Each year Nicola takes part in the Royal Society Pairing Scheme, in which she welcomes a scientist for a few days in Westminster and Whitehall with her, and she then spends a week with them to learn more about their work. The aim of the scheme is to bridge the gap between parliamentarians and the science industry, enabling MPs to become better informed about science and for scientists to understand how policy is influenced and formed in Parliament.
The scheme has been particularly important to Nicola, who has been Chair of the Commons Science and Technology Select Committee and is now Minister for Public Health and Innovation with many life sciences issues included in her portfolio.
Last year Nicola was shadowed by Dr Matthew Levy, a Royal Society Newton International Fellow who has been identified as one of the leading young theoretic plasma physicists in the US. Matthew is researching new physics at extreme intensities using both current and next generation laser systems, based at Wolfson College, Oxford University, and it was Nicola’s turn to step in to his shoes and learn about his work.
They started the day visiting Fitzharrys School with a representative from the Royal Society who run an outreach programme with schools across the country, to discuss STEM opportunities with the Headteacher; drop in to some science lessons and discuss opportunities for further work with the Royal Society Associate Schools and Colleges Scheme. Nicola was thrilled to see such enthusiasm for science as they dropped by a biology lesson about the digestive system and then a physics lesson experimenting with magnets. It is clear that the Abingdon Partnership are working effectively to highlight STEM opportunities to their students.
After this they stopped off for lunch Wolfson College to hear about the exciting work of a number of University spin outs, before going to the Physics Department where Dr Levy was able to showcase not only his own work but a range of exciting research projects underway by the various research scientists at a Symposium entitled ‘Science & Innovation Sessions’. Nicola discussed the innovative work underway with each of the leading researchers, and even took away a little light reading on String Theory!
Nicola says: It has been inspiring to learn about Matthew’s work and the exciting research going on in and around Oxford, today has been brilliant in highlighting just how innovative we are and how we can encourage younger generations to continue the trend.