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The University of Southampton

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Published: 15 February 2005

Southampton Itchen MP John Denham has teamed up with a top researcher from the University of Southampton as part of a unique pairing scheme run by the Royal Society, the UK national academy of science.

The scheme has paired John Denham, himself a graduate in Chemistry of the University, with scientist Dr Martin Bates of the School of Chemistry, a specialist in computational chemistry. The idea behind the scheme, now in its fourth year, is to develop stronger links between politicians and scientists.

During his visit, John Denham saw how Martin uses computer models to understand the behaviour of complex liquids such as liquid crystals, commonly used in laptop and mobile phone displays. He also toured the teaching laboratories and spoke with a small group of undergraduate students to find out what problems current students face.

John Denham said: "My day at the University's School of Chemistry was enormously useful, particularly in understanding some of the complex issues which affect the careers of research scientists and the funding of fundamental research.

"This country's future success and competitiveness depend to a certain extent on our ability to produce new generations of scientists capable of working at the forefront of their fields. I learnt many useful lessons, which I hope to take back to Parliament with me."

Martin Bates added: "This has been a useful opportunity to discuss issues affecting the teaching of the fundamental sciences, and the financial problems facing universities which have led to closures of science departments in other universities."

Last October Martin spent a week at the Houses of Parliament as part of the pairing scheme's 'Westminster Week'. He gained a behind-the-scenes insight into how science policy is formed, as well as a unique understanding of the working life of an MP. He said: "During the week we got a sense of what MPs do and how we as scientists can tap into the political process to influence decision-making when relevant."

Martin has also spent a day with John in his Southampton constituency, sitting in on meetings, a public surgery and a school-gate survey. He commented: "I was amazed at the range of problems coming in at the surgery and John's knowledge of the welfare system. He was so professional with every problem, no matter how apparently minor it seemed."

The Royal Society's MP-Scientist pairing scheme aims to build bridges between parliamentarians and some of the best scientists in the UK. It is an opportunity for MPs to become better informed about science issues and for scientists to understand how they can influence science policy. The scheme was launched in 2001 and 68 pairs of scientists and MPs have taken part.

The University's Chancellor the Earl of Selborne, chairman of the Royal Society's Science in Society Committee, which oversees the pairing scheme, said: "Issues such as cloning, GM crops, climate change and MMR demonstrate that science is often as much about politics as what goes on in the laboratory. This scheme allows politicians and scientists to understand each other's roles better and creates constructive working relationships between the two professions. We are delighted that, in its fourth year, MPs and scientists are just as enthusiastic as ever about participating."

Notes for editors

  1. Digital images of John Denham and Dr Martin Bates at the University of Southampton are available on request from Media Relations.
  2. The University of Southampton is a leading UK teaching and research institution with a global reputation for leading-edge research and scholarship. The University has around 20,000 students and nearly 5000 staff. Its annual turnover is in the region of £270 million.
  3. The Royal Society is an independent academy promoting the natural and applied sciences. Founded in 1660, the Society has three roles, as the UK academy of science, as a learned Society, and as a funding agency. It responds to individual demand with selection by merit, not by field.
    For further information about the Royal Society contact: Sue Windebank or Bob Ward, Press and Public Relations, tel: 020 7451 2514/2516.
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