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Murray Edwards College
University of Cambridge

School Winner: Science and the EU

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    06 Oct

    Science fact

    Elephants rarely get cancer: less than 5% of captive elephants die of cancer, compared to 20% of humans. Elephant genomes have at least 20 copies of the tumour suppressor, p53, which may explain their low cancer rates relative to humans, who have only one copy. 

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    caitlin-byrne-wirral-grammar-school-for-girls1c-caitlin-byrne-photo Recently, our country has made the bold decision to become a pioneer and leave the European Union, which has left many people with the same question at the forefront of their minds: what now?

    Typically, this is not a question you would consider to be linked to much else other than the fate of our economy, healthcare and obvious policy areas, but I am instead going to consider exactly how this decision has had an impact upon the world of science.

    UK universities benefit significantly from EU membership, as they receive 10% of their research funding from the EU, which has been estimated to amount to around £1 billion. This could provide a barrier for scientific advances in the UK as the research carried out in Universities has contributed to the science industry in a large way; the UK’s research institutions and universities have benefited greatly from EU investment and have managed to contribute approximately 14% of the most highly cited academic papers each year.1c-caitlin-byrne-image-1-jpg

    If we were to withdraw from the EU, then would the research funding also be withdrawn, and if so how would we then be able to compensate for that? The European Research Council has contributed more than £5 billion toward scientific research in the UK since 2007, which has been vital under the Conservative government as it was decided that there would be cuts to scientific research and it has been estimated that around 1/5th of all European Research Community grants have gone toward the UK. Without all of this funding, what will this then mean for the Scientific community? An open letter regarding this issue has recently been published in the Times, which was co-signed by Astronomer Royal Martin Rees, Naturejournal editor-in-chief Philip Campbell and Nobel-winning geneticist Paul Nurse. The letter talks about how it is not ‘known to the public that the EU is a boon to UK science and innovation’ and that ‘freedom of movement for talent and ambitious EU science funding programmes, which support vital, complex international collaborations, put the UK in a world-leading position.’

    This suggests that without EU support, the lack of freedom of movement and funding could be a vital barrier for science in general and research in the future.

    However, Scientists for Britain (a leave campaign group), has pointed out that there are many countries outside of the EU who still receive EU funding; spokesmen say that a points-based visa system would enable UK universities to continue to bring in students from USA, Australia, Canada and various other countries not in the EU. 1c-caitlin-byrne-image-3Although it appears that on the surface that the future may appear bleak for scientific advancements and research without EU funding and freedom of movement, the clear conclusion i have been able to draw is that at this stage, we are still highly uncertain of the future but all we can do now is try our best to keep calm and carry on, in true British fashion.

    Caitlin Byrne
    Student at Wirral Grammar School for Girls
    "I am Caitlin Byrne and I have always had a fascination with science and how it works within the natural world, but more recently how it interacts within the the political framework of our country. As I am applying to study chemistry at university; eventually aiming to pursue a career in formulation chemistry, I feel that the impact politics has on science and research has never been more significant."