Home grown talent

UK-born physicist Stuart Parkin has won the 2014 Millennium technology prize. Parkin is credited as pioneering ‘spintronic’ materials, which to you and me means that even more data can be stored on to a single hard drive. Parkin’s research and contribution was credited by the foundation who gave the award as paving the way for cloud computing. Computer Weekly magazine adds, “The foundation says he made Facebook, Google, Amazon and other online services possible.”

The magazine goes on to say that such is Park’s contribution to technology, “he enabled a 1,000 fold improvement in the storage capacity of magnetic disk drives without changing their cost.”

An amazing achievement for a British scientist I’m sure that you’ll agree. Parkin isn’t the first Brit to win the award. He joins Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the internet, as another recipient. And while Tim Berners-Lee has become more of a household name for those working in technology PR, I bet this was the first time you’d heard of Parkin.

The internet and cloud computing aside, Britain is also responsible for another leading technological advance – Graphene.

Widely believed to be a material that will change the face of electronics, Graphene was identified in 2004 at the University of Manchester. Researchers working on the project were awarded the Nobel Prize in physics.

Apart from being award winning, there is another link between Parkin, Berners-Lee and Graphene. While all three are Brits (or Brit-invented) none live or work here any more. Both Berners-Lee and Parkin are US-based and have been for some time. And while the University of Manchester continues to undertake research in Graphene, other commercial companies with far larger budgets (Samsung in Japan for example) have surpassed it in investment.

So it seems that that the UK is, in fact, developing and nuturing scientific talent. The big issue for us as a nation is retaining that talent and using it to attract and develop more. In the same article in Computer Weekly, Science minister, David Willetts, was quoted as saying, “I hope his achievement will inspire and encourage others to support our work to stay ahead in the global science race.” I was rather hoping that it would inspire and encourage other scientists and innovators to come and work here!

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