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  • Welcome to ESOF!

    This is Manchester science and in our university, we do it differently

  • The incredible story of the asylum seeker who is now a Manchester PhD student

    A young man from Somalia with no formal education has triumphed through adversity to become the first-ever asylum seeker to be admitted onto a PhD programme by The University of Manchester.

    Abbas Roble came to England in 2007 having travelled through Africa to the Libyan coast, on a people smuggler’s boat across the Mediterranean to Crete, and then on through Europe. He was detained by the UK immigration authorities for a year, and on his release, he was determined to educate himself.

    He joined a college in Leeds to take his GCSEs and an Access to Higher Education course, after which he was offered a place to study Physics in Manchester. However, he couldn't take up the offer due to his immigration status, and his classification as an international student which meant astronomical student fees and no access to student finance.

    He had to defer his place for two years, until the Helena Kennedy Foundation’s Article 26 project granted him a full tuition fee bursary and a small grant. The project takes its name from Article 26 of the universal declaration of human rights, which states that education is an inalienable human right and should be accessible to all.

    He joined the class of 2012, but as he couldn't afford to pay rent, he continued living with a family in Leeds and commuting to Manchester – which he did every day for three years. However, after an appeal from The University’s Director of Student Experience, an academic who lives close to campus generously offered to provide Abbas with free accommodation in term time for his final year.

    He was receiving very high grades throughout his degree, but it would still have been near impossible for him to find the funding for a PhD programme. Manchester alumnus and longstanding donor David Buckley then heard Abbas’ story and was inspired to make a substantial and generous donation to the University to help. With the guarantee of funding in place, Abbas obtained a first class Masters of Physics with Theoretical Physics, and is about to start his PhD at the Photon Science Institute.

    Dr Tim Westlake, The University of Manchester’s Director of Student Experience, said: “Abbas is an exceptional young man, and I’m delighted that the University, with the help of donors, has been able to support him in his studies. We are profoundly grateful for David’s gift, which has helped Abbas finally reach his goal, and the partnership with the Helena Kennedy foundation is greatly valued. We look forward to welcoming more students like Abbas in the future.”

  • David Willetts speaks at ESOF

    Lord David Willetts, the Executive Director of the Resolution Foundation, and Former Minister for Universities and Science is deliver this year's Fred Jevon's Science Policy Lecture on Monday 25 July on how government supports science and technology, and how it can frame an effective industrial strategy. 

    The event is organised by The University of Manchester’s Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine and Manchester Institute of Innovation Research, which collectively constitute one of the world’s major centres of expertise in the social, historical, economic and political analysis of science and technology.

    It will take place at Manchester Town Hall from 2:15pm to 3:30pm, and is part of ESOF - the Euroscience Open Forum - bringing together over 4,500 leading thinkers, innovators, policy makers, journalists and educators from more than 90 countries.

    The Fred Jevons Science Policy Lecture commemorates the founding professor of ‘Liberal Studies in Science’ at Manchester. Manchester has long been a major centre for social, economic and historical studies of science and technology, a history consolidated by the establishment of a Department of Liberal Studies in Science in the 1960s.

    Please note, it is not necessary to be registered for ESOF to attend the lecture. This is a free event but to attend, please register here.

  • Manchester was Einstein’s first UK destination

    The legendary scientist Albert Einstein’s first UK appearance is one of the remarkable moments recaptured in a new book detailing Manchester’s trailblazing history in science and industry.

    Dr James Sumner, a historian at The University of Manchester, rediscovered the story for Manchester: making the modern city, the official souvenir book of the EuroScience Open Forum in Manchester from 23-27 July.

    Dr Sumner’s chapter covers the history of science in Manchester from the early Literary and Philosophical Society to the age of graphene.

    Einstein was already world-famous when he came to Manchester in 1921. He attracted a packed audience to his explanation of the Theory of Relativity, though he spoke only in German.

    A Manchester Guardian report, at the time, talked of cheering after the lecture was over.

