Resilient science: Adapting to the new normal
by Guest Author on 16 Oct 2020
Research has continued at the Research Complex at Harwell (RCaH) in recent months, adapting to the challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic. As Director of this unique UKRI cross-disciplinary facility, Professor David Payne discusses the importance of resilient science for the research community this week in Research Professional News and in an excerpt below.
The coronavirus pandemic has presented the greatest challenge to the UK scientific research base in living memory. I am proud that the Research Complex at Harwell, an exciting joint venture between the STFC, MRC, EPSRC, BBSRC, NERC and Diamond Light Source that provides laboratory space and facilities for researchers, has been able to rise to this challenge by operating continuously throughout this crisis. By remaining open, researchers at the Research Complex have been able to continue to perform critical research across the pandemic…[including] creating modified nanobodies from llamas…, gaining a better understanding of antibody sites on the virus… and determining the structure of the spike proteins of COVID-19. Critically, these results have been shared quickly and freely, enabling scientists from around the world to better understand the virus.
Research sites have become COVID-secure, and at the Research Complex this was achieved (in-part) through quickly adopted, small-scale, but effective changes to the building infrastructure e.g. by eliminating touch points with infra-red door release buttons, hand gel releasing handles for toilets, a mandatory masking policy, lab occupancy monitoring software and so on, but this is just the first stage. The research sector was quick to adapt in the short-term but is finding it challenging to effectively respond to the medium- and long-term ‘new normal’. Building scientific resilience is now critical for our research infrastructure to return to operating at pre-pandemic levels.
I believe that it is a worthy aim to now transform from being COVID-secure towards COVID-free, which can be done, for example, through a combination of rigorous site wide thermometry and direct viral testing. Moving towards COVID-free has significant benefits, not least increasing the confidence of the workforce to return to work on site. Interventions should be aimed at alleviating the concerns of the most anxious among those wanting to return to work. This would build resilient, inclusive scientific operations that allow everyone to feel safe. A huge amount of effort has been expended (with the best intentions) to replicate and create virtual communities, but there is only so much you can do via video-link, not to mention the challenges around mental health and the loss of momentum for early career researchers, to name but two factors that will play out in the years ahead. It is now not enough to just be scientifically strong in a crisis today, we need to be scientifically resilient for the future.
The full article titled ‘To re-open labs, make COVID-free the goal’ by Professor David Payne has been published last week in Research Professional News. To find out more or to work with the Research Complex at Harwell, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.