03 March 2016

Young chemical engineers question MPs on science and engineering policy

Voice of the Future
A group of young chemical engineers attended the House of Commons earlier this week, to question MPs and ministers about science and engineering policy.

Erik Engebretsen, Yasmin Ali, Ruth Turner and Matthew Howard were all chosen to represent the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) at Voice of the Future, an event organised by the Royal Society of Biology. Voice of the Future invites young professionals to act as representatives of their professional learned societies, taking part in a panel discussion, where they can put questions to Members of Parliament (MPs) about future policies

The event was the first of its kind since the General Election. Up first was Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor, Professor Sir Mark Walport; followed by Members of the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee; the Science and Universities Minister, Jo Johnson MP; and the Shadow Minister for Business, Innovation and Skills, Yvonne Fovargue MP.

Four sessions were held in total, allowing quick-fire questions to be put to each speaker, by young engineers and scientists. The line of questioning focused on a number of topical subjects, including the way science is reported in the media, funding, immigration, health, the EU referendum, the environment, and the state of the UK economy.

Yasmin Ali, a development engineer from Nottingham currently working in exploration at E.ON wanted to know why industrialists weren’t represented better in science policy. She asked Professor Sir Mark Walport, “Scientists and engineers in industry have a wealth of expertise in their respective fields. How are their views taken into account when making policy, from a technical and not a business point of view?”

Additionally, Matthew Howard, a chemical engineer from Sussex working in gas processing, prompted Jo Johnson MP on the subject of immigration. Following on from the Campaign for Science and Engineering’s (CaSE) latest immigration report he asked: “How can we ensure that immigration restrictions do not inhibit the advancement of UK science and engineering?"

Erik Engebertsen, a PhD student at University College London, also had the opportunity to direct a question at Yvonne Fovargue MP – regarding the current obesity epidemic. Controversially he probed: “The UK has an obesity problem and a growing issue of malnutrition due to poor diet. Could a sugar tax be part of the solution for this?”

Ruth Turner, who currently works in coffee manufacturing for Jacobs Douwe-Egberts said: "This has been a fantastic opportunity to gain further insight into the influence of science and engineering on a national and global level.”

Dr Stephen Benn, the Royal Society of Biology’s director of parliamentary affairs, describes the importance of Voice of the Future: “This is a unique event – in no other part of Parliament is the normal select committee format completely reversed so that MPs, the Minister and the Shadow Minister have to answer questions rather than ask them.”

“It is important that policy makers use reliable evidence in their decisions, and today’s young scientists and engineers will be a vital part of this in the future.”

In a historic first, the panel of young stars were also treated to a special message from British astronaut, Tim Peake. Referring to the ‘next generation’ of scientists and engineers who were sat in the room he said: “In order to continue the success of the UK’s vibrant space sector, we need to create opportunities for growth, and to inspire our younger generation to gain the skills that they need for the exciting careers that await them in the space sector.”

My IChemE

IChemE is a registered charity in England & Wales (214379), and a charity registered in Scotland (SC 039661).