    The University also gave Einstein an honorary doctorate during the visit. The award, said the Guardian, was a ‘very distinct recognition of the University as a home of science.’

    The physicist was on his way back from a tour of the US to raise funds for the proposed Hebrew University of Jerusalem, alongside The University of Manchester-based scientist Chaim Weizmann.

    Earlier in the day, Einstein had spoken to the University Students’ Jewish Society about establishing the Hebrew University.

    The lecture was set up by the then vice-chancellor, Henry Miers, who was also Professor of Crystallography.

    Einstein also took up invitations to lecture at Oxford and King's College London, but Miers was careful to make sure Manchester was first.

    Though it is not certain where the lecture took place, it is almost certain to have been in the University’s prestigious Whitworth Hall.

    Dr Sumner, who is based at the University’s Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, said: “A lecture in Britain by Einstein, already in 1921 the most famous representative of German-speaking science, was an important step in mending scientific relations that had broken down in the First World War. Bringing the lecture to Manchester was a huge symbolic success for the city and its University.

    “That Einstein spoke entirely in German was no challenge for the Manchester Guardian, which was known for its scholarly and international reporting staff. The paper did a remarkable job in summing up Einstein’s explanation of non-Euclidean geometry for its readers.

    “The civic worthies who had come to marvel at Einstein must have struggled to understand much of Einstein’s message, but there were clear hints of the human charm which ensured his lasting fame – or, as the Manchester Guardian put it, ‘the kindly twinkle which never ceased to shine in his eye.’”

  • FitzPatrick's family fortune for Manchester graduation

    What’s more special for a parent than having two children graduating from the same university in one year?

    Well, what about if they are graduating from the same University where their parents met, fell in love and graduated from over 30 years before. Or the fact that your medical student son found a congenital heart condition that had been missed by Doctors for years? This is just part of the extraordinary graduation story of the FitzPatrick family.

    This summer, brother and sister, Daniel and Laura FitzPatrick, are graduating from The University of Manchester. Daniel, 24, has been studying medicine and graduated earlier this month whilst his younger sister, Laura, 21, is graduatin today (Wednesday 20th July), after studying Linguistics and editing the popular online student magazine, The Tab.

    But before the siblings walked the graduation trail it was their parents, Liam and Juliet, both 54, who tread the corridors of the University. In 1981, the couple met over a ham sandwich in their first week of study at Manchester and have been together ever since. Now, more than 30 years after they first met, they are returning to their Alma Mater to see their own children graduate from the very same Whitworth Hall where they graduated three decades earlier.

    Dad, Liam, a Communications Consultant based in Hertfordshire, studied Economics at Manchester, whilst sports administrator mum, Juliet, studied History. She said: "It’s been an amazing experience. Seeing our kids come through all those years of study and fully take part in the University and student life of Manchester. But it is also a bit odd sitting in the same hall all these years later where we sat exams and graduated ourselves.”

    The FitzPatrick’s graduation story is all the more incredible as earlier this year there was a real chance that neither Liam nor Juliet would make it to the ceremonies due to very different but equally serious health issues for them both.

    In February, Juliet was diagnosed with breast cancer and then just three days later Liam was told he needed open heart surgery on heart condition his son Daniel had found three years earlier when practicing his new found medical skills.

    Liam added: “After listening to my chest Daniel turned all professional and suggested that I see a doctor. It turned out that I had a congenital heart condition that no one had ever spotted before. My doctors said I’d need an operation at some stage but that they would monitor the situation; the implication was that nothing much would happen for several years, possibly decades.”

    Then, just three years later, the heart surgery came at the worst possible time coinciding with Juliet’s breast cancer diagnosis.

    Liam added: "This year Juliet has been through the process of a major operation and chemotherapy and I am recovering from open heart surgery. So there were moments in the last few months when one or both of us feared we might not be around at the graduation. But everything is going brilliantly now – we’re recovering OK. And I for one am grateful that the medical school taught my son how to listen to a heart!"


  • University hosts Greater Manchester Mayoral Hustings

    The public will have a chance to quiz all three of Labour's candidates for the post of the Greater Manchester Mayor tonight, July 21.

    The event organised by the Labour Party and hosted by The University of Manchester’s Politics department is ahead of next year’s mayoral election.

    Labour are choosing their official nomination for Greater Manchester Mayor this summer ahead of the Election on May 4, 2017.

    The Labour Party will choose from the three candidates:

    • Andy Burnham MP for Leigh and Shadow Home Secretary, former Shadow Secreatr of State for Health (2011-15) and Secretary of State for Health (2009-10).
    • Ivan Lewis MP for Bury South, former Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (2013-15), International Development (2011-13) and Culture, Media and Sport (2010-11).
    • Tony Lloyd, Interim Mayor of Greater Manchester, Police and Crime Commissioner since 2012, former MP for Manchester Central (1997-2012) and Stretford (1983-1997).

    Greater Manchester's new Mayor will lead the region’s Combined Authority and will become one of the most powerful politicians in the country and hold decision making powers and control budgets in areas including health, housing, justice, policing, transport and planning across the ten boroughs of Greater Manchester.

    Tonight’s hustings will be chaired by Andrew Russell, Professor of Politics at the University of Manchester.

    He said: “We are expecting a lively debate tonight as the event is now to full capacity. It is a great opportunity to find out what the Labour candidates for Greater Manchester Mayor have got to say and for voters to express their views.

    “Whatever the outcome of the election, this is a crucial role for the region and arguably one of the most powerful civic leaders in the country.”

    The election will take place in May next year and Labour members will vote for their preferred candidate this summer.

  • Paralympian graduate set to sail into new speech and language therapy career

    A new graduate from The University of Manchester who has represented her country at sailing will combine her passion for the sport with her speech and language therapy knowledge as she embarks on a new career.

  • Graduate Jordan gives back with degree project for fellow Parkinson’s patients

    A University of Manchester psychology student who graduates on 21 July has used part of his studies to benefit other people with Parkinson’s by taking part in a project to help them improve their movement.

    Jordan Webb, who’s 21 and from Liverpool, has completed his BSc Psychology and graduates alongside thousands of other students during the University’s graduation fortnight in July.

    As well as his degree he will also receive the Lynn Young Prize in psychology for overcoming challenging circumstances, as a result of his hard work to complete his degree and his third year project which aims to support people with Parkinson’s in their own homes.

    Working with psychology researchers in the University’s Body Eyes and Movement (BEAM) lab, Jordan ran a focus group with patients, in order to test the feasibility of a home-based intervention which could be delivered as an app or on computers or TVs. The idea is for people to watch videos which show them how to carry out tasks which they often struggle with, such as washing, brushing their teeth or doing up buttons.

    He said: “Personally, I know that getting out of the house to visit health workers is very challenging, so this project is all about testing whether or not developing a small series of exercises at home could improve quality of life more effectively.”

    Parkinson's disease is a neurodegenerative brain disorder that usually begins to manifest in old age. The average age of onset is around 70 and around 160 per 100,000 people are likely to develop the disease. It causes symptoms such as tremors, speech issues, freezing episodes, cramping, difficulties initiating movements, difficulties multi-tasking and impaired gait and balance.

    Jordan was diagnosed with Parkinson’s aged 17, but still achieved A level results of ABB. With the support of his school teachers he gained a place at The University of Manchester where he was often forced to miss lectures as a result of his illness. He also has difficulty writing, particularly in exam situations, but the University was able to support him in this by making podcasts and other help available and he graduates on 21st July.

    His project supervisor, senior lecturer Dr Ellen Poliakoff said: “It was very inspiring for me as a researcher to work with someone affected by the condition and Jordan’s work contributed to our ESRC-funded project on Parkinson’s and imitation. We have already presented the work that Jordan contributed to at a research workshop and as a journal article.”

