Asian Correspondent » Kings College London Asian Correspondent Sat, 04 Jul 2015 00:10:37 +0000 en-US hourly 1 How is the study of science changing? Thu, 26 May 2011 13:52:32 +0000

Professor Roger Morris, Head of the School of Biomedical Sciences at King’s College London, talks about how the study of science is changing.

I am one of that lucky generation who can look back on a golden age of scientific discovery, from the structure of DNA and the genetic code, to understanding the basis of cancer and now ageing itself.  The obsession of my generation with the science we have seen down our microscopes, or deduced from our X-ray pictures such as the famous photograph Rosalind Franklin took here at King’s, revealing the ordered, helical structure of DNA, has yielded findings that affect the way we view the world, and the way we raise crops and treat disease.

However, what we have singularly failed to do is to take our scientific training, our understanding of nature and our ability to deduce logical conclusions from the available evidence, into mainstream decision making in the world at large.   Too few politicians, journalists, industrialists, managers and ordinary citizens had a scientific education, over a period when decisions that would have changed the natural world for good, were not taken.  The multiple problems that feed the current surge in global warming are the prime example, but it is also easy to point to examples where political and commercial decisions have been made that have damaged the health of human and animal populations.

If ignorance of simple scientific principles has got us into major problems, it is equally true that we are not going to get ourselves out without now applying scientific knowledge and logic, at every level of society.  At King’s we are therefore educating our scientists to not only be leading researchers, but also to think about how their science impacts upon our world. And not just to think, but to publicise their views, engage in public debate, and choose careers in politics, journalism and the like so that scientific thinking feeds into public decision making.  We need to ensure that the next generation of scientists influence the decisions made that affect our world, and not just describe the natural laws that underlie it.

Is this happening?  Our science graduates, including PhDs, are now selected by business consultancies and financial firms because of their mathematical literacy and ability to analyse and deduce logically.  And more and more graduates, again up to PhD level, are entering law, journalism and business, again because their training in problem solving and analysis is highly valued in addition to their scientific knowledge.  This is the more general reach of science into society that we need.

This is all very promising, but the main need for scientists remains in high tech industry such as the pharmaceutical companies, and in scientific research and teaching in schools, universities and institutes.

Pharmaceutical firms are now looking for an open relationship with academic researchers, who often know more about the mechanism of particular diseases than the drug companies, and so can work with the companies to design more effective medicines.  This is beginning to lead to a sharing, not only of knowledge and ideas between companies and universities, but also of staff on secondment, and increasingly of the firms setting up laboratories in the universities or research institutes to work alongside the academics.

This is also leading to greater partnership in scientific education between firms and universities.  We at King’s have a number of MSc degrees that are designed to take basic science graduates with a good BSc degree and give them added skills and understanding to address particular needs of biotech and pharmaceutical firms.  These master’s programmes are designed alongside companies, who also deliver parts of the teaching and provide laboratory placements for a few months to give the students a real knowledge of how industry works.  (Businesses like this system as it enables them to scout out the best students, who then get offered jobs when they graduate).

Some of these courses have the industrial link in their name e.g. the MSc in Analytical Science for Industry, which is run by our Drug Control Centre that also monitors Olympic and Commonwealth athletes for performance-enhancing drugs. In other MScs the industrial link can be deduced from the name (e.g. MSc in Drug Discovery Skills).  And some courses sound positively exciting.  Our MSc in Forensic Science, produced in close collaboration with the UK Forensic Science Service, the Metropolitan Police and other crime detection agencies, has for many years produced trained forensic scientists working for justice in many countries across the globe.

To close, there are even more complex issues for biomedical science than crime, space or the development of new medicines, and these keep some of us working in our research labs.  For instance, we are just starting to understand how the brain develops (so very differently from any other tissue of the body) into an organ that thinks, feels and remembers.  And why, as the brain ages, it becomes progressively worse at these tasks, so that we have diseases of old age like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, that decay the mind inside an otherwise healthy body.

These studies are of medical importance, and also are immense intellectual challenges.  We are making progress, but understanding the physiological basis of mind and memory is so complex it will still challenge may generations to come.   We believe the brain functions by using and (for memory) permanently imprinting networks of connections between our neurons.  How many individual points of connection are there in our brains?  About 1,000,000,000,000,000, give or take a few trillion.  How many different patterns of connectivity can be set up between this number of connections? The number is unimaginably large, as it must be to provide the underlying structure that enables our personality, memory and thoughts to emerge.

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Professor Roger Morris:

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Why is science important? Fri, 20 May 2011 16:30:50 +0000

Jingda Liao is an international student from Fujian province in China, studying the MBBS medicine programme at King’s.

I believe Medicine is the most important aspect of science. It has probably saved your life. Without the good health that medicine promotes, lives can be excruciatingly difficult, painful and problematic. Medicine aims to aid and even eliminate these problems, something no other discipline can claim.

Studying Medicine at King’s College London has reinforced my belief that science can work wonders for patients with diseases ranging from depression to coronary artery stenosis and acute renal failure. As a result of numerous medical breakthroughs throughout history people in developed countries around the world can now look forward to longer life expectancies.

Sadly, the benefits of these scientific advances are only slowly trickling their way into less economically developed countries. On the other hand, other forms of technology such as cars and telephones are widely used around the world enriching the lives of countless people. But medicine is unique in that it does not only enrich lives; its sole purpose is to save them.

The inherent value of medicine lies in its wide reaching effects. Everyone has had some contact with medicine within the course of their life. This is true not only in the more affluent West, but also in less wealthy countries. The practise of medicine is different in almost every country in the world, but the principle of healing remains the same.

Some people believe that they can escape the influence of contemporary medicine altogether. With my roots in rural China I can attest to the value of both traditional Chinese medicine and the western medicine which I am taught on my course at King’s. I am willing to bet that it would be impossible to find a person whose life is untouched by medicine in some shape or form. It would however be perfectly plausible to find someone who had never watched television, used a mobile telephone or flown a plane. The point is that medicine is advanced for the purposes of helping everyone. Where other advances help people enjoy their lives, medicine allows people to live in order to enjoy their time.

Ultimately medicine is a very special science. I am sure that medicine’s desire to benefit, support, comfort and aid is unlikely to change because it is part of what defines it. Furthermore we would be hard pushed to find an individual untouched by any form of medicine and healing. While practises of medicine vary right across the globe the intention to heal is and has always been the same.

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King’s answers Fri, 20 May 2011 16:01:24 +0000

How can personal freedom be balanced with national security? How can women gain greater representation in African societies?… How can our centuries old legal system adapt in our fast moving, increasingly globalised world?…  What will it take to eradicate poverty?…

Here at King’s our academics and students are busy finding the answers to global issues that are already affecting millions of people – or soon will. We have taken up the challenge to effect major change in three areas by 2015:  Neuroscience and mental health; Leadership and society; and cancer. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg – there are thousands of researchers at King’s working on hundreds of  issues, many of them global in their impact.

In fact the spirit of discovery is something inherent in King’s students, and over the course of this blog we will hear from a couple of them. What do they think are the big global challenges of the future? What inspires them to work on finding the solutions to these challenges? If they succeed perhaps some of them will make their own piece of history.

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