From Lab Bench to Backbench

02 Dec 2013

Two University of Manchester scientists will be swapping their lab coats for legislation, when they visit the House of Commons for a “Week in Westminster” commencing Monday, 2 December, as part of a unique ‘pairing’ scheme run by the Royal Society – the UK’s national academy of science.

The scientists will be based at Westminster for the week
The scientists will be based at Westminster for the week

During their visits, graphene researcher Dr Aravind Vijayaraghavan will shadow Lucy Powell, MP for Manchester Central, while electrical engineer Dr Alex Casson will be paired with Dr Matthew James, Civil Servant in Transport Security Strategy, Department for Transport.

Both scientists will learn about the work of their partners, as well as attending Prime Minister’s Question Time and meeting Professor David MacKay FRS, Chief Scientific Advisor to the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). The visit will provide them with a behind-the-scenes insight into how science policy is formed as well as an understanding of the working life of MPs and civil servants.

Dr Vijayaraghavan said: “This is an invaluable opportunity to learn the inner workings of the government and its various committees and bodies. It is also important that scientists are able to both offer their knowledge and voice their concerns to these bodies in order that they should arrive at the best decision for all concerned. It is not often that the two worlds of academia and government get to spend some time in each other’s shoes, and hopefully everyone emerges wiser from this experience.”

Lucy Powell MP added: “I’m really pleased to take part in this pairing scheme. I look forward to hosting Dr Vijayaraghavan in Parliament and visiting him to see the work that he does.  It is a really good idea for science and politics to mix and to inform each other’s work and I am sure that we will both learn a lot from spending some time shadowing one another.”

Dr Casson said: “This is a really exciting opportunity to see behind-the-scenes in Westminster and to engage in the policy making process. It is crucially important for scientists and engineers to inform on policy issues and I am looking forward to taking my cutting-edge research from The University of Manchester to the heart of government.”

The Royal Society’s MP-Scientist pairing scheme aims to build bridges between parliamentarians and some of the best scientists in the UK. It is an opportunity for MPs to become better informed about science issues and for scientists to understand how they can influence science policy. Over 200 pairs of scientists and MPs have taken part in the scheme since it was launched in 2001.

Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society said:  “We live in a world facing increasing challenges that can only be addressed with a clear understanding of science.  From climate change to influenza outbreaks, GM food to nuclear power, our MPs have to make decisions about complex issues that will affect the lives of all those in the UK and, in many cases, more widely throughout the world.  This means that MPs and scientists have a responsibility to engage with each other to get the best possible scientific advice into public policy making.

“We set up the Royal Society’s MP Scientist pairing scheme in 2001 to provide the opportunity for MPs and scientists to build long-term relationships with each other and have now organised over two hundred pairings.

“I know many parliamentarians and scientists who have gained from the scheme, and the shaping of public policy can only improve over time as these relationships continue to grow.”

Notes for editors

1.    Further information about the Royal Society Pairing Scheme, as well as case studies, can be found at the following link: 

2.    The Royal Society is the UK’s national academy of science.  Founded in 1660, the Society has three roles, as a provider of independent scientific advice, as a learned Society, and as a funding agency. Our expertise is embodied in the Fellowship, which is made up of the finest scientists from the UK and beyond.  Our goals are to:

•    Invest in future scientific leaders and in innovation
•    Influence policymaking with the best scientific advice
•    Invigorate science and mathematics education
•    Increase access to the best science internationally
•    Inspire an interest in the joy, wonder and excitement of scientific discovery

For further information please visit Follow the Royal Society on Twitter at  or on Facebook at .

For media enquiries please contact:

Daniel Cochlin
Graphene Communications and Marketing Manager
The University of Manchester
0161 275 8382
07917 506158
Twitter: @UoMGraphene

Aeron Haworth
Media Relations
Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences
The University of Manchester
Tel: 0161 275 8387
Mob: 07717 881563

For further information about the Royal Society contact:
Nicola Kane
Press and Public Relations
Tel: 020 7451 2508