    Jordan has now applied to do a master’s degree in order to carry on his pursuit of a career as a psychologist.

    He added: “The project in particular was a real highlight of my studies. I was able to bring a patient’s outlook to the research and I can definitely see the benefits that this will have for others who will be able to gain independence and improve their day to day lives once the final application is ready.”

  • Winter Olympic hopeful graduates from Manchester

    A freestyle skier who is hoping to make his debut at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea graduates from The University of Manchester today (20th July). 

    Peter Speight, 23, from Sheffield earnt his BA in history whilst training and competing around the world as a full time athlete in the Great Britain (GB) Halfpipe Ski Team. In 2014 he was on track to compete in the Sochi Winter Olympics but a series of injuries, including a broken collar bone, ended his chances of qualifying. 

    Peter said: “It was definitely a tough time a couple of years ago after a run of injuries knocked me out of skiing for 18 months. I had to undergo surgery on my knee. Unfortunately injuries are part of halfpipe skiing as it is an extreme sport that involves performing dangerous, high-risk tricks through the air.”

    But Peter didn’t let the setbacks affect his mentality and came back even stronger with an added mental strength that, he says, also helped in his studies. He added: “I learnt a lot through that process and had to dig deep to get back to the position I wanted to be in. The rehab involved in returning from knee surgery is intense and takes a lot of mental strength and patience. In the end I came back stronger and it all seems well in the past now.”

    This year, Peter has won the British Championship, as well as finishing a personal best 17th in the World Cup final. He was also awarded the University’s 2015/16 Sportsman of the Year: “I have just had an amazing season, my best and busiest yet and have surpassed any level I was at before. I am stoked.”

    Unlike winter sports heavyweights, like Russia and Canada, the UK is not renowned for its snowy weather, even in winter. Therefore, Peter had to learn to ski on the dry slopes of his native city at Sheffield Ski Village from 12 years old.

    His breakout year in the sport coincided with his first year at The University of Manchester, and he is thankful for the help he received from the University: “In 2013, I made the British team, debuted in my first finals at an international competition and really moved up in my sport. This was also my first year at the University of Manchester and the Sport Department was really helpful in the early days, helping me to juggle my studies and competing.”

    After graduation, Peter plans to take his skiing to even greater heights and says the skills learnt during his studies at Manchester stand him in good stead for future success: “I’m really excited to continue putting everything into skiing, you have to take these things a season at a time and set short term goals but I hope to keep progressing and end up at the very top of the Halfpipe game, competing in major events such as the Winter Olympics and Winter X Games, which are the pinnacles of our sport.”

    Whilst skiing is his immediate plan, Peter also hopes to take on bigger challenges in the future and possibly, one day, set up his own business. Dr Max Jones, one of his lectures from the history department, describes him as a fantastic role model. He said: “Peter’s ability to balance his studies and gruelling training schedule are testament to his commitment to his sport and passion to excel in everything that he does.”

  • Don’t let the bedbugs bite - how early modern Britain fell asleep

    When your head hits the pillow and you close your eyes after a long, hard day, it may seem like the most natural thing in the world, but did you know that simply falling sleep has a complex history?

    A new book Sleep in Early Modern England, by The University of Manchester historian, Dr Sasha Handley, investigates a period of around three-hundred years, from the 15th to 18th centuries, that revolutionised the way Britain sleeps, and its continuing impact today.

    Dr Handley said: “Sleep has always been the single most time-consuming activity, or should that be inactivity, in our daily lives yet its history has barely been told. It is a history that is as culturally dependent as it is founded on biological and environmental factors.

    “The impact sleep has on our daily lives cannot be underestimated, therefore knowing and understanding its history is paramount to knowing and understanding ourselves.”

    During this period great scientific strides were being taken in all aspects of everyday life and the night-time ritual of sleeping was no different. The 1660s saw a revolution in the physiological understanding of the body’s nervous system and, for the first time, the connection between sleep and dreams and their relationship to the brain was made, linking them to the body’s health and the mind’s reason.

