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Paul Nurse: Talking about a research revolution

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 11 May 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d2896
  1. Geoff Watts, freelance journalist
  1. 1London, UK
  1. geoff{at}

The Nobel Prize winning scientist at the helm of Europe's biggest biomedical research enterprise talks to Geoff Watts about his aspirations for the new centre and the general culture of UK research

For someone who’s risen about as high as you can go in UK science—the presidency of the Royal Society—Paul Nurse remains pleasingly unstuffy. There’s no trace of the haughty demeanour or academic self absorption that has characterised some of his distant predecessors. When we met in the organisation’s grand headquarters in Carlton House Terrace, overlooking London’s St James’s Park, he was wandering around in an open neck shirt and sweater and looking—not untypical, this—slightly rumpled.

Along with the presidency, Nurse is a working scientist who runs his own laboratory and is director of the embryonic UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation (UKCMRI). So he’s a man with three jobs. Each of them, he says with a cheerful disregard for mathematics, occupies half his time. And he says it with the satisfaction of a man accustomed to keeping busy.

Having shared a Nobel Prize for his work on the cell cycle, Nurse has nothing to prove in the matter of scientific credentials. The Royal Society has been going since 1660 and has acquired a certain momentum of its own. So it’s the third of Nurse’s jobs that’s set to test him. The £600m (€680m; $980m) UKCMRI is currently a building site just north of the British Library in London. By 2015 or soon after, when it’s fully up and running, its expected staff of 1500 will make it the biggest biomedical research enterprise in Europe. And whether it succeeds will have a lot to do with decisions being taken now.

Conversation with Paul Nurse is a pleasure, not least because he listens and engages and offers the occasional …

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