Last summer Greater Manchester hosted the EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF) as part of the 2016 European City of Science. ESOF is the biennial pan-European conference dedicated to scientific research and innovation. It included more than 3000 delegates drawn from 83 countries, encompassing 150 sessions, and drawing in more than 700 speakers from 50 countries including several Nobel Prize winning scientists. The whole conference was very successful.
I spoke on one of the panels about the importance of Manchester’s history in shaping the city of today. My argument was that the way we tell the story can be extremely valuable in drawing in interest, raising the city’s profile, and building opportunities for inward investment and wider collaborations. For example, John Dalton (now buried in Ardwick) worked locally on early atomic theory - today we have the Dalton Institute at the University of Manchester as a centre of excellence for the nuclear sector. His pupil, John Prescott Joule, lived in Salford Crescent and carried out important studies around heat – today the “Energy House” at the University of Salford continues this legacy. In 1964, Sir Bernard Lovell’s work in radio astronomy at Jodrell Bank was instrumental in acting as impartial adjudicator between the US and the Soviet Union to see who would win the space race - today it is being established as the HQ for the Square Kilometre Array, the world’s biggest telescope. Nobel Prize Winner Brian Schmidt spoke passionately at ESOF alongside the Astronomer Royal, Lord Martin Rees, about the importance of this project.
The story of Alan Turing is also now becoming better known, particularly his work at Bletchley Park cracking the Enigma Code which effectively shortened World War Two, and so spared countless additional lost lives. In Manchester he had led the way in developing software for one of the world’s earliest stored-program computers (the Manchester Mark 1) – and Turing today is acknowledged as the father of artificial intelligence (AI) whose work has led to the development of cognitive computing. After being prosecuted for homosexuality he died after eating an apple laced with cyanide. Tim Cook (founder of the US super-firm Apple) was once asked whether the symbol you see on its products – the half eaten apple – was a homage to Turing? No, he said. It was accidental. But he really wished he had thought of that. That would have been a great story.
The narrative, however, is only one part of the jigsaw. It’s also important to have the evidence in place to demonstrate the excellent and exciting stuff that is going on in Greater Manchester, thus attracting people to come and get engaged. That is why at the end of last year we completed a Science and Innovation Audit for Greater Manchester and Cheshire East to identify the areas where there are genuine national and international strengths - then using these to better alignment with the needs of business to drive innovation and ultimately economic growth. The Audit identified Health Innovation, Energy, Advanced Materials, Digital and Industrial Biotechnology as the themes where there are significant assets - facilities, staff, networks, as well as international partnerships in place involving the academic and business world. It recognised the need to use this research excellence to support innovation so businesses are then able to produce goods and services that will support local economic growth.
The Audit therefore plays a role in setting the narrative about the journey Manchester has been on to develop a world class science economy. The unique devolution of health is already bringing about benefits in clinical trials, and medical wearable technologies. Our history of strong local governance has led to an important devolution deal which grants GM unique control over £6 billion of health spend annually with commitment to use this to drive innovation through Health Innovation Manchester to serve a patient population with major healthcare challenges – potentially bringing solutions to market more rapidly.
Being able to point to an amazing scientific past involving globally-recognised and distinguished individuals helps give Manchester an advantage over others. It opens doors and allows a conversation to start with international partners and investors. The plan is to launch the Audit report regionally – you can read it in the attached link. If you are keen to find out more about any aspect of it then please drop me a line.
Deputy Director Science and Business