By Hazel Cox
The government changes in research councils may be in danger of damaging the UK's contribution to world research and our ability to advance research knowledge for the benefit of the country as a whole.
After 40 years of a service that provided computational chemistry facilities to UK academics, we were told on Tuesday (8th July 2008) that funding has not been renewed. This is a catastrophic oversight and is without any strategic thought or justification. Over 100 UK research groups have used this facility in the last 3 years (40 proposals have been received since the beginning of the year). Surely this is an excellent investment in UK science and the high-impact publications (including Science, JACS, etc.) that result and the acknowledgements by speakers at International conferences, is really testament to the significance and potential of the research performed as a result of this National Service for Computational chemistry software (NSCCS).
This is not just a service for computational chemists, it has gained strength and momentum over the years to allow access for all chemists (in particular experimentalists) providing hands-on training where necessary, and workshops in which the writers of software (often International) are available to talk to users. Furthermore, given the expense of experiments, access to the most recent chemistry software (quantum, classical, simulation, solvent models, etc.) to use as input into experiment design is very cost effective. Science from fundamental materials chemistry, structure and reactivity, catalysis, chemical physics to chemical biology and more have benefited from this service. The only criteria for time on the machines and access to the latest software being that the research is of excellent quality (all proposals are peer reviewed).
But this is not just about the NSCCS, this is about national facilities in the UK. It seems the latest policy change within the EPSRC is that all national services in the future will be subject to response mode bids (although this has not been announced publicly yet) and it seems in this most recent case no strategic importance is used to prioritise such bids. Thus, the research councils are investing in a small number of research groups (which is great) but at the expense of a service that everyone can apply to and is of great benefit, significance and importance to the UK international research standing. Furthermore, given the expense of experiments, access to the most recent chemistry software (quantum, classical, simulation, solvent models, etc.) to use as input into experiment design is very cost effective whether that be through collaboration or directly (and the funding of the service is extremely modest, £2.3m over last 3 years). At a time when the success rate of proposals is hitting an all-time low (approx 5-10% success rate for response mode), National facilities are imperative if the UK is to continue to be competitive in the international arena (and to support researchers of excellent science that are not lucky enough to get funded due to lack of funds not due to lack of excellence).
10 July 2008
By Hazel Cox
Posted by Hazelc at 4:54 pm