AFTER interviews with more than 70 candidates, some from abroad, Professor Nicola Spence has been appointed Science City York’s new chief executive.

Prof Spence, 48, the chief scientist at the Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) in Sand Hutton, is expected to be at the helm by the end of this year.

The search to fill the £85,000 a year post began after Dr Richard Hutchins, who was appointed as chief executive in August 2007, left the post a few weeks later for personal reasons.

Richard Gregory, who in the interim has been leading the company as executive chairman, will continue in his role as chairman.

Prof Spence, who lives near Driffield with her husband, Julian, and two children Tom, 14, and Charlotte, 13, will lead Science City York’s work to develop the knowledge economy of York and North Yorkshire. “I am looking forward to it enormously,” she said.

Tasks awaiting her include leading a new three-year strategy, focused on facilitating knowledge exchange and proactive collaboration between researchers and business, and identifying international opportunities for local enterprises.

She should be well qualified given that her career has centred on strategic and applied research in the biological sciences, as well as having a strong commercial perspective.

Before her role as chief scientist, Prof Spence was acting commercial director for the Central Science Laboratory (CSL) and played a leading role in its merger and transformation as an integral part of Fera, which launched in April.

Educated at The Mount School, York, and Bridlington High she went on to attain a BSc in botany at Durham University, an MSc in microbiology at the University of London and a Phd at the University of Birmingham. She is also a visiting professor at the University of Birmingham. Now she will be leading a successful team, praised for its achievements by the former Science Minister Lord Sainsbury at Science City York’s tenth anniversary celebrations last year.

York achieved national acclaim in 2005 when it was designated by the then Chancellor, Gordon Brown, as the region’s “science city”, in recognition of its research excellence and commercial activity spanning bioscience and the creative and digital industries.

The chief executive’s salary will be supported by funding from regional development agency Yorkshire Forward, the council and the university.