New Oxford research centre to tackle the world's greatest problems

July 6, 2005

Brussels, 05 Jul 2005

A new research centre has been established at Oxford University in the UK with the aim of tackling the greatest problems facing the world today.

The James Martin 21st Century School aims to achieve this goal in an 'innovative and imaginative way', by giving Oxford University scholars the resources and time to think imaginatively about the problems and opportunities that the future will bring.

The school will be funded with an indefinite annual endowment of GBP 3 million, provided by the digital technologies expert James Martin. Dr Martin says: 'Mankind faces huge challenges as the 21st century unfolds. It is essential that our leading thinkers commit time, energy and resources now to finding solutions to these risks and problems which could threaten the future of humanity itself.'

According to its website, the school structure comprises a hub and changeable spokes. The hub will consist of the school's director, a small administrative staff, and around ten James Martin Fellows from within and outside the university, supported through the James Martin fellowship scheme.

The spokes consist of research institutes, each undertaking leading edge research in their own subject area. With the exception of the James Martin institute for science and civilisation, which will play a key role in pulling all the work of the other spokes together, funding for the institutes has been granted for three years on the basis of project outlines with clearly defined objectives.

Examples of the institutes that will initially be funded are the institute for the future of the mind, led by Baroness Susan Greenfield, the Oxford institute of ageing, led by Dr Sarah Harper, and the environmental change institute led by Professor Diana Liverman.

The types of challenges that these academics will try to address include environmental problems such as climate change, extreme inequalities in wealth, world population growth and distribution, global food shortages, rapid technological change and various forms of outright warfare or internecine armed conflict. 'To these can be added all kinds of historically recurring risks which are now able to kill more people than ever before, from epidemiological risks like influenza epidemics and new forms of infections to physical risks like earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunami,' the website adds.

A key tenet of the school appears to be its encouragement of interdisciplinary approaches, and its website highlights its commitment to 'encouraging those involved in this research to work in an ever more integrated way, bringing together leading scholars and practitioners to focus on the same theme but from different disciplinary perspectives.'

Dr Martin concluded that: 'One of the most important activities for a leading university today should be the multidisciplinary academic thinking needed to find solutions to humanity's biggest problems and address our future opportunities.'

Further information

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