The first tour was a visit to the Remote Applications in Challenging Environments (RACE) department. Here we saw some of the pioneering work in remote maintenance for various projects, which boasts more than 35,000 hours of operational experience supporting the world leading fusion science program. Joint European Torus (JET) is an archetype system which helps maintain fusion reactors. As the interior of these reactors can be over ten times hotter than the surface of the sun, these systems are pivotal. Two snake-like booms reach into the vacuum vessels to deliver the remote operator’s hands and eyes, with a ‘master-slave’ manipulator allowing the operator to feel every action. It can be likened to precision robotic surgery conducted on the engineering equivalent of a beating heart. All of the work done for JET needs cameras, with no direct viewing possible. JET demonstrates the power of virtual reality software and will be updated with more advanced systems in years to come.
After gaining an insight into the world-leading innovation taking place at Culham, there were a series of optional sessions and talks which covered a variety of topics ranging from sustainable environments to more specific ones to Oxford, such as their ‘global knowledge eco-system’. One of the talks which I attended focused on ‘driving the knowledge economy’ and explored ways in which science parks can improve across all fields. The speaker demonstrated the importance of science parks, and to move forward he said that we must challenge orthodoxy. We need to think out of the box, with not more of the same, but through radical and transformational methods. He stressed the importance of maximising and connecting strategic assets and capabilities and also providing a framework for delivery and investment.
The talent base belonging to each science park was also emphasised, as without one it is hard to move forward. We should be asking ourselves questions such as where does the talent base go? how do we support it? By investing in Liverpool, it will in turn deliver for the UK, showing that local investment can benefit the country as a whole. There is also an importance in terms of goal setting. It is paramount to define clear goals, which should aim to be long term and ambitious-but realistic and credible too. We should also aim to connect with the local and wider economy and look at how science parks can evolve and adapt as the economy does. The message was rounded off in a hopeful way, with the speaker telling us to be pioneering, to provide leadership and show how science parks can lead the agenda. We must articulate the role which science parks can play-not just as a hub for innovation but also as the heartbeat of a place.
There was much to take from this insightful experience. Hearing from experts was a great opportunity to take these ideas home and see how we can strive to compete with science centres such as Culham. It was also a hopeful reminder to witness some of the work being done by the country’s greatest in the tech and science sectors, as we all work collectively to maintain the UK at the forefront of the world’s economy.