IOP fellowship holder Jack Snape, who is currently doing a placement at Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST), guest writes about his fellowship experience and the very topical issue of advanced manufacturing.
“Earlier this year I applied for an IOP fellowship at the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST). I was offered the fellowship, and despite being in the middle of the hectic third year of my PhD in plasma physics and fusion energy, I jumped at the chance. I’ve had an interest in politics for as long as I’ve had an interest in science so working at the interface between the two really appealed to me. POST sits within Parliament and supports both the Commons and the Lords with independent and balanced information on science and technology issues relating to public policy. POST staff work on a range of reports, hold seminars and assist with select committee inquiries but the majority of their work is a series of concise briefing notes called POSTnotes. My three-month project is to research and write a POSTnote on the topic of ‘advanced manufacturing’.
The term ‘advanced manufacturing’ usually refers to high-tech production processes that minimise cost and energy usage to allow the UK to compete in global markets. This topic is of particular interest at the moment as the Government attempts to ‘rebalance’ the economy towards manufacturing, following the financial crisis. Advanced manufacturing processes are often associated with ‘advanced’ products such as composites for wind turbines or plastic electronics but can also be used in lower value sectors like food and drink. An exciting example is ‘additive manufacturing’, a process that builds objects up layer by layer and is being used in a huge range of applications including personalised, on demand medical implants.
The UK university research base has a strong track record for innovation but the UK often fails to take full economic advantage of nascent technologies. In order to bridge the gap between ‘research’ and ‘product’, the Government has set up a network of Technology and Innovation Centres where universities and industry can collaboratively trial industrial scale processes without commercial pressure. Real growth in this area will only occur if small medium sized enterprises adopt new technology but there are all kinds of barriers, including a lack of access to finance and a skills shortage. There are a lot of relevant issues to worry about and it’s a challenge to keep the note concise.
I’m now eight weeks into my fellowship. I spent most of the first five weeks researching the topic, which involved reading relevant reports and interviewing a range of academics, civil servants and industry leaders. It’s nice to be taken seriously by senior people – everyone involved is keen to help out and ensure that I get all the key points into my briefing note. There’s a nice sociable atmosphere working in the POST office, with a mix of permanent staff and other PhD fellows. Everyone is working on a totally different topic so there’s always something interesting to find out about. Overall, I’m really enjoying it, learning a lot and still finding it exciting to be in Parliament.”