Celebrating Collaborations – Five years of Research Councils UK India

By Dr Nafees Meah, Director, RCUK India

We, at Research Councils UK India, have a very clear goal and that is to be India’s partner of choice in research by developing a sustainable, strategic partnership of high quality research focussed on jointly agreed priorities.

In November 2013, RCUK India will celebrate 5 years of strong partnership building with India. During these 5 years, the value, breadth and depth of UK-India co-funded research has seen an enormous leap from less than £1m in 2008, to over £100m today covering  a wide spectrum of research challenges in the areas of energy, health, ICT, medicine, environmental  and social sciences.

Five years of Research Councils UK India graphic

Five years of Research Councils UK India graphic

RCUK India has facilitated an impressive portfolio of over 80 high quality, high impact UK-India research partnerships involving over 90 industry partners. 

‘Impact’ is crucial! We must ensure that the research leads to innovation, and a better understanding of the physical and social world.  Strong links between academia and business in both India and the UK will enable innovation and prosperity.

A big impetus for science and innovation comes from India’s 12th Five Year Plan, which states that  ‘we must be guided by a vision of India moving forward in a way that would ensure a broad-based improvement in living standards of all sections of the people, through a growth process which is faster, more inclusive and also environmentally sustainable.’

The plan highlights science, technology and innovation as playing a central role in this vision, and the six major science Ministries will see a substantial increase in funding.  If India’s ambition of investing 2% of GDP on R&D is achieved and the quality of its research base is improved, then India, by virtue of its size and population, is likely to be one of the most important scientific nations in the world in the next ten years.

Working in partnership is crucial to the success of RCUK India, and in November we celebrate the success and the UK-India research partnership, in the last 5 years.

RCUK India along with the UK’s Science and Innovation Network is hosting a series of events week beginning 11 November to mark its five successful years of collaboration with India. The week will bring together senior policy makers, researchers and industrial partners from both the UK and India to build on this successful collaboration for the ultimate benefit of the society and economy in both countries, as well as the world at large.

Watch this space for more updates as RCUK India turns five!

My research prize visit to Diamond

By Phillippa Nightingale, prize winner of the National Science + Engineering Competition 2013

Phillippa Nightingale and Professor David Delphy

Phillippa Nightingale and Professor David Delphy

My journey started when I won my prize at the National Science + Engineering competition in March of this year. I was presented with my prize for the RCUK Best Use of Research award by Professor David Delpy, Chief Executive EPSRC.

My first choice of the research facilities to visit was the Diamond Light Source, and I was elated when I found out it had been accepted and I was going to have a tour of the prestigious £383 million facility. I couldn’t wait to start composing questions to ask the researchers and anyone else I would meet, whilst I continued to add to my project.

My mum and I visited the Harwell Campus in Didcot on 30 July. Our driver gave us some quick information about the other buildings on site including the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, the European Space Agency and the UK atomic energy authority, and then we reached Diamond. Our tour guide for the day was Laura Holland. At first she explained what happens at Diamond and how a synchrotron works. Then we went into the actual building where the electrons are set off from the electron gun through the booster synchrotron and around the storage ring, which has a 120cm thick ceiling of concrete over it. This is because there can be a high radiation level when the electrons go around the corners, as the storage ring is a polygon made of many different lines which extend into beam lines rather than a complete circle. She also showed me pieces of the magnets which keeps the electron central so they don’t lose energy.

I went to visit my first beam line which Professor Nick Terrill built. He specialises his research in polymer science, which is connected to my project of chewing gum. One of the primary things he does is heat and cool polymers to see how the structure changes because when some polymers melt, they crystallise. With the use of x-rays (as they are the correct length scale for the lamella structure), the structure change can be seen. He discussed his most current research with me about how polymer films are becoming very useful. In the future, if an organic photovoltaic polymer would work then that could be attached to windows and produce energy from the sun. The energy from the sun that touches the earth’s surface in an hour could power the world for a year, so if we could harness some of this energy then the need for fossil fuels will be less. This really excited me as I had no idea that anything like this was even possible. He has also built another beam line and this will be the 24th of the current 23 active beam lines.


Phillipa being shown around RAL

Phillipa being shown around RAL

I then went to see Professor Paul Steadman, who is the principal beam line scientist of I10. The Professor and his team look at magnetism, especially bolt magnetism, which occurs in natural materials as well as studying thin films. A reason why Paul and his team are so interested in magnetism is due to the hard drives in computers as they consist of magnetic particles which can be polarised in one of two directions giving a 1 or a 0, but to detect which way it’s pointing when they become smaller, you need an extremely sensitive magnetometer.

Considering that I have only studied basic magnetism at key stage three, I feel confident about the information I was told by Paul Steadman and by Nick Terrill about polymers. They both explained their work in a way, which at GCSE level, I was able to understand without it being patronising. Overall I felt that I learnt a lot from the experience, by spending time with the professors and the information I received will be extremely useful for when I have finished my GCSEs. They talked about their A levels and higher education, which I feel I can apply to my future. They also gave me other advice such as where research can take you, including the opportunities to go abroad and what the cutting edge research is at the moment at Diamond.

