Last week was somewhat truncated by the Bank Holiday, and I had comparatively few external meetings on which to report. However, since I have a role in the oversight of the needs of e-research and e-infrastructure for RCUK, as ‘champion’ of the RCUK Research Group, one meeting that was particularly useful was with the senior team of the Joint Academic Network, aka janet, that has provided – without most users knowing or probably caring how – effective access to the internet for the UK academic community since as long as I have known.

Historically, we have (within reason) been able to move as much data (bytes) as we cared to around the network, but the rise of Big Data, data-driven science, Open Data, and in BBSRC’s case in particular genomics data, means that there is increasing recognition that we might soon break the system without a step change. The recent Wilson review (pdf) of JISC included the recognition such e-infrastructure was ‘indispensible’, and certainly the choice of the EMBL to locate the European Bioinformatics Institute in the UK resulted from the fact that we could provide a network that (in ca 1992) consistently delivered 1Mbaud of bandwidth when that of ‘competing’ European nations was providing a rather miserable 64Kbaud. 

Futurology driven by multidisciplinarity is at the heart of the intellectual agenda, and a debate entitled “Ideas to change the world”  necessarily attracted my interest. Among a number of interesting ideas, geoengineering the ocean to assist with atmospheric CO2 removal is one that bears further thought. Success seems contingent on causing the algal biomass to fall to deep layers.

Conveying knowledge is also at the core of science, and an interesting paper sets out how a more interactive style of teaching provided twice the amount of learning than did a standard lecture. Although describing an undergraduate physics class, one might assume that similar principles apply to research presentations.

I also had a useful first meeting with April McMahon, incoming Vice Chancellor at Aberystwyth University.

Finally, I was pleased to hear of the (long-awaited) acceptance of my review on breeding plants with deep roots. The manuscript will shortly be online, together with its links to a website where visitors can perform their own calculations of the potential of such plants to influence atmospheric CO2 removal when grown widely. As with all such calculations, we need to know the networks that constitute the relevant systems, and their relevant parameters. As E. M. Forster famously said, “Only connect”.

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