£213m to upgrade the UK’s world-class research infrastructure

Laboratory team working on coronavirus vaccine

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) is investing £213 million to expand and upgrade existing research infrastructure.

The funding will help UK researchers tackle major challenges such as COVID-19 research and recovery, and net zero goals.

The projects, spread across the UK, will provide UK researchers with advanced equipment, facilities and technology, and help maintain the UK’s position as a leader in research and innovation.

The investment will ensure the UK is an attractive place for scientists, researchers and entrepreneurs to live, work and innovate. This will also help with the UK’s economic recovery.

Cross-discipline investment

The £213 million comes from the government’s World Class Labs funding scheme and is made through eight of UKRI’s constituent research councils. It covers investments in all disciplines from physical sciences to arts and humanities, and includes:

  • scientific equipment like high-tech microscopes to boost virus research and replace machines that have been heavily used in COVID-19 research during the pandemic
  • hardware and software upgrades:
    • bringing advanced analytical capability and enhanced capacity, enabling centres to reveal how COVID-19 has influenced urban mobility, and social and economic activity
    • extensions to household surveys to understand how the pandemic has affected UK households’ experiences of home schooling, family relationships, and other topics
  • an offshore floating wind turbine facility at the University of Plymouth, allowing experiments with wind, waves and currents simultaneously. Given the limited availability of sites for fixed offshore wind turbines, floating offshore turbines will become increasingly important to help the UK achieve its net zero target
  • modernisation of and investments in renewable energy at research sites, environmental research centres, vessels, aircraft and labs as part of a commitment to environmental sustainability
  • research infrastructure to address research capacity differences in regions across the UK thereby supporting regional economic growth and the government’s levelling up agenda
  • alterations to research infrastructure to ensure it is COVID-19 safe, helping to keep researchers safe. This could include changing the layout and adding equipment to move workstations further apart, installing screens, and improving air-handling and filtering systems
  • modernising galleries, libraries, archives and museums, which help anchor us to our past, pointing to innovation to safeguard our future, and serving local communities for generations.

A phenomenal response

Science Minister Amanda Solloway said:

The response from UK scientists and researchers to coronavirus has been nothing short of phenomenal. We need to match this excellence by ensuring scientific facilities are truly world-class, so scientists can continue carrying out life-changing research for years to come as we build back better from the pandemic.

From the world’s most detailed microscopes tracking disease to airborne drones monitoring greenhouse gas emissions, our investment will enhance the tools available to our most ambitious innovators across the country. By doing so, scientists and researchers will be able to drive forward extraordinary research that will enable the UK to respond to global challenges such as achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

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, including national research facilities, equipment and instrumentation, networks of technologies and digital infrastructures, and knowledge-based resources such as collections and museums.

Outstanding infrastructure helps to convene talent from the public and private sectors and across disciplines to tackle society’s most complex challenges. It acts as a magnet for researchers and innovators internationally, contributes to local and national economies, and generates knowledge and capability critical to UK policy, security and wellbeing.

£300 million commitment

This is the second part of a £300 million commitment made by Business Secretary, Alok Sharma, in July 2020. The first – an £88 million investment in world-class science laboratories – was announced in October 2020.

This second tranche will strengthen research and innovation in the UK, safeguard the scientific community’s ability to carry out exceptional research, and retain the country’s prominence in scientific research and output.

Above video: World Class Labs for the UK (credit: UKRI).
An auto-generated video transcript is available on YouTube.

Further information

The full list of investments is available below:

Facilities and equipment, £114 million

Capability for Collections fund (CapCo) – £15 million, UK-wide

Galleries, libraries, archives and museums are the bedrock of our culture and heritage economy, anchoring us to our past and pointing to innovation to safeguard our future. As these institutions are increasingly vulnerable, it is essential that we invest in the research facilities that drive their success. Working alongside institutions that define our cultural sector, Capability for Collections is a £15 million investment which will modernise these spaces and serve local communities for generations.


John Innes Centre Building 18 horticulture reconfiguration/improvement scheme – £5.2 million, Norwich

Norwich-based Horticultural Services supports research at John Innes Centre and The Sainsbury Laboratory. It provides new Controlled Environment Rooms (CERs) for plant and microbial experiments, giving control of environmental factors such as light, temperature and humidity. Containment measures will be improved for experiments investigating plant pathogens, or growing genetically modified plants. The new infrastructure offers energy efficiency and sustainability gains and will reduce utility costs by £100,000 a year.


