There is only one way to start this week’s blog and that is by thanking everyone involved in putting on the Great British Bioscience Festival in Bethnal Green, East London – as one happy visitor put it "This Bio-science fair ROCKS". The enthusiasm of the scientists running the exhibits, the commitment of the staff involved from BBSRC and the sheer professionalism of it all was wonderful. From swabbing a very life-like chicken’s bottom for bird flu to learning about how bacteria glow in the dark, playing the Camelina Caper and the ‘Beating Badger TB’ interactive games, the standard of the displays was amazing and they were truly geared for all ages. We had over 6,700 visitors in 3 days!! Hopefully we have also convinced adults and children of the importance and wonders of bioscience – check out #GBbioscifest on Twitter to see more. Especially thanks to Patrick Middleton, Becky Kerby and Debbie Shaw from our External Relations team who really went above and beyond to ensure success.
So how to follow that? – well I missed the start of our Bioscience Festival as I was in India on a science and education visit where the agreement for the Newton-Bhabha fund was formally signed by the Science Ministers of India and the UK. It was the first time I had been to India and it was great to meet senior officials from the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research to discuss current and future research priorities and programmes. We agreed some early action in terms of meetings and co-ordination. I also met the researchers in India who are working on our RICEFUEL project. This is one of four successful proposals that was funded through the Sustainable Bioenergy and Biofuels (SuBB) research call. The basis for the project is to find more efficient ways of using rice straw as a feedstock for fuel. The project is led by Dr Syed Shams Yazdani (International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB), Dehli) in India and Professor Nigel Minton (University of Nottingham) in the UK. There are four work packages and a number of collaborators in both the UK and India. The facilities for the programme at the ICGEB were impressive and it was great to meet some of the researchers on the project.
Ways of encouraging more women into scientific leadership positions in India were also on the agenda and we will be initially be working with DBT on building on existing programmes, creating an academic network and the promotion of positive role models/success stories. The next steps will involve identification of specific gaps and interventions to target them. The importance of science communication was also highlighted in discussions and it became clear that there are many issues that are common in this regard, especially in terms of public engagement with science, that are common in both India and the UK. The RCUK India office was extremely helpful in providing briefings and ‘minding me’ in meetings – local knowledge is a great thing for a new visitor! Indeed we have actually seconded Andrew Telford from BBSRC to RCUK India so we have our very own man on the ground!
Sadly I didn’t get to see much of India as I moved between hotel and meeting rooms but did manage a glimpse of macaques by the roadside and huge kites and other birds of prey circling the skies. The return to the airport on Friday morning also highlighted the challenge of driving on Dehli’s highways – I have never seen so many cars, trucks, vans, cycles and motorcycles vying for position – but it all seemed to move!