The government this week published first indications of the success of the Realising Our Potential Awards (Ropas) and extended their scope to all disciplines in the research councils' remits, writes Julia Hinde.
Ropas fund researchers in universities and institutes who have already won industry support for basic research. Since their creation in 1994, they have provided 1,200 recipients a total of Pounds 109 million, which researchers use to pursue their choice of blue-skies research for one or two years independent of industry.
The survey, undertaken by the director general of the research councils, looked at the 973 Ropas awarded between 1994 and 1996. Of those, 470 projects had been completed at the time of the survey, and many others were continuing. More than two-thirds of the Ropa-funded researchers, 690, returned the survey.
Of those projects described in the returns, Ropa support had helped researchers gain more cash from the research councils in 177 cases, from industry in 289 cases and from other bodies such as the European Union in 128 cases. Some researchers won aid from more than one of these sources. In 386 cases, industry had expressed interest in the work being done by the Ropas.
Margaret Beckett, president of the Board of Trade, this week announced that the initiative had been extended. The Ropas scheme will now welcome applications from all areas within the research councils' remits and not just from nominated disciplines.
She added that the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council will now accept applications for Ropas throughout the year.
Mrs Beckett said: "These innovative and intellectually challenging projects are delivering tangible rewards, both in opening new avenues for further research and in preparing the way for new commercial opportunities."