A number of professional bodies in the sciences run schemes to connect practising scientists with Members of Parliament or other politicians in the UK. Such schemes undoubtedly act as a gentle means of reminding our politicians about the importance of science, but are also there to help provide evidence and advice (if wanted) for the MP on scientific issues while giving the scientist experience in politics. The Royal Society of Chemistry’s programme is called Parliamentary LINKS, and I recently signed up. I was assigned to Chris Leslie (Labour), MP for Nottingham East and currently Shadow Financial Secretary to the Treasury. After contacting his constituency office I was pleasantly surprised to get a request for a tour of the department.
Chris and his parliamentary assistant, Lyndsey Robinson, had a brief tour, packed into a busy schedule that had also involved celebrating the local Scouts and Guides Association’s anniversary and appearing on the regional news. Chris was able to learn about the new Carbon Neutral Laboratory being built this year and some of the School’s research into porous materials for carbon capture and new, thin-film solar cells. Also discussed was the importance of science and Universities in driving the economy, particularly through generating local companies and jobs and the benefits of investing in research infrastructure. I believe Chris enjoyed the visit, he certainly picked up how magnetic stirrers and Schlenk lines worked quite quickly. More importantly, although the interaction was brief I hope that it made a lasting impression on Chris and at least increased his awareness and appreciation of what goes on in our research laboratories.
Chris Leslie MP meeting Dr. Elizabeth Gibson and her research group, which investigate thin-film solar cells.
The below is an extract from his weekly constituency update, written after his visit to the University:
“It’s a little known fact, but the University of Nottingham School of Chemistry is the country’s second ranking facility, ahead of Cambridge in quality and reputation (EDIT: based on RAE rankings from 2008, Cambridge actually came 1st, Nottingham 2nd, Oxford 3rd). So it was a great opportunity for me this week to visit staff and students and see for myself some of the ground-breaking research they are working on. I saw chemists working on an amazing solar electricity project, dispensing with the need for expensive silicon cells, and using a flexible coating that can be painted on to light-absorbing surfaces. Such a break-through would revolutionise the world of energy generation. And I talked to post-graduate students (pictured below) who are constructing new materials using molecular engineering that could capture carbon dioxide particles and allow others to pass through – the prospect of cutting-edge technology to decarbonise the environment. We should never forget that ‘capital infrastructure’ also means science and technology expenditure – and it is central to our economic and environmental long-term well-being. And it is very much being led right on our doorstep in Nottingham.”
In the lab of Professor Martin Schröder, Chris learns about metal organic frameworks (MOFs) from Drs Nick Bennett and Emma Stephen.
As part of the LINKS scheme I will be attending an event in the Houses of Parliament on 25th June, which will feature a debate around diversity in science with keynote presentations by David Willetts and Shabana Mahmood, the current and shadow Ministers for Universities and Science.