As the Olympics draw to a close and the build-up to the Paralympics begins, it seems like the ‘inspire a generation’ tag line is everywhere. Of course the focus is on the sporting legacy, with the aspiration that the sporting excellence we have witnessed over the last two weeks, much of it home-grown, will kick-start a new enthusiasm for exercise at all levels. It makes sense – excellence inspires. But it’s not just at sport where we can use our national excellence to inspire the next generation. The UK’s gold-medal standard performance in research is also something we should be celebrating and promoting to young people, and this forms a key component of RCUK’s approach to public engagement.
Sport itself presents some great opportunities for engaging people with research. We and the Royal Institution, with support from BIS and Podium, have been running a series of events over the last few months called Cutting Edge 2012. Hundreds of people have had the chance to engage with the research behind the UK’s medal winning performances in cycling, triathlon, athletics, diving, and sailing. You can watch short videos from each of the events – lets hope the wheelchair basket ball team can also bring back a medal to give Cutting Edge 2012 a full set! Other great examples of using the games as a vehicle for research engagement include the excellent series of videos, Engineering Sport, by Steve Haake on the Ri Channel, and a fascinating review of science and cycling on the BBC website.
Important as one-off opportunities to showcase research are, we need to inspire young people with our world-leading research at every opportunity. This is the thinking behind our recently launched School-University Partnerships Initiative. The aim is to put leading researchers and teachers together to bring cutting edge research into the classroom. We hope to forge long-term partnerships, so that as many young people as possible get the opportunities to experience the excitement and excellence of UK research. That too, will inspire a generation.