The Battle for Innovation
The Battle for Innovation is sponsored by the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC)
What is innovation for?
Produced by Martyn Perks
Lecture Theatre 1, 10.30 - 12.00 on Saturday 28 October 2006
Innovation has always been vital to human progress. From fashioning primitive tools to large-scale industrial manufacture, from cave drawings to modern design – the human capacity to innovate has had enormous social benefits.
At its best, innovation reflects a basic desire to experiment, to know more, to understand and shape the world. However, today innovators – whether in academia or business – seem to be under increasing pressure to develop new technologies and ideas that are ‘useful’ in terms of current government and corporate priorities such as sustainability, economic competitiveness and social responsibility. From pure research to vehicle design, from space exploration to nanotechnology, nowadays innovating for its own sake is often portrayed as too self-indulgent. Instead a target-driven approach is relied on to ensure that innovation is directed towards ‘developing new products and servicing the public’ and that academics ‘work on research that is relevant to users’.
If research and innovation have to be tailored to fulfil the perceived social needs of today’s world, what about tomorrow’s world? Historically, serendipity and a spirit of experimentation have revealed latent, unforeseen needs. Is there a danger that an instrumentalist tick-box approach will close down the unexpected outcomes of a more open-ended attitude to R&D? Does asking ‘what is it for?’ undermine the possibility of going further than our imaginations can presently conceive?
Maxine Horn, chief executive, British Design Innovation
Dr Norman Lewis, director of technology research, Orange Home UK Plc; author, Digital Children (2007)
ProfessorJeremy Myerson, co-director, Helen Hamlyn Research Centre and director, InnovationRCA, Royal College of Art; author, Space to Work: New Office Design (2006)
Dr David Parker, director of space science, PPARC and British National Space Centre (BNSC)
Chair: Martyn Perks, design consultant, writer and speaker on design, IT & business
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Reaching for the stars - realising the ambitions of the space age
Timandra Harkness & Sandy Starr
Lecture Theatre 1, 13.30 - 15.00 on Saturday 28 October 2006
Innovation is a buzzword today - endorsed in all fields from the arts to business, from politics to science. However, the reality of innovation seems characterised more by caution and modesty than ambition. For all the hype, many innovations are greeted less than enthusiastically. We seem ambivalent about the enormous advances in science and technology we have made over recent years, anxious about the consequences of everything from genetic modification to computer games. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the current debate about space.
In October 1957, the first man-made satellite, Sputnik 1, was launched. It was a powerful symbol of humanity’s commitment to exploration and experimentation, giving rise to a ‘space age’ in which people were excited about the future. Fifty years on, while diverse activities now take place in space such as astronomy, planetary exploration and Earth observation, there seems some reluctance ‘to boldly go…’. While President Bush has recently declared his support for manned space flight, human space exploration is currently controversial in the UK, with many believing that resources would be better invested in unmanned missions. Meanwhile, critics of space-based research argue that it is too high-risk and cite examples of missions that have ended in disaster. Even those who enthuse about space travel seem unsure of its purpose. Open-ended exploration seems to have been replaced by more ‘worldly’ concerns. Rather than looking outwards to a new frontier, space now seems a new arena for looking in on ourselves. Earth observation is increasingly justified only as a means of collecting data about climate change and man-made disasters.
What, if anything, is holding space exploration back? Are we allowing contemporary cultural pessimism to keep us from imagining the impossible and really thinking big?
Dr Kevin Fong, NESTA fellow and honorary lecturer in physiology, Centre for Aviation, Space and Extreme Environment Medicine, University College London
Dr Henry Joy McCracken, Astronome Adjoint, Institut d'Astrophysique de Paris and Observatoire de Paris
Sandy Starr, science and technology editor, spiked
John Zarnecki, professor of space science, Planetary and Space Sciences Research Institute, Open University
Chair: Timandra Harkness, freelance science writer and event producer
- Tiffany Jenkins The think tank: It's time we reached for the stars again Herald 12 May 2006
- Peter N Spotts Why man instead of machine? Christian Science Monitor 07 July 2005
- Jeff Foust Seeking a rationale for human space exploration The Space Review 09 February 2004
Tomorrow's innovators - will today's science education create the Brunels and Einsteins of tomorrow?
In association with Pfizer and produced by Tony Gilland
Lecture Theatre 1, 15.30 - 17.00 on Saturday 28 October 2006
Students at university and secondary school are abandoning pure science. While total A-level entries rose between 1991 and 2003, chemistry, mathematics and physics all dropped significantly. Applications for degree courses in science, maths and engineering have fallen by a third in recent years.
Few deny that the situation is a serious cause for concern, but there is little clarity about the underlying problems or what the solutions might be. The government has emphasised the importance of students having the opportunity to study three separate sciences – physics, chemistry and biology – at GCSE to provide them with a better grounding for A level study and beyond. But with a desperate shortage of physics and chemistry teachers is this wishful thinking?
At the same time, from September 2006 all students are required to study a new science GCSE that aims to assist school students to become scientifically literate citizens. A key argument underpinning this new GCSE is that for too long science education has focused on training the minority of students who will go on to be the scientists of tomorrow when in fact greater emphasis needs to be given to preparing all young people to make informed choices about issues such as global climate change, healthy lifestyles or the risks and benefits of the MMR vaccination.
What are the prospects for this new approach to both educate and inspire the Brunels and Einsteins of tomorrow and arm future citizens to engage in constructive debates and decisions about the risks and benefits of new innovations? Amidst all this change is there a danger that we are losing faith in science as an academic discipline worthy of study and failing to push the next generation to engage with it in a serious way?
Dr Eliot Forster, vice-president of development, Pfizer
Dr Brian Iddon, MP, Bolton, South East; member, House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee
David Perks, head of physics, Graveney School; writer, Times Educational Supplement, The Times and spiked
Michael Reiss, professor of science education, Institute of Education; director of education, Royal Society
Chair: Tony Gilland, science and society director, Institute of Ideas; national co-ordinator, Debating Matters
- David Perks Dark Forces in the Lab The Times Educational Supplement 6 January 2006