Prime Minister endorses Durham research in economic role
(23 July 2004)
Prime Minister Tony Blair today commended the University of Durham for its role at the heart of the economic strategy of the North East.He was speaking at an event in his Sedgefield constituency to mark the handing over by Durham County Council of the first building on the NetPark science and technology-based business complex that will house two cutting-edge University research projects.
Mr Blair said: "Congratulations to everyone involved in bringing this about. County Durham has tremendous strengths. One of these is the world-class University of Durham. Like other top-class universities it is increasingly becoming an engine for scientific and technological growth. It is feeding into the economic regeneration of the region.
"Education occupies the commanding heights of the new economy. Skills and education are extremely relevant if we are to generate the science and technology that underpin the economy. What is really impressive now is the speed at which ideas spin out from academic research at Durham and elsewhere into trade and business activity and economic well-being."
In an official handover ceremony at the new 250-acre science park Mr Blair handed over the keys to the new Research Institute building that will house Durham teams working on Astronomical Instrumentation and Digital Enterprise Technologies. The keys were received by Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor John Anstee, who was performing his last official engagement for the University before his retirement.
The two research projects at the 24,000 sq ft Institute are the Centre for Advanced Instrumentation (CfAI)- developed by the Physics Department - and the Institute for Agility & Digital Enterprise Technology (IADET), a product of the School of Engineering. Both projects are undertaking groundbreaking technological research and their arrival at NetPark signals a major step forward for 'Dynamic Durham' a strategic vision for the region over the next twenty years.
Professor Anstee said: "The University is proud to be the first tenant in NetPark. It is an important opportunity to channel more of our world-class research into the economic regeneration of the region."
The Centre for Advanced Instrumentation (CfAI) has an international reputation for the design and construction of novel instruments for optical and infrared astronomy and works with observatories around the world to improve the quality of astronomical imaging and observation. Thanks to the CfAI team, astronomical images that are blurred by the earth's atmosphere may soon be a thing of the past! An example of such degrading was the 'black drop effect' witnessed when Venus crossed the sun last month.
The NetPark Research Institute will allow the CfAI to assemble, integrate and test major new instruments as well as provide laboratory space for specific aspects of the research group's work. The research team, headed up by Professor Ray Sharples, has already built and commissioned more than ten new instruments for the UK's largest telescopes in the Canary Islands, Australia and Hawaii.
Commenting on the CfAI's move to NetPark, Professor Sharples said: "The NetPark Research Institute will provide unique facilities which will enable the astronomical instrumentation group to continue to play a leading role in the design and construction of innovative new instrumentation for the next generation of ground and spaced-based telescopes.
"We are really looking forward to exploiting and expanding our links with suppliers of emerging technologies and establishing a world-class centre for advanced instrumentation."
The IADET team are also making a significant impact by giving scores of local manufacturers a competitive edge. By harnessing the latest developments in computer modelling, graphics and information management, the project gives industry important new insights into product development, risk reduction and improved responsiveness to customers.
In addition to Research Institute, construction of the park's second building the Netpark Incubator is now nearing completion. The custom-built accommodation, which is due to open in October, has been designed to meet the needs of new and emerging science and technology businesses and is already substantially pre-let.
Commenting on behalf of the NetPark development team, Mark Lloyd, Managing Director of County Durham Development Company said:
"First and foremost, the plan for NetPark is to create a thriving community of science and technology entrepreneurs. The North East has a wealth of science and technology expertise. An environment like NetPark - where innovation and creativity are embraced, will become a regional hothouse for new ideas.
"Science and technology businesses that locate on NetPark will be tapping into a network of first class business support and the world-beating research and development capabilities of our region's five main universities. The benefits for potential occupiers are very clear."