Competitors from around the world are arriving in London for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The impact these will have on the UK will be profound and the long-term legacy will be felt by generations to come. Research has long been instrumental in helping UK athletes improve their performance. One example of such research is a programmable "vibrating suit" developed at Birmingham City University. This models human behaviour for a range of activities and gives immediate visual, aural and tactile feedback on technique to the wearer.
Athletes from other competing nations will also have worked with researchers to boost their performance. In a competitive field such as sport, this research is often a closely guarded secret: a millimetre or split-second advantage can make all the difference when medals are at stake. However, in other fields, particularly those relating to global challenges such as climate change, researchers are increasingly working together across national boundaries.
Research Councils UK (RCUK) aims to help the best researchers work together, wherever they are in the world. RCUK teams in Brussels, China, India and the US work with research funding organisations in the EU and elsewhere to aid collaboration. RCUK also has strong links with research agencies in other countries such as Japan and Brazil as well as with the Department for International Development. One scheme launched in 2006 is the RCUK Science Bridges. This scheme has generated a number of spin-out companies, as well as research partnerships that are accelerating the delivery of next-generation technologies in fields as diverse as electronic materials, crop science and pharmaceuticals. International links have led to co-funding in India and financial support in China.
The world is a smaller place today thanks to the advanced technologies that allow speedy communication and exchange of findings. Students can access lectures online, business people can attend conferences via video and researchers can work with colleagues around the world and share their findings in a variety of ways. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) has recently launched an International PhD Partnership Initiative to help UK social scientists collaborate with the best researchers in emerging centres of research excellence around the world to tackle global issues. ESRC Doctoral Training Centres can apply for funding to enable their PhD students to build strong and sustainable networks of international contacts.
The other Research Councils also offer opportunities for researchers to work with colleagues overseas. For example the Arts and Humanities Research Council and ESRC partnership scheme enables UK PhD students and early career researchers to work at the Kluge Center at the Library of Congress in Washington DC or the Huntington Library in California.
UK research is highly regarded and plays a vital role in the international effort to address global challenges. However, research today changes at a dramatic pace and the rapid sharing of expertise is vital to achieving breakthroughs. Collaborations are no longer confined to the institution across the road, but can instead be found across the globe. All of the Research Councils are committed to ensuring that researchers at the earliest stages of their career can benefit from the global nature of these collaborations.