Chancellor George Osborne wants the north to become a 'powerhouse' for materials science

Osborne pushes northern materials science 'powerhouse'

The latest phase of plans for a "northern powerhouse" to drive innovation in materials science has been announced by George Osborne.

The Chancellor welcomed the proposals for a National Institute for Materials Research and Innovation, based in the north of England, as he visited the University of Manchester to also announce a second research centre into "wonder material" graphene.

The Government's chief scientific advisor Sir Mark Walport has been tasked to develop the plans to build on the North's expertise in materials science with the development of super lightweight, strong and flexible materials that have applications across a wide range of industries.

"This is another big step in delivering our plan for the 'northern powerhouse'. Science is at the heart of the economic prospects for the north of England. I asked Mark Walport to develop exciting plans – and this proposal is certainly exciting,” Osborne said.

"It would put the north of England at the centre of the search for the new materials of the future and bring new jobs and investment as these materials are developed. That's what the investment in graphene has already proved."

Sir Mark said: "I have been working with northern universities to catalyse imaginative and ambitious responses to the Chancellor's recent challenge. For proposals to be successful in strengthening the UK's academic and industrial base, we must build on our existing excellence in research.

"This proposal for a National Institute for Materials Research and Innovation is based in the north but has national scope, integrating strengths across the UK in academia and industry, and must be able to operate at a scale that no one university can achieve alone."

Osborne chaired a meeting of key northern leaders from the public and private sector including Jim O'Neill, head of the City Growth Commission, and Dame Nancy Rothwell, president and vice chancellor of the University of Manchester yesterday to discuss the plans.

Professor Rothwell said: "We very much welcome the discussions led by the Chancellor between cities, universities and private partners to develop science and innovation as this recognises the tremendous potential science has as a driver for national economic growth both in the North and nationally."

The final decision about whether to proceed with the research centre will be taken in the Chancellor's Autumn Statement.

Osborne also announced that The University of Manchester will build a £60m Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre (GEIC), which complements the National Graphene Institute – also at the university – which received nearly £40m of funding in the 2012 Budget and is near completion.

GEIC will provide facilities so that graphene-based products can be fast-tracked from the drawing board to the market to boost the development of applications from food packaging that could tell you when your food goes off, to drugs that can be delivered to specific cells to bendable mobile phones with enormous battery life.

It will be partially funded by £15m from the UK Research Partnership Investment Fund (UKRPIF), £5m from Innovate UK (formally the Technology Strategy Board) and £30m from Masdar, the Abu Dhabi-based clean technology and renewable energy company.

The remainder will be sourced by the University of Manchester from available funding schemes including European Regional Development Funds.

“Graphene is potentially a game-changer – its properties make it one of the most important commercial scientific breakthroughs in recent memory. It presents tremendous opportunities with the potential to provide thousands of jobs and billions of pounds of further investment,” said Osborne. We don't just want to see 'discovered in Britain'. We want to see 'made and manufactured in Britain'."

Sir Kostya Novoselov, winner of the Nobel Prize in physics and one of the University of Manchester scientists who isolated graphene, said: "The Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre is the critical step in ensuring that innovative ideas developed in the UK could contribute to economic growth here and worldwide. It will serve as one of the keystones in supporting science, technology and innovation in the UK."

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