When fully staffed the LSI will house some 200 cell and molecular biologists, mathematicians, physicists, biomedical scientists and systems engineers working in 29 research groups. This represents a 50% increase in the University's present 400-strong rolle-call of science-based academics.
With a floor area of some 7200 sq m and seven storeys, it is an impressive structure. Notable among its facilities are two basements housing specialised laboratory and microscopy rooms, and plant growth and biomedical research facilities, three floors of truly huge wet laboratories, and a large interaction space. By bringing together scientists from many disciplines and giving them the facilities to interact freely, the objective is to support an interdisciplinary ethos and generate a vibrant research environment.
On our visit we were given a presentation by two of the facility's newly appointed Associate Professors, and a tour of some parts of the building. During the presentation great stress was placed on the importance of allowing the facilities' scientists to pursue their intellectual interests where their curiosity takes them. So many massively important discoveries over the years have arisen as by-products of research directed at other things that it is important for researchers not to be too constrained by commercially-driven objectives. To demonstrate this we were taken through an example of where research had progressed from fundamental science-led work through to the development of drugs to control certain cancer conditions.
It is noteworthy that Government funding for basic science in the UK has fallen by 11% since 2010, to a level half that spent by states like Singapore. As a result of this, and of its own ambitions, Exeter is seeking donations from philanthropists and alumni and others of as much as £60million by 2020 to help it achieve its long-term ambition to be a world-class university. It stands currently at no.130 in the world rankings, but hopes to improve on this before very long.