Calling on scientists to help fight terrorist threats and future pandemics

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The boss of the UK’s secret military laboratory has called on scientists to join the fight against terrorism and hostile states and help protect the country from future pandemics.

Doug Umbers, head of the Defense Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) based at Porton Down, near Salisbury, urged academics, researchers, inventors, engineers and anyone else working in science and technology technology to consider focusing on countering threats to national security. .

He asked those who had never thought of working in defense, and on behalf of the government, to attend a summit on July 22 to see what opportunities presented themselves.

In the rare public appeal, he said, “I call on each of you to reflect on how your work contributes to ensuring the safety, security and prosperity of our families, friends and communities – and to consider work with the organization. I lead, Dstl, to boost this effort.

Dstl is based in Porton Down near Salisbury, as well as other locations across the country (Ben Birchall / PA)

Listing the “many” threats as ranging from “hostile states and terrorist groups to global challenges such as pandemics and climate change” in an open letter released on Monday, he added: “We cannot counter the threats alone. to come up. The world is changing and we are changing with it. “

The coronavirus pandemic had shown “under the most difficult circumstances” the crucial role that science and technology play in keeping “our loved ones out of danger” and, by developing a vaccine so quickly, “what we can achieve at a breakneck speed when we work together, ”he said.

His comments come amid the government’s attempt to make the UK a “science and technology superpower” by 2030, with the ability to “monitor, protect and defend” the country’s interests under review major in foreign policy.

It also follows the announcement that Chief Science Advisor Sir Patrick Vallance will head a new National Science and Technology Council tasked with ensuring that UK innovations are used for the benefit of the nation.

We must harness the power of science, technology, engineering and innovation from the private and academic sectors – from the individual inventor to tech start-ups and beyond

Doug Umbers, Dstl

As a member of the Ministry of Defense (MoD), Dstl strives to provide the armed forces and the government with state-of-the-art resources to deal with threats.

Upcoming projects include advancing work in the fields of artificial intelligence, cyber, space, robotics and the research of other scientific and technological inventions and advancements.

Mr Umbers said: “We need to harness the power of science, technology, engineering and innovation from the private and academic sectors, from the individual inventor to tech start-ups and beyond. “

Last week, the agency announced a recruitment drive over the next few months to hire 300 more top-secret scientists as part of its efforts to counter threats from China and Russia.

In 2020, a £ 16.5 billion increase in defense spending over the next four years has been announced.

Within this framework, the Ministry of Defense is investing £ 6 billion in research and development, of which an additional £ 1 billion is specifically devoted to science and technology.

Founded in 1916, the sprawling high security site of Porton Down in the middle of the Wiltshire countryside is the oldest chemical warfare research center in the world.

There, the highly trained scientists at Dstl are – with strict safety measures in place – accustomed to handling some of the most dangerous known substances such as Ebola, anthrax, the nerve agent Novichok and plague – all of which can kill. .

Inside the corridors housing high-containment laboratories – divided into four categories according to the degree of dangerousness of the chemicals and pathogens inside – staff also put their skills to work in the fight against the disease. coronavirus.

Part of their job is to try to counter future threats from hostile states such as China and Russia.

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