Quadram Institute Bioscience Disease Modelling Unit autoclaves replacement and associated building works – £3 million, Norwich

A £3 million grant enables investment in new autoclaves for the Disease Modelling Unit, a research facility central to the mission of Quadram Institute Bioscience. The unit at the University of East Anglia (UEA) houses a germ-free facility critical for understanding the roles of gut microbes in health. Together with an investment of £2 million from UEA, this grant will add a new lease of life to the unit and its vital research.


19ALERT: funding advanced research equipment – £9 million, UK-wide

Advanced research equipment and the development of capability in this area is a key component in maintaining the competitiveness of the UK research base. By supporting mid-range equipment at a value of over £200,000, UKRI is advancing the capability of the UK research base across all scientific areas within UKRI-BBSRC remit. UKRI-BBSRC recognises that new technologies, tools and approaches, often spanning several disciplines, are revolutionising biology. It provides unprecedented opportunities to advance understanding of the complex, dynamic processes that govern life and to apply that knowledge for the benefit of society and the economy.


Accelerating deployment of strategic equipment – £25 million, UK-wide

Funding will support state-of-the-art equipment at five UK universities. These include an offshore floating wind turbine facility at the University of Plymouth and a laboratory at the University of Sheffield which will help to improve our ability to protect against explosive threats and the resulting fragments. Funding will also support new equipment at a multi-disciplinary X-ray tomography facility at the University of Liverpool; a cryo-enabled multi-microscopy lab at Imperial College London; and a 600 MHz NMR system at the University of Oxford.

Further info on some of the facilities (summaries available for all):

Blast and impact diagnostics laboratory, University of Sheffield

A new laboratory open to researchers and industry will aim to improve our ability to protect against the threat of the use of explosives in terrorist attacks. This unique blast and impact diagnostics laboratory will provide a safe environment in which high explosive, fragment and ballistic tests can be conducted with the aim of informing ways to protect critical infrastructure and urban environments against explosive threats.

UK floating offshore wind turbine test facility, University of Plymouth

Based at the University of Plymouth’s COAST Laboratory, this unique new facility will allow floating offshore wind turbines to be tested through experiments with wind, waves and currents simultaneously. Given the limited availability of sites for fixed offshore wind turbines, floating offshore turbines will become increasingly important to help the UK achieve its net zero target.


Maintaining capability with core equipment – £29 million, UK-wide

Equipment is crucial to researchers’ ability to conduct ground-breaking research and develop new technologies. Further funding is being made available to support the upgrading and purchasing of core equipment for the use of researchers across the UK.

Cutting-edge equipment and powerful computing will be part £27.8 million of investments in 43 of the MRC’s institutes, units and centres. These will support almost 500 research programmes across the UK tackling a wide range of health challenges from dementia and cancer research to infectious diseases and public health. The investments include vital upgrades to essential research equipment, replacing equipment donated to COVID-19 research and testing, and acquiring the latest advanced apparatus and digital technologies.

Examples:

Additionally, £1.2 million will support ultra-high performance  computing for the ‘CLIMB’ project based in Birmingham and Cardiff, which is part of the COVID-19 Genomics Consortium (COG-UK) and is supporting global forecasting and genomic analysis for the pandemic.


NERC Community Capital Grant calls – £12.5 million – UK-wide

An investment of £12.5 million Community Capital Grant Calls in new or upgraded equipment and lab facilities that will enable UK scientists to deliver world-class innovative environmental research. The investment will build up the UK’s pool of specialist equipment and facilities, which will be available to the whole research community, with the aim helping scientists better understand our planet.


UKRI-NERC environmental remote sensing infrastructure – £10.3 million

Funding of £10.3 million for NERC Environmental Remote Sensing Infrastructure will be invested in cutting-edge tracking equipment to detect changes to our planet ecosystem and help the UK tackle climate change.

The equipment includes:

  • autonomous marine vehicles, or robots, that will sit on the sea surface and monitor the health of the southern oceans
  • airborne sensors to observe greenhouse gas emissions
  • a new world-class weather radar system.

Upgrades to STFC laboratory equipment – £10 million, Oxfordshire, Cheshire, Cleveland, Scotland

A £10 million programme of laboratory upgrades to support the scientific programmes across our laboratories in:

  • Didcot (Oxfordshire)
  • Warrington (Cheshire)
  • Boulby (north Yorkshire)
  • Edinburgh (Scotland).

Investments will enable projects including:

  • quantum physics with ultra-cold atoms
  • the search for dark matter
  • artificial intelligence
  • pre-launch satellite testing.

