Scientific Infrastructure |
Chapter 1: Introduction
1. The UK's international stature in research
is founded in part on the availability of internationally competitive
scientific infrastructure. For many areas of science, it is vital
that both UK researchers and industry have access to scientific
infrastructure, enabling them to be at the forefront of scientific
discoveries and pioneering innovation. This might mean, for example,
having access to the most up to date microscope or a new high
performance computer, capable of handling massive data sets, such
as the supercomputer used by the Met Office, which can do more
than 100 trillion calculations a second, and was able to predict
the path of the recent St Jude's storm.
2. Scientific infrastructure needs may change
rapidly. For example, across many fields, increasingly advanced
computing power (termed e-infrastructure) is now needed to handle
complex data sets and run simulations. Crucially, large facilities
can take decades to plan and build before they become operational.
It is therefore important that a long-term strategy is in place
to enable effective prioritisation and timely investment. Likewise,
national expertise and data may take many decades to establish,
but could be lost rapidly without appropriate investment. The
key purpose of this inquiry was to determine whether an effective
long-term strategy exists for investment in internationally competitive
scientific infrastructure in the UK.
3. Scientific or research infrastructure has
been defined by the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures
(ESFRI) as: "
major equipment or sets of instruments,
in addition to knowledge-containing resources such as collections,
archives and data banks. Research Infrastructures may be "single-sited",
"distributed", or "virtual" (the service being
In addition, to meet the ESFRI definition, infrastructure must
"apply an 'Open Access' policy for basic research, i.e.
be open to all interested researchers, based on open competition
and selection of the proposals evaluated on the sole scientific
excellence by international peer review."
4. For the purposes of this inquiry, however,
we went beyond ESFRI's definition because we also wanted to consider
the provision of mid-range scientific infrastructure. This inquiry
therefore focused on large, international or national scientific
infrastructure, where only one facility exists in the world, in
Europe, or in a country, and mid-range infrastructure, shared
between users at university or at a regional level. We include
within the definition of infrastructure, not only large and mid-range
facilities, but also data and national capabilities such as those
in Public Sector Research Establishments (PSREs), for example,
the British Geological Survey and the Institute for Animal Health.
In all cases, such infrastructure requires substantial initial
expenditure, often demanding capital investment, and has significant
operational or recurrent costs.
- We would like to thank everyone who gave evidence
to us, both at oral evidence sessions, which we held across June
and July, and in writing. We also wish to thank our Specialist
Adviser, Professor Brian Collins, who greatly assisted our
1 European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures,
Strategy report on research infrastructures: Roadmap 2010,
March 2011. Available online: Error! Bookmark not defined.. Back