    Dr Handley added: “The quest to achieve peaceful sleep shaped the rhythms and environments of everyday life, but from 1660-1760 there was also a critical break with ages-old folklore and superstition. Sleep came to be viewed differently which heralded radical shifts in what sleep meant, how it was habitually performed, and the place it occupied in people’s lives.”

    In the book, Dr Handley also explains the birth of our material culture in the early 18th century and new forms of sociability and shifting religious beliefs. These changes in culture shaped the material transformation of English households and, in turn, our bedrooms.

    Dr Handley said: “In the 18th century we can see how people ordered their sleeping hours, bedtime routines and bedchambers which reveal the unique cultural meanings of sleep during that period. In doing so, we can see just how acutely conscious of the unconscious early modern societies actually were.”

  • Astrophysics professor creates ‘stellar’ remix of space sounds

    A Professor of Astrophysics from The University of Manchester has teamed up with two acclaimed music producers to create a unique composition using sounds from space, which is now being released as a limited edition 7” single.

    Tim O’Brien, who is the Associate Director of Jodrell Bank Observatory, has been involved in several projects featuring sounds from space in the past, including collaborations with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, Sigur Rós and New Order.

    Talking with his namesake, Tim Burgess of The Charlatans, together they came up with the idea to create a hit single using the Jodrell Bank’s sound archive. Jodrell has a huge library of recordings from space, including the rhythmic beats of pulsars and the bleeps from the early space missions, which they thought would make fantastic material to be worked into music.

    Professor Tim worked with music producers Jim Spencer and Dave Tolan, who have previously made records with New Order, The Charlatans and Echo & The Bunnymen, to create the track. The results have now been made into a moon-shaped picture disc released on O Genesis records, with Professor Tim speaking about the origin of the sounds on the record’s B-side.

    The track includes signals from spacecraft at the dawn of the space age, the death throes of an exploding star, and the sounds which flooded through the Universe after the Big Bang. The title itself - “Hello Moon, can you hear me?” - echoes the recording of a voice bounced off the Moon made more than 50 years ago at Jodrell Bank.

    You can download the track here, and the limited edition 7” record is available from various outlets, including Piccadilly Records from July 22nd. Tim O’Brien, Jim Spencer, David Tolan and Dan Tombs will be talking about how they created the track at the Bluedot Festival at Jodrell Bank on 22nd July.

  • Manchester professor wins prestigious Royal Society award

    Steve Furber, ICL Professor of Computer Engineering at The University of Manchester, has been announced as the joint winner of a prestigious award by the Royal Society. Their annual prizes recognise exceptional scientists who are engaged in challenging research to open up new possibilities and new applications.

    The Mullard Award, which recognises outstanding scientific work which has aided the national prosperity of the United Kingdom, has been given to Professor Furber and Sophie Wilson for their distinguished contributions to the design and analysis of the Acorn RISC Machine (ARM) microprocessor in the 1980s, which is now used in mobile phones and other portable electronic devices throughout the world.

    The microprocessor has influenced the everyday life of most people through its use in electronic products of all sorts. It is also used in cars, TVs, disk drives and printers.

    The contribution of Furber and Wilson at Acorn was to put the fundamental research into commercial practice. The impact of that work is still growing, over 30 years later.

    Professor Furber is also currently contributing to the Human Brain Project, a venture involving more than 100 universities and research centres across Europe which has launched a range of prototype computer platforms to support brain research. His particular platform - SpiNNaker - is being used to accurately model areas of the brain, and to test new hypotheses about how it works.

  • University award for BBC science luminary

    One of the BBC’s leading science journalists has been given an Outstanding Alumni award by The University of Manchester.

    Deborah Cohen MBE is the BBC’s radio science editor, who graduated from The University in 1979 with an MSc in liberal studies in science.

