Last week began with attendance at part of our facilitated ‘ideas lab’ meeting, seeking to develop highly innovative thinking in how to capture dinitrogen biologically and thereby to lower (and eventually eliminate) our unsustainable dependence on fossil-fuel-energy-driven production of nitrogen fertiliser, including by fixation into ammonia via the Haber-Bosch process. I shall look forward to seeing how the facilitators helped drive the flux of creative juices of the delegates.

We were all delighted, in part following the Chancellor’s recent speech at the Royal Society (about which I blogged), that the autumn statement contained an extra (i.e. genuinely new) £600M capital investment in the research base. This is, to say the least, a very substantial endorsement of the importance of the research base to the UK’s growth and jobs agenda, and such an endorsement is something that is very well worth recording. Good cases, based on evidence and well made, do get results.

Fortuitously, that very same day we had arranged a Parliamentary event, kindly hosted by the Commons Science and Technology Committee Chair Andrew Miller, to illustrate the many exciting cross-Council programmes that we run. The Chancellor’s announcement provided a very suitable backdrop for Minister of Universities and Science David Willetts to address the attendees.

We also had two of our regular meetings of the Research Council Chief Executives, one being one of our own monthly meetings and one of the quarterly meetings we have with the Research Base group at the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills.

I also managed to attend part of the latest meeting of our Exploiting New Ways of Working Strategy Advisory Group. A really exciting agenda, including developing our thoughts on both Digital Organisms and crowd sourcing, was enhanced by superb short talks on e-science by Neil Chue Hong (The Software Sustainability Institute), Andrew Phillips (Microsoft Research Cambridge) and Mario Caccamo (The Genome Analysis Centre).

I also noted an enjoyably eccentric take on Green and Gold Open Access, and a new free Microsoft book on data-intensive scientific discovery, a successor to The Fourth Paradigm. A rather scary article in Nature shows that the patent system is breaking down in areas such as nanotechnology; an Open source approach would assist innovation here.

I was pleased to see the online version of a review that I co-wrote on the systems biology of Parkinson’s disease, where different gene products and unliganded iron can interact in interesting and complex ways that a systems approach can largely account for. I was also correcting proofs for an updated review of the chemical genomics of cellular drug transporters.

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