Research Matters: 'Each year, it's British scientists who are the real champions'

Decades of discovery and innovation have been driving UK economic successes

January is traditionally a time for reviewing the year gone by, and I think we can agree that 2012 was spectacular. It was a year when the UK demonstrated yet again that in global races, we often lead the world.

Most of us would probably choose the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games as the high point, and I'm no different. It was not just the breathtaking opening ceremony, or superb medal-winning performances from Team GB and Paralympics GB – the Games make my list also because of the world-leading science and research that supported the athletes' exceptional performances (bit.ly/ J1TFwm). Without pioneering research in design, equipment, psychology and training techniques, our haul of medals might not have been quite so impressive.

But the UK's world-leading research doesn't just underpin success in sport. There is now ample evidence across the world's advanced economies that high performance in research brings widespread economic success and social wellbeing.

This is why, in another economically challenging year, it has been so crucial to continue to invest in science and research. Speaking at the Royal Society in November last year, the Chancellor George Osborne identified eight pioneering, research-led technologies that he believes could stimulate the future health and prosperity of our economy and our society (bit.ly/Ro8D2E).

In his subsequent autumn statement, he underlined the commitment to UK research by announcing £600m of additional investment. Areas that will benefit include synthetic biology, regenerative medicine and advanced materials. As you can imagine, such investment is a natural high point of the year for me, because areas such as these have the potential to bring value to the UK for years to come.

Scientific discoveries and research innovations have been yearly highlights in the UK for decades. They are one of our great, untrumpeted success stories year after year. In 2012, there were too many breakthroughs to list easily, but some things you may have heard about include: the discovery of a new Alzheimer's "risk" gene; advances in super-computing; and the investment by my own council, the Arts and Humanities Research Council, to strengthen the impact of arts and humanities research in the fastest growing sector of our economy, the creative industries, represented so lavishly in the opening ceremony of the Olympics. But all of the research we are funding brings such benefits directly or indirectly to the UK.

Perhaps the most high-profile scientific discovery of 2012 was the confirmation of the Higgs boson particle. Research by the teams at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, which receives funding from the UK's Science and Technology Facilities Council, contributed in a major way to this discovery. Since the 1960s when Professor Peter Higgs – who was among those in the Queen's New Year Honours list – first suggested the idea, he, and many other scientists, have devoted their careers to the challenge of demonstrating the existence of these elusive particles – and thus to winning another gold medal for UK science.

The years ahead for UK research will of course include challenges in this fiscally unstable time. Science and research needs continuous investment to stay at the leading edge. But the world is full of exciting challenges and opportunities, especially for those now embarking on their research careers. Not every year will be as spectacular as 2012, but in becoming part of the UK's science and research endeavour you will undoubtedly be joining a winning team.

For further information on Research Councils UK visit www.rcuk.ac.uk

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Guru Careers: Graduate Media Assistant

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: We are looking for an ambitious and adaptable...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected