Scotland's new research 'super institute'

12th Apr 2011

Scotland has a brand new research ‘super institute’ with the job of tackling some of the world’s most challenging problems including the impact of climate change and threats to food and water security.

The James Hutton Institute brings together the Macaulay Land Use Research Institute in Aberdeen and SCRI, Scotland’s world renowned centre for crop research and breeding, based at Invergowrie near Dundee.

The new research organisation will employ more than 600 scientists, researchers and support staff, making it one of the biggest institutes of its type in Europe and a potential world-leader in agricultural and environmental science in which Scotland already excels.

It is named after the Edinburgh-born founder of modern geology, James Hutton, who was one of the leading figures of the 18th century Scottish Enlightenment.

The UK’s Chief Scientist, Sir John Beddington, has hailed the arrival of The James Hutton as “an exciting development”.

Speaking on the eve of the launch, Sir John said: “Institutes like The James Hutton are enormously important. They are multi-disciplinary, they work at lots of different levels; they work at lab level and they also work at the applications in the field. The James Hutton is an excellent one to be dealing with.

“I can’t over emphasise the fact that we desperately need more people to work in Institutes likes this; we need more people to think about the important problems of how we address our food, water and energy security needs.”

Asked if he had a message for the staff of Scotland’s new super institute, Sir John said: “This is an exciting development. It needs to be followed through. The challenges out there for the world community are enormous and we need hard work and innovation and excitement and drive and enthusiasm.”

Scotland’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Anne Glover, was equally enthusiastic. She said: “By building on the excellent track records of its predecessors, The James Hutton Institute has the capacity to provide world-class research into how we can make the best use of our natural resources.

“Scientists at the new Institute are well placed to make a global impact in issues such as food security, changes in land use and impacts of climate change. They will also have a strengthened role in supporting Scotland’s rural economy and food and drink sectors. The James Hutton Institute will help maintain Scotland’s world-leading science base in these key areas.”

The James Hutton Institute will be home to a wide range of scientific disciplines ranging from cell and molecular, environmental and ecological sciences to social economics, geography and information and computer science.

In the super institute’s sights will be challenges such as improving crop yields, developing sustainable farming methods, creating a low-carbon economy and supporting biodiversity. One of The James Hutton Institute’s goals is to find ways to balance the demands on the land from farming, industry, housing, tourism and recreation.

The Institute’s Chief Executive is Professor Iain Gordon, a Scot who has returned from a research career in Australia. He said: “We are now on the map. The James Hutton Institute aims to be a world leader in research and to tackle head-on the global challenges of climate change and food and water security.

“We are letting our clients and customers know that we will bring them three Es: Excellence in the science we pursue...Engagement with both the issues we research and the people we work with and finally Effectiveness in delivering knowledge, products and services.”

The James Hutton Institute will continue to operate from centres in Aberdeen, Dundee and Edinburgh. It also has research stations and farms in Aberdeenshire, Angus and Lanarkshire.

The launch of The James Hutton Institute has also prompted an enthusiastic response from academics and others who have researched the life of the 18th century Scot. Emeritus James Hutton Professor, Gordon Craig, commented: “Hutton wrote that the Earth is a machine fired by heat. It took almost another 200 years for scientists to show that heat not only causes earthquakes and tsunamis, but also moves continents. We live on a planet that both nourishes and kills us.”

Denise Daly Walton, a farmer from Berwickshire who produced a James Hutton exhibition, said: "His experiences as a young Berwickshire farmer were key to Hutton's thinking on the Theory of the Earth and the very rocks which he seemed at times to detest for making 'a brute' out of him also inspired his genius.”

You can watch a film about the mission of The James Hutton Institute, presented by scientist Heather ‘The Weather’ Reid OBE at www.hutton.ac.uk. It includes contributions from Sir John Beddington, Chief Executive Professor Iain Gordon and some of the senior scientists now working for The James Hutton Institute.

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