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 its 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’s members have a common vision and strive to promote the Institute as much as they do their own work. The scientists are aware of their colleagues’ research so that they can help frame, solve and communicate their achievements. They share funding opportunities and contribute to each other’s grant applications to ensure the financial security of the Institute as a whole.
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 Institute’s 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 that 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 that transcend what it could achieve divided. The Institute promotes organizational intelligence by shunning divisions between departments and academic disciplines. Its scientists and staff are not segregated but work closely with and amongst each other.
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 mean that the Institute shuns the bureaucracy that many research centres accumulate.
Simplify the routines of research
The business of theoretical science is not complex. At its core, 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. By focusing, from a business perspective, on the essential simplicity of theoretical research, the organizational routines of the London Institute are few and streamlined.
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 to recruit its scientists.
Competes through market efficiencies
Provide better value for research funding
Scientists at the London Institute 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 experimental research: it requires little equipment and less space.
Develop a science of funding science
The Institute is systematic in how it secures research grants. It applies for and has won grants from government and private funding agencies from around the world. 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 Institute recognizes that some research has commercial applications. For those scientists who 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.