Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Establish a 1.2 GHz nuclear magnetic resonance research facility

Apply for funding to procure, install, and operate a 1.2 GHz nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) facility in the UK.

You must be based in an organisation eligible for UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) funding.

You must be a UK resident and meet one of the following criteria:

  • be employed at the submitting research organisation at a level equivalent to lecturer or above
  • hold a fixed-term contract that extends beyond the duration of the project.

The full economic cost of your project can be up to £17,000,000. EPSRC, BBSRC, MRC and NERC will fund 100% of the full economic cost.

This funding is dependent on the outcome of the government’s spending review.

Who can apply

This funding opportunity is being led by EPSRC and standard EPSRC eligibility rules apply. This research grant is open to:

  • UK higher education institutions
  • research council institutes
  • UKRI-approved independent research organisations
  • eligible public sector research establishments
  • NHS bodies with research capacity.

Check if your institution is eligible for funding.

As the principal investigator for your organisation, you can apply if you are a resident in the UK. You must also meet at least one of the conditions below:

  • are employed at the submitting research organisation at a level equivalent to lecturer or above
  • hold a fixed-term contract at the research organisation that extends beyond the duration of the proposed project, and the organisation is prepared to give you all the support normal for a permanent employee.

Submissions to this funding opportunity will not count towards the EPSRC repeatedly unsuccessful applicants policy.

What we're looking for

We are inviting proposals from eligible institutions to procure, install and operate an ultra-high-field NMR spectrometer as a national facility. The spectrometer will have a magnetic field strength of 1.2 Gigahertz (GHz), which is the highest currently available.

Applications must demonstrate that they will provide a facility that will be able to span the breadth of scientific interests and applications of the whole NMR community.

Pending a final funding decision as part of the government spending review, this award would be funded to the successful applicants as part of the UKRI infrastructure fund.

What your proposal should include

Scientific strategies of your proposal

We are looking for proposals that have clear and well-developed scientific strategies, such as those outlined below.

Your proposal should include plans to manage access for a diverse range of users who will have conflicting requirements of the system. In particular, you should consider the balance between solid and liquid-state users and researchers working across the materials and biosciences sectors.

You need to demonstrate the approach you will take to maximising access, minimising disruption and reducing potential lead time for applications.

Proposals should include a clear justification of the strategy for probe selection to fulfill the expected current and future requirements of the user community. This should include:

  • a list of probes to be purchased and planned timings for purchases, justifying  which would come first and why
  • the science they would enable
  • the research communities that would benefit
  • a forecast of potential future probe requirements.

Proposals should have plans for the development and expansion of a diverse and inclusive user base, as well as plans to provide a positive experience for users once they are engaged. You should describe the approaches that will be taken to engage users from across different disciplines.

You should seek co-operation with other, similar facilities internationally, as well as connectivity with the broader UK NMR landscape across multiple scientific disciplines.

Delivery approaches of your proposal

Your proposal should include details of how the facility will be delivered. The following will be assessed both as part of your interview and during a site visit:

  • plans for procurement and delivery of the system on schedule
  • plans for management of access to the system, including the application process and assessment criteria for proposals submitted
  • plans for management and maintenance of the system, including the development and expansion of the user base, scientific sustainability, and cost recovery
  • plans for securing institutional support for the proposal, both in terms of financial support and strategic support, with full details expected by the time of the site visit
  • available supporting infrastructure such as other NMR systems and sample preparation facilities
  • availability of support for users and the equipment itself through provision of research technical professionals (RTP) and other staff
  • plans for staff training, development and retention
  • environmental sustainability, which includes:
    • plans for developing accommodation for the facility in existing, new or refurbished facilities
    • plans to minimise impact of the use of energy and other consumables
    • options for virtual engagement to reduce the impact of travel.

Funding available

The maximum total funding available, subject to spending review settlement, is £17 million. The duration of the award will be up to five years.

One award will be made through this funding opportunity. Through this, you will be able to request the costs of:

  • the spectrometer itself
  • a range of probes to cover anticipated usage
  • small-scale refurbishment for laboratory space
  • staff costs directly associated with procurement installation and testing of the spectrometer.

