Friday, 1 January 2021

2021: bring it on!

Ebenezer Scrooge. That is who I feel like today, sitting alone in my office on New Year's Day. Barbara and I had planned a family get together for today, which had to be cancelled due to increased Coronavirus restrictions which were imposed yesterday due to the rapidly spreading new strain of the virus. Cornwall, which at the beginning of the month was in medium alert Tier 1 is now in the very high alert Tier 3, while the majority of England is in the toughest Tier 4. With Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in complete lockdown, with few exceptions the whole of the UK is effectively in quarantine.

Last night we were also on our own, celebrating not so much the beginning of the New Year as the end of the old one.

All a far cry from our past New Year celebrations, joyous affairs with family and friends. A particularly memorable one was way back in 1987 when we were joined by two young researchers from Asia, who were spending some time at CSM. One, a very affable fellow, whose name and research discipline escape me, was from the Republic of Korea. He is on the far right of the photo below, in which you might be able to spot Amanda, Jon, Barbara and me.

New Year's Eve, 1987

Third left on the back row is Dr. Gu Feng, of Qingdao Employee's College of Mines, China, who had just arrived in Cornwall, his first time out of communist China, which must have been a huge cultural shock, not the least being one of our New Year parties.

Gu Feng worked with me at CSM for a number of months and as a "stocking-filler" for the newly formed Minerals Engineering we put together a short paper on chromite processing which was published in Volume 1 in 1988. 

The presence of these two scientists from so far away highlights the importance of international collaboration. As of today the UK is an independent country and hopefully the word Brexit will soon be assigned to the memory banks. Thankfully the deal negotiated with the EU retains involvement with collaborative programmes of research, such as Horizon 2020, the biggest ever EU Research and Innovation programme.

Worryingly though, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced that the UK will not continue to participate in the Erasmus scheme, an EU programme that helps students study in other countries, and will be replacing it with a new scheme named after the mathematician Alan Turing. He said that under the new scheme students would have the opportunity not just to go to European universities but to go to the best universities in the world. Another of his U-turns, as in Parliament on 15th January last year he said "there is no threat to the Erasmus scheme. We will continue to participate, and UK students will continue to be able to enjoy the benefits of exchanges with our European friends and partners, just as they will continue to come to this country." (YouTube).

Although coronavirus is now affecting student mobility, figures from before the pandemic showed that about half of UK university students who studied abroad did so through Erasmus and a report from the House of Lords EU Committee warned the benefits of the Erasmus programme, which is 30 years old and took many years to establish itself, would be very difficult to replicate with the national programme that the government is planning. 

However there is much to be optimistic about as we enter the new year, particularly the thought that the vaccines will lead us into a new era, the 'new normal'. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccination programme is well under way, and only two days ago the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was approved for use in the UK, with the first doses due to be given next week.

Despite having to cancel or postpone all MEI Conferences in 2020, we are sure that all our 4 conferences this year will go ahead. Comminution '21 will be our first virtual conference and the call for abstracts deadline is the end of this month.

In June Biomining '21 and Sustainable Minerals '21 will take place, also as virtual events, and more details will be announced very soon. Flotation '21 is in November, and hopefully by that time face to face events will be the norm, so we hope to be back in Cape Town at the end of the year.

In the meantime, look after yourselves and a happy new year from all of us at MEI. And a special thanks to all those who have contributed to the blog via comments. I really do appreciate interaction such as this and particularly in these hard times it is important to talk to each other even if it is via social media. So please do keep your views and ideas flowing, and if you have not already done so, I invite you to subscribe to blog alerts via email.



  1. The last para in this BLOG sums up the way to "bond" with positive energy.
    Yes , the whole world is brought to its knees--we have to learn some lessons; plan future in a calibrated manner, encourage scientists and engineers belonging to all fields of specialisations to focus more on how we will get out of the misery at the earliest; ensure that quick response systems are in place for such disasters.
    It is "not nucler but biological" may cause more damage in the future(touch wood).

  2. Dear Barry and the MEI team,
    Best wishes for a convalescent 2021. I appreciate your thoughtful, reflecting, and wise ways to remind the community how vital networking, personal contacts, and exchanges of ideas are. Although isolation and restrictions are grueling, there are many opportunities for growth and new or different ways of doing things. The sense of togetherness encourages one to stick the head out of the tortoise shell.
    Hanna Horsch

    1. Thanks Hanna. I hope all is well with you and your colleagues in Colorado. I was looking forward to being in Denver next month, but not to be. I can't believe that I have not been on a plane since February, when I flew back from SME in Phoenix. Maybe catch up in 2022 (Salt Lake City?)


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