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British Science Week

It is British Science Week.  I have worked for over forty years but it is only in the last three years that I have had any significant involvement with science, technology and engineering.  As part of British Science Week I thought it may be interesting to hear some observations about science from a non-scientist.

I am Chairman of Thermal Recycling which has developed a solution to a global problem.  The problem is that the only way of legally disposing of significant amounts of asbestos anywhere in the world is to send it to landfill.  The asbestos waste then remains in a hole in the ground forever as it does not deteriorate or decompose.  It presents a hazard to human health and to the environment.  There is insufficient landfill capacity to accept the remaining millions of tonnes of asbestos that is still present in the built environment.  Thermal Recycling diverts asbestos away from landfill, denatures it using an innovative thermal process which turns into a new substance that does not contain asbestos and which can be safely used as a cement replacement.

Even the term denaturing asbestos is scientific.  The denaturing process is chemistry and creating the capability to denature asbestos on an industrial scale requires cutting edge and precise engineering.  Science is at the heart of our business.  

As Chairman of Thermal Recycling I regularly speak to academics, chemists, engineers and many other people from a technical background.  As Thermal Recycling is a genuinely innovative business there are few precedents for what we are doing and many aspects of what we do are at the forefront of scientific discovery.  

Here are three observations, of many, from a non-scientist about what I have learned from collaborating with scientists:

  • When looking for answers to some fundamental questions about denaturing I was told that “the truth lies at the bottom of the well”.  At the time I did not fully understand the significance of this statement but it is quite profound.  Scientific innovation is an exciting, interesting and frustrating process of looking for answers, many of which raise further questions, the answers to which highlight other issues that are not fully understood.  Scientists are generous in sharing their knowledge and scientific discovery is a fascinating and disciplined process.
  • I stopped studying chemistry at the age of about fourteen as I had no interest in it and had assumed that it would never be of any use to me.  How wrong I was.  Whilst I am a long way from being a chemist, what I now understand is that chemistry provides a language and way of describing how and why many things work the way they do.  I can appreciate there is a beauty to it that I did not understand as a schoolboy.
  • Science is about solving problems in precise ways.  It provides tools that help you to understand the world.  As a non-scientist I can ask the questions that need to be answered but when doing something genuinely innovative, scientific disciplines provide the precision needed to  provide practical and workable solutions.

If my younger self had understood what science was really about I am sure that I would have shown a lot more interest in it when I was at school.

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