Of the total fund value, up to £15 million is available for the spectrometer and probes. Up to £2 million is available for capitalisable staff costs and other costs associated with the procurement, installation, and initial testing of the system.

Costs for the spectrometer and associated equipment such as probes can be requested at 100% full economic cost. Capitalisable staff costs and other costs should be included under equipment and requested at 100% full economic cost.

Applicants will need to ensure that the different types of capital are fully detailed in the justification of resources.

Responsible innovation

EPSRC is fully committed to develop and promote responsible innovation. Research has the ability to not only produce understanding, knowledge and value, but also unintended consequences, questions, ethical dilemmas and, at times, unexpected social transformations.

We recognise that we have a duty of care to promote approaches to responsible innovation that will initiate ongoing reflection about the potential ethical and societal implications of the research that we sponsor and to encourage our research community to do likewise.

Therefore, applicants are expected to work within the EPSRC framework for responsible innovation.

International collaboration

If you are  planning to include international collaborators on your proposal, you should visit Trusted Research. This will give you guidance on getting the most out of international collaboration while protecting intellectual property, sensitive research and personal information.

How to apply

Email your intent to submit

You must provide EPSRC with a notification of intent to submit before submitting your proposal. This should take the form of an email to the funding opportunity contacts listed on this web page.

You should provide details of the principal investigator and the host institution, or institutions, involved.

This must be done by 16:00 on 17 March 2022.

You will not be allowed to submit a full proposal without having first provided notification of intent to submit. However, having done so does not constitute an obligation to submit a proposal.

You should ensure you are aware of and comply with any internal institutional deadlines that may be in place.

Submit your proposal

You must apply through the Joint Electronic Submission system (Je-S).

When adding a new proposal, you should go to documents, select ‘new document’, then select:

  • ‘create new document’
  • council: EPSRC
  • document type: standard proposal
  • scheme: standard
  • call/type/mode: 1.2 GHz NMR Facility.

Once you have completed your application, make sure you ‘submit document’.

Your host organisation’s administration will then complete the submission process. You should allow sufficient time for your organisation’s submission process between submitting your proposal to them and the funding opportunity closing date.

EPSRC must receive your application by 16:00 on 17 May 2022.

What to include in your application

As well as the Je-S application form, you must submit the following documents:

  • case for support (12 pages, including two on your track record and up to 10 on the scientific strategy and delivery approach)
  • workplan showing the projected timeline from procurement to operation as a national facility (one page)
  • justification of resources (two pages)
  • CVs (up to two A4 sides each) for named:
    • postdoctoral staff and researcher co-investigators (research assistants who have made a substantial contribution to the proposal and will be employed on the project for a significant amount of time)
    • visiting researchers
  • letters of support from all project partners included in the Je-S form (no page limit, see guidance)
  • host organisation letter of support (two pages)
  • quotes for equipment above £25,000 (no page limit)
  • cover letter (optional attachment, no page limit, not seen by peer review)
  • letters of support (no page limit).

You should attach your documents as PDFs to avoid errors. They should be completed in single-spaced Arial 11 font or similar-sized sans serif typeface.

Advice on writing proposals for EPSRC funding.

EPSRC guidance on project partners letter of support.

Ethical information

EPSRC will not fund a project if it believes that there are ethical concerns that have been overlooked or not appropriately accounted for. All relevant parts of the ‘ethical information’ section must be completed.

Guidance on completing ethical information on the Je-S form.

EPSRC guidance can be found under ‘additional information’.

Nominating reviewers

Proposals submitted to this funding opportunity will be assessed at an interview panel only. They will not be assessed by postal peer review. Therefore, you do not need to nominate potential reviewers for your proposal. If nominated reviewers are added, they will not be approached.

How we will assess your application

Assessment process

Assessment will be via an interview (phase one) where science strategy and delivery approach will be assessed, and then shortlisted proposals will be assessed at a site visit (phase two) principally covering delivery approach and institutional support. This is subject to any travel restrictions at the time.

As there is currently only one such system available globally there will be little to differentiate proposals in terms of the spectrometer itself or value for money.

Proposals will therefore be assessed in relation to scientific strategy and delivery of the system.

