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Insight blog: Posts from the "Behind the MRC scenes" Category

Stories about the people, science and research of the Medical Research Council.

The great coffee breakthrough

6 Jun 2013

(Image credit: Flickr/JenK)

(Image credit: Flickr/JenK)

Tea rooms and canteens have long been popular places for scientists to mingle and swap ideas. Katherine Nightingale explores how a chat over a coffee can lead to unexpected discoveries.

In the bright and airy canteen of the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology’s new building, Dr Richard Henderson is demonstrating his habit of drawing on saucers, taking a — water soluble — pen from his pocket and sketching a neat blue graph on a saucer’s rim.

He’s not doodling but rather trying to get across the idea that the canteen, while a place to get a cup of tea or coffee, is also a place to share ideas, sometimes on the very crockery provided.

It’s not a new concept. The tea room in the Physics Department at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge inspired Max Perutz to persuade the MRC to build a canteen open to everyone when the MRC unit moved to the ‘old’ LMB building in 1962. As the LMB’s chairman, he was keen to create a space where people from different disciplines and career stages could get together. [...]

Continue reading: The great coffee breakthrough

Foundation for the future: the next 25 years of MRC research

31 May 2013

Sydney Brenner

Sydney Brenner

Last week, to mark and celebrate the MRC’s Centenary, the Foundation for Science and Technology organised a one-off debate to discuss what the MRC’s research priorities should be for the next quarter of a century. Louise Wren, MRC Public Affairs Manager, was there to hear a stellar line-up of speakers Dr Sydney Brenner, Sir Paul Nurse and Sir Keith Peters talk about how the future of medical research lies in experimenting with ourselves.

Last Wednesday, I joined a packed auditorium at the Royal Society along with MRC scientists, former MRC Chief Executives and Chairs, and representatives from medical research charities, industry and government. We were all there to see what some of the country’s most eminent scientists had to say about the future direction of UK medical research.

Sydney — former Director of the MRC Laboratory Molecular Biology (LMB) and currently Senior Distinguished Fellow at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies’ Crick-Jacobs Centre in the US — began his talk by describing a moment early in his career when he travelled from Oxford to Cambridge to see Watson and Crick’s model of DNA, an experience which “opened the door to everything”. His list of subsequent achievements is considerable: he was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work showing how genes regulate organ development and how cells are programmed to die, and also co-discovered messenger RNA, which enables the DNA code to be translated into proteins. Sydney spoke warmly of his career at the MRC which spanned almost 35 years, saying the LMB was an “amazing vehicle” which spearheaded research across the world, benefiting from its open, non-hierarchical approach. [...]

Continue reading: Foundation for the future: the next 25 years of MRC research

The Queen opens the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology … again

24 May 2013

Yesterday Her Majesty the Queen officially opened the new £212m home of the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology. But it wasn’t the first time she’d visited the institute — she officially opened its former home in 1962, as these two surprisingly similar photos illustrate.

The Queen at the official opening of the 'old' LMB building

LMB researcher John Kendrew shows the Queen scientific models during her 1962 visit to officially open the ‘old’ LMB building (Image copyright: MRC LMB) 

LMB scientist Leo James explains his research into viruses to the Queen during her visit to open the new LMB building yesterday (Image: MRC LMB)

LMB scientist Leo James explains his research into viruses to the Queen during her visit to open the new LMB building yesterday (Image copyright: MRC LMB) [...]

Continue reading: The Queen opens the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology … again

Can a zebrafish change its spots?

18 Apr 2013

When should we start talking to children about the use of animals in research? At the recent Edinburgh International Science Festival, MRC Regional Communications Manager Hazel Lambert added an encounter with two tanks of zebrafish into the Mini Scientists activity. The result? Lots of questions about spots and stripes.

Never underestimate your audience. Especially not when they are seven years old, dressed in a lab coat, with a pen poised over a clip board and ready to make a virus, remodel a city and extract some slimy-looking DNA from even slimier pea-juice.

The MRC’s Mini Scientists activity at the Edinburgh International Science Festival is usually booked out and feedback tells us that the kids, their parents and our dedicated volunteers all love taking part. But, after having run the activity for three years, I felt I wasn’t telling the audience the whole story. [...]

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Access all areas: BBC 5 Live and mouse research

6 Dec 2012

Handled with care: a mouse in the mouse house (Copyright: BBC 5 Live)

Handled with care: a mouse in the mouse house (Copyright: BBC 5 Live)

Victoria Derbyshire’s BBC 5 Live show was broadcast from the ‘mouse house’ at MRC Harwell this week. MRC senior press officer Cathy Beveridge was there to witness journalists working alongside animal researchers, and reflects on talking about animal research ‘from behind closed doors’.

One of the first rules I learned as a science press officer is that the word ‘ground-breaking’ should be used sparingly, if at all. Yet it was one of the first things that BBC 5 Live presenter Victoria Derbyshire said as she began her broadcast from within the Mary Lyon Centre, the mouse house at MRC Harwell, this week. By producing a two-hour live radio programme from within an animal research laboratory, we were making history.

