Successful Venture

February 17, 2011

The advisers to David Willetts, the universities and science minister, have doubtless drawn his attention to the list of the world's top 100 chemists published last week ("Acid test: clearly label a successful formula", 10 February). Four are from the UK.

The top UK chemist is Kenneth R. Seddon of Queen's University Belfast. His work was given an "impact" score of 73.57. The second is John Holbrey, who is from the same department. His "impact" score was 63.75.

Seddon was a Venture researcher, supported by the scheme I pioneered in the 1980s to back scientists radically challenging current thinking in any field and give them the freedom they needed to follow their interests. We backed only 26 individuals or small groups of scientists during that decade. Seddon had previously submitted the application we approved to the precursor of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, which rejected it with a "gamma" rating, the lowest possible.

Holbrey is a colleague of Seddon's. It is likely, therefore, that if the Venture Research initiative had not existed, that the Times Higher Education list would probably contain only two UK chemists.

Seddon and Holbrey's achievements are the latest in a growing list by Venture researchers. As I have been saying to Willetts, his advisers and predecessors for almost 20 years, have we not now made a case for a national initiative?

Don Braben, Honorary professor, University College London.

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