UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has announced more than a dozen projects that will receive a share of £50 million budgeted for “facilities that can help us answer some of the biggest questions and tackle the most pressing challenges”.
The 17 recipients are the beneficiaries of the first investments to come from the UKRI Infrastructure Roadmap programme to “put the infrastructure in place for the UK to lead in the research and innovation challenges facing society”, the funding agency said.
Among those to receive funds are an airborne research laboratory, a radio telescope network and a carbon dioxide storage testbed. The largest single recipient – receiving £17m – will initiate a national Digital Research Infrastructure (DRI), comprising the data, computers, software and skills that underpin many frontier research fields.
“Infrastructure and the skilled people who design, build, maintain and operate it are vital to research and innovation,” said UKRI chief executive Prof Dame Ottoline Leyser.
“Projects such as the Square Kilometre Array Observatory and the UKRI Airborne Laboratory demonstrate the importance of investing in facilities that can help us answer some of the biggest questions and tackle the most pressing challenges.
“This investment provides the foundation from which the UK will continue to play an important role in the advancement of scientific research and understanding around the world.”
The projects were chosen by a UKRI infrastructure advisory committee, consisting of members from higher education, innovation and research organisations, industry and commerce and policymaking. The projects demonstrate the funder’s commitment to “a broad spectrum” of research interests, it said.
Research minister Amanda Solloway said: “If the last year and a half has taught us anything it’s that new challenges can arise from anywhere at any time.
“By investing millions in the UK’s research infrastructure, we are putting science and innovation at the heart of our efforts to build back better while ensuring that we can respond to challenges now and in the future – from pandemic preparedness to tackling climate change.”
By investing millions in the UK’s research infrastructure, we are putting science and innovation at the heart of our efforts to build back better
– Amanda Solloway, research minister
The airborne laboratory, serviced at the National Centre for Atmospheric Science and based at Cranfield Airfield, receives £5.5m: the aircraft can be deployed anywhere in the world and is used to collect atmospheric data used in climate modelling and weather prediction. Upgrades include new air pollution and aerosol instrumentation. It has monitored volcanic eruptions in Iceland and collected samples from ship exhaust emissions over the Atlantic.
The Square Kilometre Array Observatory (SKAO), headquartered at Jodrell Bank, receives £15m towards its telescopes in South Africa and Australia. The John Innes Centre and The Sainsbury Laboratory share in £1m to further plans of moving towards energy self-sufficiency and net-zero carbon dioxide emissions. The ISIS Neutron and Muon Source, based in Oxfordshire, known as the home of the super-microscopes, gains £1.5 million to develop the next generation of the facility.
A consortium led by UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, with the British Geological Survey, Imperial College London and Bristol University gains £260,000 for flood and drought research, while the CO2 Storage Testbed gains £434,000 to “de-risk subsurface CO2 storage”.
CoSTAR, a national infrastructure for creative research and innovation, receives £410,00 to help it develop a detailed business case for how its experimental studios and digital labs can support the British screen and performance sectors.
Research Infrastructure for Conservation and Heritage Science has been awarded £200,000 to help the UK heritage sector protect and preserve historic buildings, artwork, natural history collections and archaeological artefacts.
On the same day, UKRI also announced £10m of seed funding for spinout early-stage businesses pursuing early-stage, high-risk ideas.