Research matters: Innovation is about anticipating tomorrow's challenges

A sign of excellent research is the positive effect it has on our society

As technology advances our appetite for newer, faster, smaller and more efficient devices grows. The pace of innovation and commercial development over the past century has been such that society expects the next "big thing" before we even know what the thing is. However, innovation isn't just about a new gadget. Foundational research takes place in the UK every day to encourage economic growth and find answers to critical health and wellbeing challenges facing modern society.

Innovation is about looking to the future and the challenges the world might face in 10 or even 50 years' time. For example, current research at Imperial College London could change the way blood is sourced for transfusions. Blood is normally provided in the UK by donors. But for patients with very rare blood types finding a compatible source can be extremely difficult and costly. Led by Dr Sakis Mantalaris, these researchers have designed a "blood factory" that mimics the architecture and function of the bone marrow in vivo and allows continuous harvesting of red blood cells. Initially, this cost-efficient technique can be used to provide blood for people of a rare type. Ultimately, it could lead to blood donation as we know it being replaced entirely.

This might sound futuristic, but it is just one example of many featuring in Big Ideas for the Future, a report from Research Councils UK and Universities UK showcasing the fantastic efforts of UK universities today, which have a direct impact on our lives. The report is filled with stories of innovative research and is the focus of an event on 30 May in London that will bring together universities and researchers in dialogue with leading figures from business and industry.

The research supported by the councils has a direct impact on economic growth by encouraging innovation and providing new and cost-effective ways of meeting the needs of business, industry and services. There are numerous examples of productive collaborations between researchers and commercial and public organisations. But for sustained economic growth we must encourage more of these relationships so innovation can be quicker and more efficient.

It's more vital than ever to support researchers whose innovative ideas boost growth. They push boundaries, experiment and make breakthroughs. Their endeavours must be recognised and sustained. Professor George Lomonossoff has just been named the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) innovator of the year for his work with Dr Frank Sainsbury to develop a system for producing vaccines and pharmaceutical proteins rapidly in plants. This groundbreaking technology could allow vaccines to be rapidly produced for emergency vaccination programmes to halt disease pandemics, such as virulent flu.

The research councils fully appreciate the importance of excellent research and strive to help researchers turn breakthroughs into viable technologies and innovations. The BBSRC's innovator of the year award is one such opportunity for researchers to be recognised and rewarded for their work. The award is now in its fourth year and was established to encourage researchers to consider the potential of their research and maximise its social and economic impact.

Innovation can mean formulating answers to questions as yet barely being asked, or finding possibilities we aren't yet aware exist. And change happens so quickly. Apple's iPod gave us a new way of listening to music that is now so ingrained in our consciousness it is becoming hard to recall a world without it, or the mobile phone with which it integrates. It is certain that in another 10 years some idea being hatched somewhere by some researcher today will also have transformed our world utterly.

A copy of "Big Ideas for the Future" is available at

voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Arts and Entertainment
Residents of Derby Road in Southampton oppose filming of Channel 4 documentary Immigration Street in their community
voicesSiobhan Norton on why she eventually changed her mind
Scottish singer Susan Boyle will perform at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Glasgow
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

SEN IT Teacher

£100 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: IT EBD Teacher job in Runco...

SEN Maths Teacher

£100 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Maths EBD Teacher job in Run...

SEN Maths Teacher

£100 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Maths EBD Teacher job in Run...

SEN Teacher

£100 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teachers required, vario...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it