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Young chemical engineers quiz MPs on science funding and single-use plastic in Parliament

15 March 2019

Chemical engineers quizzed UK policy leaders on some topical science issues today (12 March), at Voice of the Future 2019, held at the Palace of Westminster.

Sameen Barabhuiya, Production Engineer at The Dow Chemical Company; Stefano Ceci, Senior Process Engineer at Johnson Matthey; and Anna Xiao, Engineer at GSK, all represented the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) at the event, which is organised by the Royal Society of Biology.

Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow MP, welcomed participants and thanked the various organisations involved in the planning and organisation. The event was split into four Q&A sessions, with themes ranging from the Government’s plans to sustain and invest in science and technology post-Brexit; to mitigating the effects of climate change and plastic pollution.

Stefano Ceci, who is based at Johnson Matthey’s Teesside site, asked:

“Where should UK science and technology focus development in the next 5-10 years, for optimum societal, ecosystem and environmental benefit? How should the Government support R&D in these areas?”

Sir Patrick Vallance, Government Chief Scientific Adviser, replied:

“Well in a way, the Government has laid out its priorities there in the Industrial Strategy and the grand challenges that are associated with that; which are around ageing, clean growth, mobility, transport, and data and AI [artificial intelligence].

“There is something about turning the great science in the UK into great implementation. So, there is a bit about R&D. We are very, very good at ‘R’ in this country. We’re not bad at ‘D’. We do the development, we do make companies happen. But we’re not quite as good at that as we are at the ‘R’. So, I think there is quite a bit about which areas of science are ready now to [be] implement[ed] and how do we get on and implement them, and focus a bit more on that area and get the funding right to drive that; including using the private sector as part of that mechanism.”

Sameen Barabhuiya is a Production Engineer at The Dow Chemical Company in Cardiff. He asked:

“If the EU Parliament-approved ban on single use plastics does not become a fully-fledged directive before the end of the Brexit period, should the Government implement it in a bid to stop widespread pollution of the oceans, waterways and land?”

MP Chi Onwurah, Shadow Minister for Industrial Strategy, Science and Innovation, replied:

“We need action by the Government to ensure that the 395 billion pieces of plastics we throw away every year is drastically reduced. We think the banning of single plastics is a start, but it’s not enough. We need a much wider, systemic change.

“In some areas like green technology, it’s a challenge, but it’s also an opportunity. The circular economy can make a much bigger part of our manufacturing base and ensure that our manufacturing base effectively competes both in terms of environmental and innovation.”

Anna Xiao, an engineer at GSK in Hertfordshire, also attended the event and concluded: 

“I had a brilliant overall experience of Voice of the Future. It was great having all the different MPs there with all their respective fields. They gave such interesting answers to the topics that we threw at them. Ranging from environmental, to plastics, to energy, genealogy, and pharmaceutical sciences, it was really interesting to see their point of view and what may be impacting us in the future, and also what key issues they’re looking at.”

Voice of the Future 2019 provides a ‘role-reverse’ to a typical UK government briefing session. Split into four Q&A sessions, it gives students and early-career engineers and scientists the chance to pitch questions to politicians and their advisors in a Parliament committee meeting room. The idea is that the young scientists and engineers are in the MPs seats, quizzing them on topical issues as ‘witnesses’ (which is typically where experts provide evidence).

You can listen to an audio recording of the event on
Parliament TV.

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