Schoolboy errors

February 9, 2012

Open letter to David Delpy, chief executive, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council

Dear David,

I was shocked to read the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council press release, "New investment aims to establish the UK as a global graphene research hub" (2 February), as it is blatantly wrong.

It states that graphene is "200 times stronger than steel and less than an atom thick". This, as any GCSE science student knows, is impossible. Another serious error is the picture accompanying the press release, which clearly shows the structure of a metal oxide, not graphene.

At a time when it is claimed that the EPSRC has the "expertise required" to decide which research areas are or are not important, the errors suggest that the research council does not seem to grasp the most basic scientific concepts, and is certainly not in a position to judge the value of cutting-edge research.

I am sure you can appreciate that such errors do nothing to inspire the confidence of the scientific community in the EPSRC's ability to "shape capability", and I call on you to abandon the exercise.

I am also concerned that £38 million of taxpayers' money has been assigned to a single graphene institute (and in effect to a single research group) at the University of Manchester without an open call for proposals and without peer review of the science proposed.

This lack of transparency is contrary to the assurances you gave the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee on peer review being the primary deciding factor when it comes to allocating research funds.

At a time when grants for tens of thousands of pounds are being rejected after scrupulous peer review, it is perverse that a £38 million project can be nodded through without any expert opinion being sought on the quality of the science that the money will support. This is a surefire way to waste millions and highlights the EPSRC's lack of scientific understanding.

Paul A. Clarke, Senior lecturer in organic chemistry, University of York

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