by Dr Robin Daniels, Chief Executive of the Norwich Research Park
Innovation takes place across boundaries, across the interfaces between established scientific fields and business sectors. Pushed out from the science base, or pulled through by a market or societal need, disruptive technologies emerge from a cocktail of scientific excellence, entrepreneurial energy, intelligent financing and receptive customers. This well understood landscape is thrown into even sharper relief when the pull from the demand side of the market becomes particularly acute.
Dr Robin Daniels
Take a look at any one of the major challenges that we face; the drive for (and burden of) healthy ageing, food shortages, energy costs and security, climate change, counter terrorism and, before long, water security and we see science and technology at its heart. Politics and carefully crafted economic strategies are critical too in delivering even partial solutions to a whole range of interconnected challenges, but it is the science and how that science is deployed, which holds the key.
Move to the next level and look at the science embedded in any one of these challenges and we see knowledge and know-how that cuts across traditional scientific boundaries. Along just one plane of the climate change challenge, for example, we see a cascade of seemingly intractable dilemmas; increasing biofuel production is essential to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, yet this necessitates the destruction of rainforest, delivers food shortages and spiralling grain prices, which in turn sparks increased fuel-hungry nitrogen production to boost yields. When political sentiment triggers this kind of market psychosis it is often science which carries the can.
The truth is that science very often holds the key to a solution. The trick is in how that science is combined and deployed. Breaking such vicious circles as the biofuels melée is most readily achieved by commercially-informed scientists, working across boundaries to develop new hybrid solutions. Practical answers to important questions are increasingly delivered by teams of people working between fields, rather than deep within specialisms; a trend which started with Japanese manufacturing techniques of the 1980s, such as Simultaneous Engineering.
The science park provides the opportunity to create a micro-cluster which, with care, delivers robust solutions for industry and governments to deploy
If only it were possible to bring together scientists from relevant disciplines, support their interaction with companies aligned with these major challenges and provide the business development support required to accelerate new technologies to market. Of course, this is possible; this is the task of science parks and technology business incubation.
Science parks are uniquely positioned to engineer and develop the conditions and the market for the commercial development of scientific invention and innovation. By linking supply and demand ? and providing both with appropriate accommodation and connectivity ? the science park provides the opportunity to create a micro-cluster which, with care, delivers robust solutions for industry and governments to deploy. Moreover it becomes possible to deliver real economic impact for the locality, the region and the country.
Those locations that include a good university, strong research institutes, business incubation facilities and links to established firms have all the component parts necessary to bring about a transformation in the UK?s exploitation of science and technology. Science parks provide a physical proximity for players in the market; they can form the basis of a growing sense of community ? of a commonwealth of complementary capabilities.
Above all, with strong leadership, they have the opportunity to catalyse a new industrial revolution for the UK ? one that will ensure that we can continue to pay for the world-class research that underpins the whole endeavour. And in the process, we might just save the planet.
Dr Robin CE Daniels, Chief Executive
Norwich Research Park
Norwich, NR4 7UH, UK
Tel: +44 (0)1603 450992
Mobile: +44 (0)7833 508456
Fax: +44 (0)1603 450993
Added the 16 September 2008 in category Innovation UK Vol4-1