Whether you like your scientists to be medallion wearers or medal winners or indeed both is I suppose a matter of personal preference.
In one of those strange juxtapositions in life I chanced across news of this month’s US GQ feature (no, I don’t read it) on ‘Rock Stars of Science’ shortly before leaving my office yesterday evening to attend the Royal Society’s anniversary day reception. Lord Rees gave his farewell address as President before the annual award of the Society’s medals and prizes to, among others, Sir David Cox (Copley Medal) for his pioneering work on statistics.
Much as I like a good flick through a magazine I can’t pretend I wasn’t flattered to have been asked along as a guest and to have been rather taken with the dignity of the event. But I suppose there is a place for both.
To mark the end of its 350th Anniversary, the Royal Society also published its ‘Science sees further’ collection of 12 articles written by Sir David Attenborough and 11 other esteemed authors explaining how science will address some of the most challenging issues in society such as ageing. It perhaps shows what a mere mortal I am that I remain baffled by more humble and humbling questions such as why my train can’t travel nine miles into central London in the snow, or why the ‘o’ keeps sticking on my home laptp.
However, to end on a serious point, I have noticed a clutch of recent articles showcasing new UK facilities for science in the last few days – all of which charities have had a significant hand in making happen: the new Edinburgh diagnostic imaging centre (Wellcome Trust and British Heart Foundation (BHF) and the opening of the world’s largest early clinical trials centre at The Christie Hospital in Manchester (Cancer Research UK). It is an often overlooked fact that as well as scientists and research projects, UK research charities also play a large role in the funding of our science infrastructure. Another more obvious example is the new UKCMRI centre to be built in London whose Director and Chief Executive, Sir Paul Nurse, is the incoming President of the Royal Society.
The reality is that our scientists will likely struggle to win medals or medallions in the future without state-of-the-art facilities in which to work. And it is a credit to charities that they are so often the ones breaking the ground where ground-breaking work can occur.