"Nanotechnology is expected to fuel the economy over the next 10 to 15 years," claims Professor Mark Welland of the University of Cambridge. Welland is to head one of two brand-new Interdisciplinary Research Collaborations (IRCs) in nanotechnology, it was announced last week. The centres, chosen from a shortlist of five, will each receive £9 million of funding over the next 6 years and are to be based in Cambridge and Oxford. The grants are the result of an alliance between the Engineering and Physical Sciences, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences, and the Medical Research Councils.
The experts involved in the Cambridge IRC will be drawn from University College London and the University of Bristol, as well as the University of Cambridge, ensuring not just interdisciplinary but inter-institution collaboration. The Oxford collaboration, which will focus on nanobiotechnology, will be organised in a similar way, bringing together nanotechnologists from the Universities of Glasgow and York and the National Institute for Medical Research.
The great news is that "the majority of the money is for people," according to Welland. Plans involve taking on a minimum of 26 Ph.D. students and a similar number of postdocs to work at a newly built site in Cambridge, which will allow them "to bring together young researchers from different academic disciplines in one facility." Researchers will work in small, multidisciplinary teams, and innovative scientists are welcome. "The more creative in thinking about small projects the better," explains Welland. The aim, he says, is to "make really significant scientific breakthroughs which are a direct result of interdisciplinary collaboration."
The Cambridge collaboration aims to be under way by autumn this year. During the initial 6-year, 'ring-fenced' funding period, Welland notes that the intention is to create a "high-profile centre for international research." A centre which will attract scientists from around the globe, as they want to "ensure we have a facility so that a visitor from anywhere on the planet who wants to spend a week doing experiments is positively encouraged and funded," he suggests. He is delighted that the new funding will "ensure that the UK plays a leading role in both scientific and commercial arenas."