For the last two years, I’ve been the Senior Strategic Advisor for Nanotechnology for the UK’s Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC), the government agency that has the lead responsibility for funding nanotechnology in the UK. I’m now stepping down from this position to return to a new, full-time role at the University of Sheffield; EPSRC is currently in the process of appointing my successor.
In these two years, a substantial part of a new strategy for nanotechnology in the UK has been implemented. We’ve seen new, Grand Challenge programmes targeting nanotechnology for harvesting solar energy, and nanotechnology for medicine and healthcare, with a third programme looking for new ways of using nanotechnology to capture and utilise carbon dioxide shortly to be launched. At the more speculative end of nanotechnology, the “Software Control of Matter” programme received supplementary funding. Some excellent individual scientists have been supported through personal fellowships, and looking to the future, the three new Doctoral Training Centres in nanotechnology will produce, over the next five years, up to 150 additional PhDs in nanotechnology over and above EPSRC’s existing substantial support for graduate students. After a slow response to the 2004 Royal Society report on nanotechnology, I think we now find ourselves in a somewhat more defensible position with respect to funding of nano- toxicology and ecotoxicology studies, with some useful projects in these areas being funded by the Medical Research Council and the Natural Environment Research Council respectively, and a joint programme with the USA’s Environmental Protection Agency about to be launched. With the public engagement exercise that was run in conjunction with the Grand Challenge on nanotechnology in medicine and healthcare, I think EPSRC has gone substantially further than any other funding agency in opening up decision making about nanotechnology funding. I’ve found this experience to be fascinating and rewarding; my colleagues in the EPSRC nanotechnology team, led by John Wand, have been a pleasure to work with. I’ve also had a huge amount of encouragement and support from many scientists from across the UK academic community.
In the process, I’ve learned a great deal; nanotechnology of course takes in physics, chemistry, and biology, as well as elements from engineering and medicine. I’ve also come into contact with philosophers and sociologists, as well as artists and designers, from all of whom I’ve learnt new insights. This education will stand me in good stead in my new role at Sheffield – as the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation I’ll be responsible for the health of research right across the University.