Ben Bradshaw

Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw took part in a range of experiments during his visit

MP swaps white papers for white coat in science pairing scheme

Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw became a scientist for the day when he took part in experiments in University of Exeter laboratories.

Mr Bradshaw conducted a series of experiments to learn more about some of the University’s cutting-edge research, as part of a pairing scheme run by the Royal Society, the UK’s national academy of science.

The partnership is designed to give MPs an insight into scientific research, as well as to help scientists understand how policy is formed. The pairing began in October, when physicist Dr Annette Plaut spent a week shadowing Mr Bradshaw in Westminster and in his constituency work.

Dr Plaut said: “I had a fantastic opportunity to gain an insider’s view of Westminster, and Ben's visit to the University was my chance to give him an insight into what scientific research is all about. It’s crucial that policymakers take an interest in science, as they make key decisions on issues such as funding, in a sector which is key to the economy of tomorrow.”

Dr Plaut is a Senior Lecturer in Physics at the University of Exeter. Her research focuses on graphene – the thinnest known material with unique mechanical, electrical and optical properties. Scientists and engineers at the University of Exeter and around the world are working to develop graphene-based practical applications, from all-carbon-based nano-electronics that can rival or even replace silicon technology, to medicine and healthcare. Dr Plaut’s research into the different ways in which the atoms in graphene vibrate will help with these innovations.

Ben Bradshaw said: “It was fascinating to find out more about this research, and to meet staff and students who are passionate about their work. I have always been interested in the evidence-based approach and the relationship between science and politics, and my partnership with Annette means I can explore that further.”

During his visit, Mr Bradshaw took part in two experiments which allowed him to view the graphene that he himself had produced, as well as visiting a number of other research laboratories to hear about other research projects. He also met with both staff and students in Physics and Astronomy and from the wider University.

The Royal Society’s MP-Scientist pairing scheme aims to build bridges between parliamentarians and some of the best scientists in the UK. It is an opportunity for MPs to become better informed about science issues and for scientists to understand how they can influence science policy. Over 200 pairs of scientists and MPs have taken part in the scheme since it was launched in 2001.

Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society said: “We live in a world facing increasing challenges that can only be addressed with a clear understanding of science. From climate change to influenza outbreaks, GM food to nuclear power, our MPs have to make decisions about complex issues that will affect the lives of all those in the UK and, in many cases, more widely throughout the world. This means that MPs and scientists have a responsibility to engage with each other to get the best possible scientific advice into public policy making.

“We set up the Royal Society’s MP-Scientist pairing scheme in 2001 to provide the opportunity for MPs and scientists to build long-term relationships with each other and have now organised over two hundred pairings. 

“I know many parliamentarians and scientists who have gained from the scheme, and the shaping of public policy can only improve over time as these relationships continue to grow.”

Date: 28 January 2013

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