    She joined the BBC as a researcher in the science department, spending the next decade producing content for Radio 3 and Radio 4 that covered a range of subjects in science, technology and medicine.

    She became science editor for the BBC’s domestic radio output in 1990, and 10 years later took on additional editorial responsibility for the science unit of BBC World Service.

    Deborah has been a judge of the Rhone Poulenc Book Prize and a member of the COPUS committee, which awarded grants for the public understanding of science.

    She has also been a judge on schemes that reward translating scientific and medical ideas into lay terms, such as the Royal Society Science Book Prize and the Society for Chemical Industry’s essay competition.

    She was made an MBE for services to broadcasting and science in 2009.

    She said: “What's kept me so interested in producing and editing science programmes are the new ideas that come from the minds of the researchers and the impact they have on society. The way we cover the stories has constantly changed. Scientists have got better at communicating their ideas at a level the general public can understand.”

    Head of Alumni Relations at The University of Manchester Claire Kilner said: “Deborah has a hugely important role in that she is responsible for communicating science to a wider audience and maintaining the organisation’s editorial standards in its science output. It is a role that undoubtedly shapes the national discussion about science and its latest advances. Congratulations to her on this well-deserved award.”

  • Weightlifter Scott raises the bar at graduation

    A record-breaking weightlifter will also be carrying the expectations of his patients now that he’s graduated from The University of Manchester with a medical degree.

  • Plethora of Manchester researchers to appear at Bluedot Festival

    One of the highlights of the festival will be the Star Field – a space jam-packed with scientists from the University of Manchester showcasing their research to the festival attendees. You will discover a world of wonder and discuss the latest discoveries, with tents and stalls packed with displays and interactions for all ages.

  • Results of European health survey of pregnant women released

    Almost 2,500 pregnant women and new mothers have participated in research on their diet and lifestyle behaviours

  • Report warns of severe future effects of climate change on the UK

    Two experts from Manchester have contributed to a new Government report on climate change, which predicts that global warming will hit our shores with severe heatwaves, flooding and water shortages.

    The contributors, who include Environment and Climate Change Lecturer Dr Ruth Wood and Professor of Ecology Richard Bardgett, say that action to tackle urgent threats including widespread flooding and new diseases must be taken promptly.

    The report also warns that wars and migration around the world caused by climate change could have significant consequences for the UK through disrupted trade and more overseas military intervention.

    The worst-case scenarios - which will become reality if action to tackle climate change fails - foresees searing heatwaves reaching temperatures of 48°C in London, and the high 30s across the rest of England.

    The wide-ranging assessment of the dangers of climate change to the UK has been produced over three years by a team of 80 experts, and reviewed by many more. The main analysis is based on the projected temperature rise if the last year’s Paris global climate agreement is fully delivered, and takes account of plans already in place to cope with impacts.

    The key threats

    By the 2040s, deadly heatwaves such as the one in 2003 when UK temperatures peaked at 38.5°C will be the norm, leading to a tripling in heat-related deaths. There are currently no policies which ensure that homes, businesses, public transport, schools and hospitals remain tolerable in high heat.

    Water shortages
    Severe water shortages are expected as summers get drier, and will extend across the country by the 2050s. Demand for water will outstrip supply 2.5 times in many places in the UK if temperatures are driven up significantly.

    Floods and coastal erosion
    On average, flooding already causes £1bn of damage every year - but the risks will rise further still, bringing floods to places not currently in danger, as climate change leads to more intense rainfall. By 2050, the number of households at significant risk of flooding will more than double to 1.9m if the global temperature rises by 4°C.

    Natural environment
    The proportion of prime farmland is expected to fall from 38% to 9%, and crop growing in eastern England and Scotland could be ended by degraded soil and water shortages. Warming seas are pushing key species northwards, meaning the entire marine food chain may be affected.

    Food prices are likely to be driven up by climate change, with extreme weather leading to lost crops and sudden price shocks. About 40% of the UK’s food is imported, making it vulnerable to droughts and floods caused by climate change around the world.

