RACING against time to find a new antibiotic that will prevent 10 million people every year dying from common infections. Creating new strains of rice that can feed more people while cutting down on polluting fertilizers. Finding commercial, scale-able applications for a new material a single atom in thickness. Pinning down exactly how and how badly air pollution harms human health so we can take the best measures to protect ourselves. Crunching huge amounts of data to predict in much more detail what climate change will mean for specific communities and how they can best adapt.
What do all these have in common? They are just a few of the many areas where UK and Chinese scientists, innovators and businesses are working together. It is why research collaboration is one of the most important parts of the global partnership with the UK that President Xi Jinping announced during his state visit last year.
The global challenges we face are huge. And there is an obvious and natural reason why the UK and China are such strategic scientific partners.
The UK has four of the top 25 research universities in the world – the rest of the world outside the US contributes just two. In the past 15 years, we’ve won 14 Nobel prizes for science, again more than any other country than the US. Although we only make up less than one percent of the world’s population, we contribute one in every seven of the most highly cited scientific papers. From television to the internet, from DNA fingerprinting to Maglev trains, UK innovation has shaped the modern world.
This won’t change. Earlier this month the first scientists moved into the biggest biomedical research institute in Europe – the Francis Crick Institute in London. The UK government has also confirmed that we will guarantee funding for collaborative research with other EU countries as part of Horizon 2020, if it is successfully applied for before we leave the EU. So the hugely valuable work we are doing under Horizon 2020 will continue. Internationally, the UK will be the global headquarters for the world’s largest radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array, and we’ve just signed up as full members of the major new particle accelerator – European Spallation Source – which will be bigger than CERN.
And the story in China is equally impressive. In the past 20 years, China’s R&D budgets have grown by a massive 40 times, making it today the second biggest scientific funder in the world. And Innovation runs through the core of the 13th Five Year Plan, with ambitious targets in 13 major areas.
It is no wonder then that the UK has overtaken Japan to become China’s second largest scientific collaboration partner as measured by joint papers. Nor is it a surprise that such collaboration is bearing fruit. Independent citation data shows that when UK and Chinese scientists work together their results are more widely read and have more impact than when either works alone.
The Pujiang Innovation Forum later this week – where the UK is country of honor – is an opportunity both to celebrate that success and to plan for the future. We are bringing out 150 top scientists – including the Nobel Prize winner Kostya Novoselov who invented that one atom thick material, grapheme – led by me and by our government Chief Scientific Adviser, Mark Walport. We’ll be making some exciting announcements including the opening up in Shanghai of a new joint UK-China center for plant and microbial science.
In my job as Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation I get to see many examples of British scientific excellence and collaboration around the world. But none is more exciting and more significant than the work that the UK and China are doing, together, to push forward human understanding and through scientific endeavor build a better world.