Science & Environment

Whitehall ponders candidates for next chief scientist

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Image caption The government's chief scientist is at times of crisis one of the most important civil servants in Whitehall

The director of the Wellcome Trust is among the candidates being considered for the post of chief scientific adviser to the UK government.

Mark Walport is the most high profile name on a list being scrutinised by Whitehall chiefs, BBC News has learned.

The successful candidate will replace the current chief scientific adviser, Prof Sir John Beddington, when he steps down at the end of this year.

The incumbent is the prime minister's main source of scientific advice.

He or she provides government with clear and authoritative analysis during times of crisis.

Prof Beddington, for example, drew on the thoughts of UK and international experts during the Fukushima crisis last year to advise that British nationals need not be evacuated from Tokyo because of radiation fears.

He also advised the Transport Secretary and Prime Minster in 2010 during the Icelandic ash cloud crisis on when it would be safe for planes to fly again.

Previous chief scientists have been eminent researchers with a strong track record in their chosen discipline.

The current shortlist includes several candidates who are not active scientists, but are renowned as administrators, such as Prof Sir Mark Walport.

BBC News understands that the appointments committee is looking for strong management skills in the successful candidate.

The appointment is expected to be announced later this year.

Among those being considered are:

Prof Sir Mark Walport, Wellcome Trust

Before joining the Wellcome Trust, Prof Walport was professor of medicine and head of the division of medicine at Imperial College London. Under his stewardship as chief executive, the Wellcome Trust has largely continued to fund high quality medical research. But Prof Walport also believes in getting the basics right and is a passionate advocate of good governance and good infrastructure. As a regular on the Today Programme, he has a proven track record as a good and respected communicator. Many believe he would be a good CSA because of his intuitive understanding of what is important to politicians and has their ear.

Prof Richard Friend, Cambridge University

Richard Friend is a distinguished professor of physics at the Cavendish Laboratories. He has experience turning theoretical thinking into money-making applications, driving development of innovative electronic devices, notably screens that can be rolled up.

Prof Adrian Smith, Bis

Before becoming a civil servant he was head of mathematics and professor of statistics at Nottingham University. As director-general of science and research at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Bis), Adrian Smith is the inside candidate in every way. He knows the innermost workings of Whitehall after years of overseeing the spending of the government's £4.6bn research budget - a budget that he is credited with helping to save from deep cuts.

Prof Graham Fleming. University of California, Berkley

A British chemist who has been working in the US for several years. Another world class scientist admired in the research community. Many feel that by being in the US Professor Flemming may have a valuable global perspective on scientific issues.

Prof Sir Roy Anderson, Imperial College London

He has the advantage of being a noted scientist and a Whitehall insider. Prof Anderson is a former scientific adviser at the Ministry of Defence and has guided the government and former chief scientists on the spread of human and animal diseases, such as Sars and Foot and Mouth Disease

Prof Frank Kelly, Cambridge University

Another respected scientist with Whitehall experience. He was scientific adviser to the Department for Transport between 2003-2006. He is credited with making the department one of Whitehall's most effective users of scientific information.

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