The trip has given me a wider idea of what being a researcher is and helped me to start thinking what I could do in the future. It was definitely worth visiting Diamond as I have never had an opportunity like this before.

My project: The Stickiness of chewing gum

I decided to investigate chewing gum mainly because I thought it was a large environmental problem in terms of looking unsightly. However, I later discovered it has many health benefits, such as aiding concentration and helping patients recover in hospital. I began to research what made chewing gum sticky and then I started what turned out to be a series of experiments. The first experiment I carried out, was to investigate how different surfaces affected how chewing could be removed, but there were too many variables and my results were not reproducible as they were a matter of opinion, so my second experiment focused on the idea that some removal substances such as white spirit could affect the amount of wipes needed to remove the gum but again this was more a matter of opinion than reliable results.


Phillipa learning about RAL

Phillipa learning about RAL

When I got through to the finals of the National Science + Engineering competition, the judges suggested that I used a pressure gauge; however my school didn’t have one. So instead I made 42 blocks and used a Newton metre to measure the force needed to remove the chewing gum that had been placed in between the blocks over a week, in an effort to see how time affects the stickiness of chewing gum. Whilst carrying out experiments, I started to research the historical, commercial and unusual facts related to chewing gum, such as the London-based, gum artist Ben Wilson and the identification that a Mayan farmer has a specific type of tree that produces a sap which when exposed to rainwater for a month begins to disintegrate. I believe that a synthetic copy of this biodegradable sap could be made to stop the millions of pounds being wasted on the clean-up of chewing gum and therefore allow Councils to spend money on much needed beneficial services.

Crossing borders, removing barriers

By Alexia Hereford, International Policy Manager, RCUK International

From left to right: Prof. Paul Boyle, Chief Executive of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and RCUK International Champion, Mrs Martine Hansen, Minister of Higher Education and Research, Mr Yves Elsen, Chairman of the board, FNR and Mr Marc Schiltz, Secretary General of the FNR.

From left to right: Prof. Paul Boyle, Chief Executive of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and RCUK International Champion, Mrs Martine Hansen, Minister of Higher Education and Research, Mr Yves Elsen, Chairman of the board, FNR and Mr Marc Schiltz, Secretary General of the FNR.

RCUK works hard to identify flexible mechanisms to support collaborative international research. Last year we renewed our Lead Agency agreement with the State of São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) in Brazil, and earlier this year our International Champion, Professor Paul Boyle, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the US National Science Foundation (NSF).

Yesterday, Paul was a little closer to home, signing a Statement of Intent with Fonds National de la Recherche (FNR) in Luxembourg.

As part of the Statement, RCUK and FNR have committed to operating what’s known as a ‘Lead Agency’ agreement. Currently, UK and Luxembourg-based researchers who want to work together each have to submit a proposal to their own funding agency. Under the new agreement, they can write a single collaborative proposal that goes through a single peer review process. This approach helps avoid ‘double jeopardy’ – the risk that a proposed joint project will be approved in one country but not in the other. It also means that each funding agency can maintain budgetary control over their awards, reducing unnecessary financial and administrative burden.

As well as addressing a number of operational and ethical issues, the RCUK-FNR agreement helps remove barriers within Europe. Through Science Europe – an organisation set up to promote the collective interests of the Research Funding and Research Performing Organisations of Europe – we have developed a ‘toolkit’ for cross-border collaboration. The toolkit consists of a number of mechanisms intended to facilitate cross-border research collaboration within Europe – and Lead Agency is one of these.

From left to right: Mr Thomas Flammant, British Embassy Luxembourg, Prof. Paul Boyle, Chief Executive of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and RCUK International Champion, M. Marc Schiltz, Secretary General of the FNR and Mr Yves Elsen, Chairman of the board, FNR.

From left to right: Mr Thomas Flammant, British Embassy Luxembourg, Prof. Paul Boyle, Chief Executive of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and RCUK International Champion, M. Marc Schiltz, Secretary General of the FNR and Mr Yves Elsen, Chairman of the board, FNR.

So how does ‘Lead Agency’ work? The funding agencies from two or more countries agree which of the agencies will take the leading function, known as the ‘Lead Agency’. In this case RCUK will be the lead. The Lead Agency is responsible for carrying out the review process and makes a recommendation on whether or not to approve an application. With final sign-off at the national agency level, the different project parts are then funded by the respective agencies, so that no money needs to be transferred across borders.

RCUK is committed to an open and inclusive European Research Area. According to the International Benchmarking Study of UK Research Performance 2011, the UK’s global influence and reputation for research is “related to its wide – and widening – collaboration with diverse parts of the world.” When Paul signed the agreement with FNR yesterday, we took another step towards creating a collaborative environment in which UK research can continue to flourish.

You can read the FNR press release here: http://fnr.lu/en/Press/Press-Releases