informing policy is fit for purpose. Days like this are just great fun for me to be able to sit with people doing ground breaking work in areas of science which I am not immediately familiar with and learning about that is tremendously stimulating for me. I really get a buzz from that. Rodrigo recognises that what he's doing has potentially a very large impact and thinking with him about ways of enhancing that, moving that agenda forward, I think is also a very exciting thing to be involved in.
It is an honour to be selected as one of the rise awardees. Sometimes as scientists in our labs doing our research, we just don't happen to know the system well, or to know the right people and John's advice in this sense is extremely useful because he clearly has the connection and he is in a position where he can tell me maybe this you can develop a little bit further by contacting this person, or this way or that way.
Making contacts with really senior influential people will undoubtedly produce some great outcomes, but not only that having the rising stars and developing their careers, aspiring themselves to be great research leaders in the future, that's another great thing about this scheme.
I would like to take this field into the next level. There might be very interesting applications in the future, but we are not quite there yet and I think what John can really bring is some different approaches that we can take to expand this even further.
The UK's strength in science is widely recognised and there is a lot of evidence that we are punching well above our weight, but there are others coming up on the inside track and we need to continue to compete, to find ways of being even more effective and I think this scheme is a way of enhancing the networks, if you like, around some of the excellent science that's going on in the UK. This is a huge opportunity that we are only just beginning to think about how to exploit.