Steve Connor: Biologists run ahead in research funding race
Science Notebook: Nuclear physicists are apoplectic about proposed cuts to research budgets
Tuesday 22 December 2009
Science in Britain appears to be undergoing a financial schism between bio-medical sciences and the physical sciences. In the early half of the 20th century, physicists ruled the roost in terms of government science spending, which is hardly surprising given that it was the dawn of the nuclear age.
In more recent decades, biology has risen in ascendancy, mostly on the back of breakthroughs in molecular biology since the discovery (by physicists) of the DNA double-helix in 1953. Biology even had its own multibillion-dollar "big science" research programme in the form of the Human Genome Project. The growing schism is illustrated by the commitment to build a £500m "cathedral of science" dedicated to bio-medical sciences in London, called the UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation. Funded by taxpayers' money and funds from the Wellcome Trust and Cancer Research UK, the centre will house 1,200 scientists from 2015.
Meanwhile, nuclear physicists are apoplectic about proposed cuts to research budgets brought about by the falling value of the pound, which affects subscriptions to big international ventures such as Cern in Geneva and the European Space Agency, and poor accounting by the research council involved.
Professor Paddy Regan, of Surrey University, calls the cuts an "act of scientific vandalism". "To have this at a time when the UK is discussing a nuclear new-build programme and addressing the nuclear waste issue is almost comical," he says. Perhaps physicists will ask if funding Cern is worth cuts inflicted on them in the UK?
Donate your body to science
Do you consider yourself average? Are you an extrovert who would like your naked body to be inspected in public? If the answer is "yes" to both, you could be chosen by the Science Museum as a prime exhibit for its revamped "Who am I?" gallery. The museum needs an average man and woman to be scanned into a computer and "printed out" by a 3D digital printer. Their naked paper bodies will appear life-size alongside permanent displays to explain such things as brain science, genetics and identity.
Mr and Ms Average must be aged between 18 and 44 and conform to a given height, weight, waist circumference and hip span, and will be expected to give interviews. It's a new take on donating your body to science.
Britain the climate culprit
Much recrimination over the Copenhagen climate summit, with China and a handful of other countries being blamed. But let's not forget it is Britain that has done most to damage the climate on a per-capita basis since the start of the Industrial Revolution. This is because we've produced more carbon dioxide per capita than any other nation over the past 230 years, and much of that CO2 is still in the atmosphere. Blame it on the coal we burned.
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