Recently I wandered into the impressive great chamber of Manchester Town Hall to look at the murals completed by the artist Ford Madox Brown in 1893 and based on the history of the city.
One in particular caught my eye – William Crabtree watching the Transit of Venus. The event is highly romanticised with the Broughton draper, Crabtree, clutching his dressing gown tightly around himself while intently observing the passage of the planet across the face of the sun. The event itself was significant as Crabtree was only one of two people in 1639 to have observed and recorded the event. His calculations were crucial in helping to estimate the size of Venus and the distance from the Earth to the Sun, as the recording of the transit is now seen by many as the birth of modern astronomy in Britain.
2016 is likewise an exciting year for science in Greater Manchester. We are already part way into our designation as European City of Science when we have the eyes of the world’s scientific community on us. The centrepiece of which will be the EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF) to be held 23 to 27 July. ESOF is Europe’s largest interdisciplinary science meeting, and will bring together over 4,500 leading thinkers, innovators, policy makers, journalists and educators from more than 90 countries, to discuss current and future breakthroughs in contemporary science. It is the first time a UK city has been chosen, and the theme for this year’s Forum is ‘Science as Revolution’, encouraging debate and exploration of how science and technology can transform our lives, constantly challenging how we think and act.
Added to this is the announcement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, in this year’s Budget that Greater Manchester, working with East Cheshire, has been selected as only one of five areas nationally to undertake a ‘Science and Innovation Audit’. This is good news, and means central government acknowledges there is real value in continuing to map out and promote our genuinely international competitive strengths in research, innovation and infrastructure, in order to help identify and build on any unrealised potential.
Work on the audit will take place over the next few months and will bring together a consortium of public sector, private sector and academic partners. The proposed audit’s area covers more than 3million people, around 100,000 businesses, and GVA of over £60 billion. Such a grouping reflects both the city’s current and emerging strengths and its overall ambition to drive forward further scientific discoveries and innovative breakthroughs in order to support both local and national economic growth. We hope the work will also be useful to help address the prosperity, health and productivity gap of Greater Manchester and the wider Northern Powerhouse.
The consortium is being led by Dame Nancy Rothwell at the University of Manchester with support from the Local Enterprise Partnership, the Combined Authority and, of course, New Economy. We will be keen to focus on our identified scientific core strengths: health innovation and advanced materials. But also to better understand the fast growth opportunities we have around digital, energy, and industrial biotechnology. The aim will be to consider the synergies and cross-over between them. We will have some support from a contractor appointed nationally, Technopolis, who will share some centrally-held data and ensure there is consistency with the other four audits.
It will also be interesting to continue to maximise opportunities from Greater Manchester’s unique health devolution deal with central government in order to use our science knowledge to better address local health outcomes. Academics, health professionals and businesses across the city are already working together to improve healthcare through innovation. In March, the Life Sciences Minister George Freeman visited the University of Manchester to open the new home for the Health eResearch Centre, part of the Farr Institute. This will create a North of England hub for some of the world’s best digital and health research, and will be one of the leading venues nationally to develop new scientific technologies that can empower patients to understand and take control over their own healthcare through smartphones, wearable devices and healthcare records.
We will hold a seminar before the summer to discuss some of the emerging issues raised by our audit work. We are particularly keen to better understand how we use the city’s strengths in science to stimulate and support innovation across the business community in order to create jobs and growth. If you are interested in attending then please keep an eye on the events page of the New Economy website.
Deputy Director, Science and Business