    Diseases and pests
    Dangers posed by new diseases and pests invading the UK as the climate gets warmer require urgent research. Higher temperatures will lead to an increased risk of dengue fever, Zika virus and invasive species such as the Asian tiger mosquito.

  • Alumna who revived city after IRA bomb recognised

    A regeneration expert who lead the transformation of Manchester’s city centre after it was devastated by an IRA bomb has been given an Outstanding Alumni Award by The University of Manchester.

    Alison Nimmo CBE is chief executive of the Crown Estate, controlling assets worth £11.5 billion, including much of London’s prime real estate, the first woman ever to hold the post.

    Her career began in Manchester, where she graduated with a BA (Hons) in Town and Country Planning in 1985.

    Eleven years after graduating, she became project director of Manchester Millennium, leading the hugely successful regeneration of the city centre after the IRA bomb in 1996.

    Alison was an integral part of the original bid team that succeeded in bringing the games to London, and was also director of design and regeneration for the Olympic Delivery Authority.

    She was made a CBE for services to urban regeneration in 2004, and in 2014 won the prestigious Royal Town Planning Institute Gold Medal for services to planning.

    She said: “I’m deeply honoured for my work to be recognised by the University of Manchester with this outstanding alumni award. Manchester is my adopted home city. I loved my time here both as a student and then later helping to rebuild and reshape this wonderful City Centre”.

    Claire Kilner, Head of Alumni Relations at The University of Manchester said: “Alison has devoted her professional life to the important area of regeneration – and has been an outstanding achiever. We are honoured to recognise her work, in particular the regeneration of Manchester city centre in what many feel is the most ambitious and successful urban regeneration project of its time.”

  • Expert commentary: Why Boris Johnson might not pass security services Developed Vetting

    Colin Talbot, Professor of Government and Public policy, reacts to news of Boris Johnson becoming foreign secretary.

    Professor Calbot said: “The appointment of Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary took almost everyone by surprise.

    “Why has he been appointed? It’s hard to fathom without recourse to ‘Kremlin watching’ explanations about internal machinations in the Conservative Party.

    “I’ll leave aside the questionable decision to appoint as our primary international representative someone who cast aspersions on the motives of the President of the USA – our biggest ally – on racial grounds. Or who regularly insults his way around the world as our chief diplomat? I’m sure others will have lots to say about that.

    “The issue concerning me here is national security.

    “The Foreign Secretary plays a crucial role in our national security system. S/he controls two of our three most important security agencies – MI6 and GCHQ. S/he usually has access to the highest levels of the most sensitive intelligence – much of which is shared with our closest allies, primarily the USA.

    “I have worked with one of these agencies extensively (GCHQ on and off for 8 years). I have a reasonable understanding, I think, of how they and our allies work together.

    “Johnson will be regarded by many in the security community a risk. He has a well documented history of lying – he was memorably scared by Michael Howard for doing so. He is also seemingly ‘lose’ with confidences.

    “People with access to Top Secret (and above) material go through a process known now as ‘Developed Vetting’ (DV). It is a rigorous process – I know I have been “DV-ed”.It is so rigorous that Andy Coulson was not DV-ed when he was in Downing St – I suspect because he would fail.

    “Would Boris Johnson pass a DV? Without revealing too much about the process, I seriously doubt it from what we know about his history and behaviour.

    “This will cause huge problems for the UK’s security services. They will have to work out how to handle the fact the Foreign Secretary is ‘problematic’. Moreover the changes are that our allies – especially the Americans – may be reluctant to share sensitive intelligence with us if they know Johnson will have access to it. This could seriously damage our national security.

    “Am I being over dramatic? Perhaps. But I suspect there are people in Cheltenham and London, not to mention Washington, tear their hair out today trying to work out how to handle a problem called Johnson.”

  • Manchester scientists get on their soapboxes

    Soapbox Science is back in Manchester!