Chemical engineers grill Commons committee in Westminster
20 Mar 2017
Last week chemical engineers took to Westminster to grill the House of Commons Science & Technology Committee on behalf of the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE).
Tamsin Jackson, a chemical engineer working in nuclear energy, asked: “Withdrawing from the EU will also mean withdrawal from the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom). What impacts are foreseen as a consequence of this? What new legal framework is anticipated to cover nuclear safety regulation or the import of radioactive isotopes for medical and research purposes? How might the funding currently provided to UK nuclear research by Euratom be replaced?”
Speaking more broadly about EU regulations, science minster Jo Johnson replied: “For the time being, we are still very much members of the European Union with the rights and obligations that come with being full members. Longer term, our relationship to EU programmes will be subject to wider Brexit negotiations. But we’ve been very clear as a government that we value our European research partnerships and our collaborative structures.”
Caitlin Taylor, whose research at the University of Bath looks at using UV light and metals to treat wastewater, said: “With less than 15% of MPs with backgrounds in STEM, how should the government ensure that policy-making remains firmly based on evidence?”
Stephen Metcalfe, chairman of the committee, said: “I don’t think that there has to be a direct link between having a science background and being able to base your decision-making process upon evidence. If you believe in evidence you all have to stand up for it.”
Conservative MP Tania Mathias added: “We do have some engineers in Parliament and I’m sure we could always do with some more.”
David Streather, a process engineer working on developing biomedicine at AstraZeneca asked: “Is there a plan to review the grants system in the UK, to ensure a more positive research environment that encourages steady progress and the publishing of negative results?”
Mark Walport, the government’s chief scientific advisor, responded: “It’s important to distinguish the several different reasons for negative results. Some make it difficult to publish work and others don’t. When scientific research is well done, even if the results are negative, they are still important and the work can be published. I think the challenge is work which is insufficient.”
These questions, and others, formed part of a discussion at this year’s Voice of the Future event, in which engineers took to Portcullis House, Westminster to question the committee on the issues they face.
IChemE’s director of policy Claudia Flavell-While said: “This year was the first time we asked our young members to compete for a place at this event. We were inundated with applications, and the range of questions people wanted to ask – from energy to pharmaceuticals – was fantastic.
“It’s a clear indication of how important policy is to the young chemical engineers who will be helping to solve global problems in the not so distant future.”