Nobel wins ‘exemplars’ of UK excellence threatened by cuts, scientists claim

The UK’s second Nobel award in two days attests to the research excellence that will be endangered if the research budget is slashed in the forthcoming Comprehensive Spending Review, scientists have warned.

October 5, 2010

Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, based at the University of Manchester, were named today as winners of the Nobel Prize in Physics for 2010. Their win follows yesterday’s honour in the physiology or medicine category for Robert Edwards, who pioneered in-vitro fertilisation at the University of Cambridge in the 1970s.

Professor Geim and Professor Novoselov, who are Russian-born, won the prize for the discovery of graphene, a one-atom-thick sheet of carbon with numerous potential applications in electronics.

Scientists have been quick to seize on the successes as evidence of the world-leading standard of UK research and the need for continued funding if it is to be maintained.

Responding to the announcement of the physics prize, Martin Rees, president of the Royal Society, said it was “hard to envisage better exemplars of the value of enabling outstanding individuals to pursue ‘open-ended’ research projects whose outcome is unpredictable”.

“These two brilliant scientists were attracted to the UK by the promise of adequate funding and a supportive environment in a first-rate university. There are surely important lessons to be drawn by the government from the Nobel Committee’s decisions,” Lord Rees added.

“The UK must sustain its science at a competitive level in a world where talent is mobile and other countries are advancing fast – and eliminate immigration restrictions that would impede the in-flow of talent. The UK’s investment in the physical sciences is paying off and needs to be sustained.”

Mark Miodownik, head of the Materials Research Group at King’s College London, said today’s award for physics would bring a smile to the face of every scientist “because it shows you can still get a Nobel prize by mucking about in a lab”.

“This is another reason to recognise that British science is a special culture, admired throughout the world for its originality and genius, and needs to be nurtured not cut by the government if it wants to foster future technology and wealth in the UK,” he said.

Imran Khan, director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, described Professor Geim and Professor Novoselov as “brilliant examples of foreign scientists who had been attracted to the UK by its reputation as a global research hub. But they could be the last of their kind if the government presses ahead with its plans to slash investment in science and block talented non-European Union migrants from coming here.”

Peter Main, director of science and education at the Institute of Physics, said the prizes showed how the UK punches above its weight in science.

“The UK has become a magnet for the best young researchers from around the world. These timely awards should give pause for thought as worrying signals emanate from the government’s funding decisions,” he said.

Details of any cuts to the science budget will be unveiled in the CSR on 20 October.

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