A new kind of research centre
Throughout the 20th century, scientific research has been grounded
within the university. But this has not always been the case. Over history,
the learned class has evolved—from scribes, to the Church, to recipients
of patronage, to learned societies, to universities.
Today, the university model is in flux. The century-old dynamic between
science, society and business is shifting. New opportunities are emerging
which will shape how to fund, organize and translate research for
economic and social benefit.
As technology cycles shrink, the distinction between pure and applied
research is fading. Firms are increasingly drawn to theoretical insights to
bolster their strategy, security and sustainability. And as government
support for basic science decreases, the philanthropy of the new economy
is shaping the future of curiosity-driven science.
The London Institute for Mathematical Sciences was created to harness
these emerging opportunities for how to organize research in physics,
mathematics and the theoretical sciences. It is a new kind of research
centre that is focused, inspirational, anti-bureaucratic and competes
through market efficiencies.
Because the Institute cannot rely on government subsidies or student
fees, it covers its costs through research grants and donations. It must
maintain a competitive advantage in how it organizes research.
Focus on theoretical scientific research
The London Institute was created by scientists who wanted to spend
more time on research. It was not set up by a government agency or a
single benefactor. Rather, it grew organically by winning grants,
encouraging donations and attracting researchers. The Institute is
entirely research focused. It gives scientists the freedom and support to
do what they do best: make fundamental discoveries.
Leave teaching to universities
In Britain and across the world, there are many research organizations
that teach, but few that only do research. The London Institute does not
teach or award degrees, allowing scientists to fully dedicate themselves to
research. From time to time it hosts capable research students for short
periods to assist with ongoing research at the Institute.
Work as a team
The Institute is small by design. It promotes internal awareness of each
others’ research and how that research gets funded. It’s members have a
common vision and work together as a team.
Safeguard curiosity-driven science
The London Institute is a rare place where scientists can wholly dedicate
themselves to unlocking the secrets of the universe and our role within it.
It plays a unique role in safeguarding curiosity-driven science. In the
mathematical sciences, history shows that human curiosity is the best
guide to uncovering those theories and technologies that go on to have
the biggest impact.
Seek beauty in research and how it is communicated
Scientists seek new insights not just for their utility, but also to enrich the
world of ideas, which has its own beauty. Truth and beauty form the
Institutes’ motto, and reflect the observation that the most beautiful
discoveries tend to be the most far-reaching. Beauty in science can be
found not only in mathematical representation, but also in how scientific
stories are told and visualized. The Institute seeks to publish papers
which inspire as well as inform.
Drive organizational intelligence
An intelligent organization is more than the sum of its parts. It combines
the skills of its members with its embedded routines in ways which
transcend what it could achieve divided. The London Institute promotes
organizational intelligence by removing departments across academic
disciplines. Its scientists and staff are not segregated but work closely
with and amongst each other. It continually re-examines the routines of
research to drive Institute-wide intelligence.
Simplify the routines of research
The business of theoretical science is not complex. In essence it requires
a place to think in the presence of like-minded others. Yet many research
organizations are conflicted, politicized and unable to adapt quickly.
The Institute continually strives to simplify the routines of research so
that it stays agile and efficient.
Remove constraints by being single-minded
Universities tend to have multiple aims: theory and experiment; science
and the arts; research and education. Many of the organizational
structures created for one aim are not suitable for another. The London
Institute, by contrast, focuses exclusively on theoretical scientific
research. Its narrow focus and emphasis on simplicity means that the
Institute shuns the bureaucracy that many research centres accumulate.
Attract talented staff
Alongside its scientists, the Institute employs staff drawn from finance,
journalism, design, strategy and digital technology. These members play a
central role in funding, communicating and translating the Institute’s
discoveries. The Institute works as hard to recruit talented support staff
as it does its scientists.
Competes through market efficiencies
Provide better value for research support
The Institute’s scientists are able to apply themselves full-time to
research, in contrast to university scientists, for whom research is a
minority occupation. The result is more research publications per
scientist and the capacity to secure greater funding. This is further
amplified by the lower cost of theoretical research compared to experiment:
it requires little equipment and less space.
Develop a science of funding science
The Institute is more systematic in how it secures research grants. It
applies for and has won grants from the full spectrum of national and
international funding agencies. By taking a system-wide view of its grant
applications, the Institute is turning funding science into a science of its
own. Its researchers and staff collectively prepare proposals and budgets
and map out the complex space of funding opportunities.
Develop corporate relationships to drive basic science
From its inception the Institute has received significant support from
corporate and defence sponsors. These include firms in energy,
consulting and banking and the US Department of Defense and the UK
Ministry of Defence. Corporate and defence funding have led to some of
the Institute’s most fundamental research, and their support is more
flexible and immediate than government agency support.
Keep a startup incubator inside the Institute
The London Institute recognizes that some research has commercial
applications. For those scientists that foresee a product fit for market—
and have the drive and resilience to see it through—the Institute created
LIMS Ventures. LIMS Ventures is the subsidiary for-profit incubator of the
London Institute. It helps the Institute’s scientists commercialize their
discoveries by providing space and a team of leading developers,
designers and marketers.