Brussels, 24 Mar 2003
March is shaping up to be a big month for UK research. Officials announced the opening of new research centres to tackle two pressing subjects facing European scientists in the fields of energy and genetics.
As the Kyoto Protocol deadline draws nearer, scientists are gearing up to find renewable energy sources. But achieving an 8% (relative to 1990) decrease in greenhouse gas emissions by 2012 also requires serious commitment from policy-makers around the world. With the opening of its new Energy Research Centre (ERC) this month, the UK is hoping to lead by example in the European Union (EU).
The key to the centre's success, say its founders, will be its inter-disciplinary approach to researching this huge area. For the first time, three British research councils plan to fully integrate their research programmes to meet these goals: the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), and the Natural Environment Research Council. The centre will be used as a hub for a National Energy Research network, which should act as an "interface" among businesses, industries and the broader public, while also informing new energy policies.
This kind of cross-fertilisation is encouraged in the EU's Sixth Framework Programme (FP6), which has set aside significant funding for networks of researchers both in and between EU Member States. As part of FP6's 'focusing and integrating community research' activities, sustainable energy systems falls under the 'sustainable development, global change and ecosystems' priority area.
Genes and society too
The second research centre to open its doors in Britain this month looks into the social implications of genetic advances. The ESRC's Centre for Genomics in Society (Egenis) aims to study the meaning and social implications of contemporary genomic sciences.
Researchers at the centre will address issues such as embryo stem cell research, concerns over genetic privacy and modification, and – working together with the medical and legal professions – they will investigate the use of genetic information by employers and insurers. Special attention will be given to the changing use and understanding of the word 'gene' as it leaves the scientific realm and enters the mainstream.
More information on this subject: