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From Lab Bench to Backbench


Published by University of Leicester Press Office for University of Leicester in Central Government and also in Communities, Education

Space scientist from University of Leicester pairs with MP for ‘Week in Westminster’

Image of Dr Nichols available from

A University of Leicester space scientist got a unique insight into the workings of Parliament – by pairing up with an MP.

Dr Jonathan Nichols from the University of Leicester  Department of Physics and Astronomy swapped a lab coat for legislation when he visited Mrs Lilian Greenwood MP at the House of Commons for a “Week in Westminster” as part of a unique ‘pairing’ scheme run by the Royal Society – the UK’s national academy of science.

During his visit Dr Nichols shadowed the MP and learned about her work, as well as attending a House of Commons Science and Technology Committee meeting and Prime Minister’s Question Time and meeting Professor Sir John Beddington, Government Chief Scientific Advisor.  The visit provided Dr Nichols with a behind-the-scenes insight into how science policy is formed as well as an understanding of the working life of an MP.

Dr Nichols said: “Science increasingly plays an important role in our civilization, through our use of technologies and our relationship with the environment. I am very excited, and feel very privileged, to be taking part in this scheme, which was created to help scientists and parliamentarians work together as effectively as possible.  It is a unique opportunity to learn about the details of policy making, and I hope I can share my experience as a space scientist at the University of Leicester.”

Lilian Greenwood, MP for Nottingham South, said: “I was delighted to host Jonathan's visit to Westminster as part of the Royal Society's pairing scheme and I'm pleased that he found the experience rewarding. I'm looking forward to gaining a similar insight into his work as a research scientist when I visit the University of Leicester in the New Year.

“As policy makers, it's vital that MPs, most of whom do not have a scientific background, can access and understand current thinking on the science and technology issues that should influence and inform our decisions."

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.”



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