BBC Features London’s Francis Crick Institute, Europe’s Largest Biomedical Research Center
Construction is complete at the Francis Crick Institute designed by HOK with PLP. BBC Radio spoke with institute Director Sir Paul Nurse and other researchers on how the facility’s collaborative design fuels scientific discoveries.
The institute is a landmark partnership between the UK’s three largest funders of biomedical research—the Medical Research Council, Cancer Research UK and the Wellcome Trust—and three of its leading universities: University College London, Imperial College London and King’s College London.
BBC Science Editor Tom Feilden talked to Jim Smith, a Crick research director, and Cancer Research UK’s Professor Charles Swanton.
“We’ve arranged the building such that the middle has these collaboration spaces,” said Smith. “What we’re trying to do is to persuade the scientists to meet and collaborate and discuss their work. This is the idea that a eureka moment often happens over coffee rather than when you’re actually beavering away in your lab. Speaking to people who don’t work in precisely the same area as you is very important. We take every opportunity we can for people to meet each other, see each other and learn about their work.”
“Professor Swanton is inspired by this idea of bouncing ideas and problems off scientists from the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust, the three universities—Imperial, Kings and UCL—and drug companies, like GlaxoSmithKline, and that are all pooling their resources at the Crick,” Feliden said.
“The biggest excitement for me actually is not working in an institute that’s exclusively focused on cancer research,” said Swanton, “but being with scientists who have huge experience in immunology, but also infectious disease, influenza and such. It’s the fact that the Crick is a sort of chaos of diversity of scientists from very different specialties and walks of life that will create this cauldron of discovery that will be a tremendously exciting place to work in.”
Justin Webb of BBC Radio’s ”Today” spoke in more detail with Sir Paul Nurse regarding the benefits of a collaborative research institute.
“What it does for us is it’s essentially what I call a discovery research institute,” said Nurse. “It unleashes the curiosity of individual scientists, which is really the main spring of creative research activity. Then we harness those discoveries for whatever relevance it gives rise to for a range of diseases. … When you’re doing discovery research, you don’t quite know where the application’s going to go. It could be relevant to cancer, heart disease or neurological degeneration. But by having that open approach you can capture it wherever it goes.”
“I’m a great believer in mixing things up,” he continued. “It’s very easy to get so focused on your problem that you lose the context within which you’re working. Getting these scientists to work not only with people who are familiar with their area, but with other sorts of areas, with physicists, mathematician, engineers, new things crop up. … We’ve created an interactive space in the middle of the building where everybody has to go through. We’re looking for random interactions, random collaborations.”
BBC Radio - Francis Crick Institute segment begins at 02:38:32
“Today it was announced that construction work had been completed [at the Francis Crick Institute] and the first of its 1,250 scientists would begin to move in over the next month.
“It will open to the public next year.
“The hope is that by putting so many researchers in the same building and encouraging collaboration, ‘random interactions’ and sharing of ideas will lead to quicker breakthroughs.”
“Cancer Research UK contributed £160 million towards the Crick’s landmark new building, beside the British Library in King’s Cross.
“This included £100 million from four years of fundraising, ranging from £18.8 million from HSBC — Cancer Research UK’s largest ever gift — to £80,251 raised by Mark Carney, the Bank of England governor, by running last year’s London Marathon.
“Sir Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said, ‘It’s one of the biggest fundraising campaigns ever successfully concluded in the UK.’”