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Extra R&D investment to help response to global challenges

7th January 2021 about a 4 minute read

The government has announced the UK science facilities that will get £213m to enable researchers to respond to global challenges such as COVID-19 and climate change. 

The money will pay for new equipment including ‘supercomputers’ in Cardiff to track infectious diseases, airborne sensors in London to monitor greenhouse gas emissions and a floating offshore wind testing lab at the University of Plymouth.

The funding is part of government’s £300m commitment in its Research and Development (R&D) Roadmap published in July, which committed to making the UK the best place in the world for scientists and researchers to live and work.

Science Minister Amanda Solloway said the investment will equip the UK’s leading scientists, universities and research institutes with new state-of-the-art equipment.

This will help the UK respond to major challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic and achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

“The response from UK scientists and researchers to coronavirus has been nothing short of phenomenal,” she said.

“We need to match this excellence by ensuring scientific facilities are truly world class.”

The £213m pot includes £27m for researchers at 43 of the UK’s Medical Research Institutes providing them with access and upgrades to equipment including ultra-high performing computers and microscopes. 

The aim is to enable researchers to detect and model disease in more detail, helping the UK respond to COVID-19 and boosting resilience for future pandemics, as well as other diseases such as cancer and dementia.

Cutting carbon emissions

The investment will also provide researchers with facilities to test innovative technologies to cut carbon emissions, such as the floating offshore wind turbine testing facility.

It will also fund autonomous marine robotics trialled in Southampton to monitor the health of the southern oceans.

Other facilities to receive financial backing includes a ‘blast diagnostics’ laboratory at the University of Sheffield, which will test the UK’s ability to respond to the use of explosives in terrorist attacks.

The £213 million investment, delivered through the government’s World Class Labs funding scheme and made through seven of UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) research councils, covers investments in all disciplines from physical sciences to arts and humanities.

Facilities to benefit from the investment include:

  • £29m to upgrade and replace UK scientific equipment: upgrading and purchasing core equipment for the use of researchers across the UK. This will equip medical researchers at 43 of the UK’s Medical Research Institutes, such as in Birmingham, Glasgow and Cardiff, with state-of-the-art research equipment. This includes new high-performance computers and telescopes to study disease. It will also replace equipment that has been donated to COVID-19 research
  • £25m to support the installation of sophisticated testing facilities at leading UK universities. Funding will also support new equipment at a multi-disciplinary X-ray facility at the University of Liverpool, helping scientists to understand how carbon dioxide interacts with sandstone rocks, to develop improved ways of undertaking carbon capture and storage to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions
  • £34m for data and digital research infrastructure: Upgrading the UK’s digital research capabilities will enable pioneering analytical research that will help inform long term policy decisions. For example, urban data centres in Glasgow, Liverpool and Oxford will receive new hardware to pursue research that will show how COVID-19 has affected social and economic activity in different parts of the UK. Meanwhile, the University of Essex will be backed to conduct a large-scale household survey to understand how the pandemic has affected issues such as home schooling and family relationships
  • £33.5m to upgrade facilities of UK scientific councils: This will include a £20 million investment for the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) to upgrade laboratory infrastructure at its sites in Oxford, Cheshire, Cleveland and Edinburgh. This will enable the Council to continue developing flagship projects covering a range of topics, from pre-launch satellite testing to the search for dark matter
  • £15m for the Capability for Collections Fund (CapCo): investment will renew and upgrade the most vulnerable research facilities across the UK within galleries, libraries, archives and museums. It will focus on conservation and heritage, modernising these spaces which will help serve local communities for generations

Professor Ottoline Leyser, Chief Executive of UKRI said:

“Research and innovation infrastructure is key to delivering the government’s R&D Roadmap, with some of the most innovative ideas with transformative R&D potential requiring access to leading-edge infrastructures.

“This includes national research facilities, equipment and instrumentation, networks of technologies and digital infrastructures, plus knowledge-based resources such as collections and museums”.

A full list of the new investments is available here