BBC 5 Live first approached us back in the summer to find out whether we could take part in a live programme that would showcase the issue of animal research ‘from behind closed doors’. For an issue so often the source of considerable ethical debate, animal research remains strangely intangible to the wider public. BBC 5 Live had previously tackled the issue of abortion from within a clinic and terrorism from Guantanamo Bay, so were clearly no strangers to controversial topics. [...]

Continue reading: Access all areas: BBC 5 Live and mouse research

Open innovation as a reality

31 Oct 2012

Chris Watkins

Chris Watkins

Chris Watkins, the MRC’s Head of Translational Research, explains why today’s announcement of £7 million funding for 15 research projects awarded through our open innovation collaboration with AstraZeneca is such a significant step, and a signs of things to come.

We’re at an exciting time for medical research. Barriers are coming down, boundaries are blurring, and researchers are coming together more and more to crack important questions.

The term ’open innovation’ is bandied about a lot, but real examples of where it’s worked are only now beginning to emerge. That’s why I’m so enthusiastic about what we’ve announced today — working with AstraZeneca, the MRC has provided UK academic researchers access to 22 well-characterised compounds and the funding to undertake studies which will lead to a deeper understanding of human disease and speed up the development of potential new treatments.

A major focus for the MRC over the past five years has been on research which translates the results of basic science into improved healthcare, products and services. Translational research is a pivotal part of MRC’s strategy and part of my job is to develop ways to make this happen. [...]

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Behind the research papers

3 Oct 2012

Alistair MacLullich poses by a glass bus stop to 'create reflections suggesting disconnected minds'

Alistair MacLullich poses by a glass bus stop to ‘create reflections suggesting disconnected minds’

What’s the difference between reading a research paper and meeting the scientist behind it? Quite a lot, says MRC Science Writer Sarah Harrop, who profiled MRC scientists in their natural habitats for our Annual Review 2011/12, published today.

As a self-confessed hoarder — even when it comes to words — my self-editing skills sometimes need a little work. So the hardest thing about writing a review of our scientists’ achievements from the past year was deciding what to leave out.

Earlier this year I spent many eyeball-burning hours sifting through information that our scientists had submitted to MRC Researchfish to pick out just 60 of the most interesting and important discoveries. From brain-repairing proteins to prototype flu vaccines, a memory stick-sized DNA sequencer to a wound-healing gel containing maggot enzymes, I was spoiled for choice. And that was just the science. Meeting six of the scientists and hearing their stories unleashed yet more editing dilemmas. [...]

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Video: Max Perutz Science Writing Award 2012

24 Sep 2012

The MRC developed the Max Perutz Science Writing Award 15 years ago to encourage MRC-funded scientists to communicate their research to a wider audience.

MRC Fellow Dr Andrew Bastawrous was announced as the winner at this year’s awards ceremony on 12 September 2012. During the event we spoke to the shortlisted writers about their experience of entering this year’s competition. We also spoke to judges, Dr Jenny Rohn and Sir John Savill, who both urged MRC early-career researchers to take part next year. [...]

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Celebrating 100 years

18 Sep 2012

Cartoon of Henry Dale, Almroth Wright and Harriette Chick from a book that will accompany the MRC centenary installation (Copyright: Lindsay McBirnie, commissioned by the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre)

Cartoon of Henry Dale, Almroth Wright and Harriette Chick from a book that will accompany the MRC centenary installation (Copyright: Lindsay McBirnie, commissioned by the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre*)

It’s not often that you get to celebrate a 100th birthday, but the MRC will be doing just that in 2013. MRC Regional Communications Manager Jude Eades gives us the lowdown on the activities and events that we’ll be running in 2013 to showcase the work of the MRC.

Next year we’ll be celebrating a hundred years of life-changing discoveries and taking time to reflect on our achievements in medical research, acknowledging those who have supported us along the way and looking forward to what medical research will deliver in the future.

Throughout 2013 we’ll be running a series events to showcase our research successes and collaborations. You can experience life in a working laboratory, take part in experiments online, explore how past MRC discoveries have changed the way we live today, and most importantly, meet the scientists who make it all happen. There’ll certainly be something for everyone – here’s a taster of what’s in store. [...]

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Wallpaper, wax and paper DNA: the tools of a mini scientist

7 Aug 2012

Mini Scientists at the Edinburgh Science Festival

Mini Scientists at the Edinburgh Science Festival

MRC Regional Communications Manager Hazel Lambert reveals a little of what goes into preparing research for curious ‘mini scientists’, just one of the activities in which MRC researchers share their expertise with thousands of people at UK science festivals every year.

Edinburgh and Glasgow are flooded with rain so wellies are essential for walking in Scotland’s cities today. I leave mine at reception in the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit where I’ve come to meet researchers who’ve been developing a game they call Health and the City. I’m looking for new ideas for Mini Scientists, the MRC lab at the Edinburgh International Science Festival where MRC-funded researchers help kids aged seven and over explore stem cells, DNA and even cell-signalling with the help of play-doh and cuddly brain cells.

PhD student Gillian Fergie shows me a tower block and tenement she has improvised out of wooden blocks and laminated paper to represent Glasgow’s housing. Using a blank roll of wallpaper liner as our city backdrop, and interlocking sections of toy road, cars and trees, we think about how we can share public health research with festival-goers. [...]

Continue reading: Wallpaper, wax and paper DNA: the tools of a mini scientist