Additional funding for running costs of ISIS Neutron and Muon Source, £2 million


Data and digital research infrastructure, £34 million

Enhancing Tier-2 High Performance Computing Capability for Machine Learning Techniques – £4 million, Midlands

Two new High Performance Computing (HPC) services will be supported:

  • Baskerville, led by the University of Birmingham, will bring together the Rosalind Franklin Institute, Alan Turing Institute and Diamond Light Source to analyse large quantities of data. This would have a wide range of uses including, for example, the development of the next generation of advanced materials for aerospace and studying the structure of proteins to help us understand disease and inform drug discovery and development.
  • Sulis will be led by a consortium of Midlands universities for use in ensemble computing, an emerging method which simulates all possible models to make more accurate predictions. It could be used for a wide range of applications, from predicting the stability of fusion energy, relevant for new and clean forms of energy, to the motion of bacteria which could be relevant to treatments for a wide range of diseases.

UK Household longitudinal Survey (UKHLS) – COVID-19 survey extension – £295,000, University of Essex

The UKHLS is an ongoing survey of 40,000 UK households and includes:

  • Black Asian Minority Ethnic groups
  • young people
  • benefit recipients
  • families with children.

At the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, the study introduced a survey of these households to find out how the pandemic affected their experiences of home schooling, family relationships, and other topics. Data from the April and May surveys on the impact of COVID-19 on working household incomes was used by HM Treasury to inform the July 2020 budget. This new investment will support new waves of data collection, helping to provide vital evidence to help meet policy needs.


Big data centres: mobility, urban planning and resilience – £1,067,000, Glasgow, Liverpool, Oxford

This investment includes hardware and software upgrades for the Urban Big Data Centre in Glasgow, and next-generation radar sensor devices at the Consumer Data Research Centre in Liverpool/Oxford. These enhancements will bring advanced analytical capability and enhanced capacity, enabling the centres to reveal how COVID-19 has affected urban mobility, and social and economic activity. It will provide important new data to support research studies for social and economic benefit drawn from over 150 private and public sector data partners and providers.


Social science data access and discovery enhancements – £668,200, University of Essex and University College London

This includes accelerated enhancements to major, long-term ESRC data infrastructure investments, UK Data Service (UKDS) and the Cohort and Longitudinal Studies Enhancement Resources (CLOSER). UKDS is the UK’s largest collection of social, economic and population data, used to inform research, influence policy and develop skills. Its datasets cover topics including:

  • risk factors for diseases and poor health
  • child development
  • labour market and the economy
  • environmental sustainability
  • migration.

CLOSER maximises the use, value and impact of longitudinal research, and regularly provides evidence to parliamentary inquiries, on topics such as:

  • gambling
  • the mental health of men and boys
  • early child development
  • obesity.

Enhancements will significantly improve services for users, deliver efficiencies in service provision and allow the investments to support additional volume and functionality.


Investment in high performance computing – £23 million, UK-wide

The £20 million injection for DiRAC – which provides high performance computing to the STFC theory community – will upgrade and enhance its capabilities allowing STFC/UKRI researchers access to more powerful tools to understand the universe. This investment will provide a significant platform for DiRAC to play a major role in the next phase of UKRI Digital Research Infrastructure. £3million has also been assigned to IRIS to increase its capabilities on behalf of STFC communities.


World class labs – additional funding, £20.4 million


Additional funding for JASMIN data analysis facility, £3 million


Estates, £33.5 million

UKRI-NERC estate maintenance, greening and e-infrastructure – £13.5 million

£13.5 million for NERC Estate maintenance, greening and eco-infrastructure that will enable our six environmental research centres, vessels, aircraft and labs to move towards the UK’s target of ‘net-zero’ carbon emissions by 2050. The funding will also able our research centres to upgrade their IT hardware.


Investment into STFC estates – £20 million, Daresbury, Harwell, Edinburgh, and Chilbolton

An investment to improve the functionality, efficiency and address some legacy issues including refreshing some existing UK scientific infrastructure at our Daresbury, Harwell, Edinburgh, and Chilbolton sites. The investment includes investment in renewable energy as part of our commitment to environmental sustainability, as well as studies to inform future investment.


Additional funding for National Oceanography Centre, £2 million


Additional funding on STFC estates for H&S regulatory compliance, £1.4 million


Other

 Increased costs due to changes in charitable status, £2 million and £0.8 million


 

Top image: Credit: janiecbros/GettyImages

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