Given the nature of the funding opportunity, we do not anticipate high volumes of applications.

We will not be sending proposals received to postal peer review due to the high likelihood of conflict of interest. Instead, you will be invited to an interview (phase one) with an expert peer review panel based around the assessment criteria outlined in the sub-section below.

The outcome of the interview panel will be a shortlist of no more than three proposals. Shortlisted applications will then be subject to a site visit (phase two) by an expert panel, which will be subject to any travel restraints resulting from the pandemic.

Site visits

The site visit will at least include the following:

  • update presentation and questions from the panel based on feedback to you following the interview stage
  • questions to senior university management regarding support for the facility including responses to feedback form the interview stage
  • tour of the proposed location for the facility and description of plans for its development, as required
  • meeting with key research technical professionals and other staff who will have direct responsibility for the day-to-day operation of the facility.

It is expected that site visits will be held from September to October 2022, both to allow time for applicants to prepare and to avoid travel restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the event of a physical visit not being possible at this time, the event will be held virtually. Assessment criteria for the site visits are also listed below.

Assessment criteria

Proposal and interview assessment

For your proposal and interview, you will be assessed in the following categories and areas.

Strategy

Including:

  • suitability of the proposed host institution as a site for the equipment
  • connectivity with the wider NMR landscape nationally and internationally
  • how the new provision will optimise existing NMR infrastructure
  • how the research enabled contributes to or helps maintain the health of other disciplines, addresses key UK societal challenges, and contributes to the development of emerging industry or industries.
Science

Including:

  • the novelty and quality of the science that would be enabled by the facility
  • the transformative nature of potential research across multiple disciplines
  • optimisation of usage between solid and liquid-user communities, and materials and bioscience-user communities
  • probe strategy, looking at what types of probes would be procured, on what timescale, and which potential user groups would benefit.
User community

Including:

  • plans for management of access to the facility, accounting for the requirements of a diverse and inclusive range of potential users
  • plans for the development and expansion of a diverse and inclusive user base.
Infrastructure

Including:

  • plans for effective delivery of the facility
  • plans for operation and maintenance
  • accessibility of the facility for users
  • plans for securing support for the facility from the host institution
  • proposals for long-term sustainability of the facility
  • plans management and handling of data generated by the facility.
Applicants

Including:

  • suitability of the team to be able to deliver an effective facility, including an appropriate balance of skills and experience.
  • strength of the provisional support from the host institution.

Site visits assessment

During your site visit, you will be assessed in the following categories and areas.

Infrastructure

Including:

  • plans for the procurement and delivery of the facility
  • plans for the development of the site to accommodate the equipment
  • daily management, maintenance, and support for the facility
  • supporting infrastructure around the facility.
Sustainability

Including:

  • availability of RTPs and other supporting staff
  • long term plans for career development and staff retention
  • plans for financial sustainability of the facility
  • details of financial support and commitment from the host institution.
Environmental sustainability

Including:

  • plans to maximise the environmental efficiency of any existing, new, or refurbished infrastructure that will be made available for the facility
  • plans to minimise impact of the use of energy and other consumables in operating the facility
  • options for virtual engagement with users to reduce the impact of travel.

Feedback

A short, written feedback statement will be provided to you following your interview. This will be sent via Je-S.

If you are shortlisted after your interview, additional, more detailed feedback will be given to you, along with details of the site visit.

Contact details

Get help with developing your proposal

For help and advice on costings and writing your proposal please contact your research office in the first instance, allowing sufficient time for your organisation’s submission process.

Ask about this funding opportunity

Tony Chapman, Senior Portfolio Manager, EPSRC

Email: antony.chapman@epsrc.ukri.org

Include ‘1.2GHz NMR’ in the subject line.

We aim to respond within 10 working days.

Andrew Wright, Joint Head of Programme, Research Infrastructure, EPSRC

Email: andrew.wright@epsrc.ukri.org

Include ‘1.2GHz NMR’ in the subject line.

We aim to respond within 10 working days.

Get help with applying through Je-S

Email

jeshelp@je-s.ukri.org

Telephone

01793 444164

Opening times

Je-S helpdesk opening times

Additional info

Background

The UK NMR community has been at the forefront of research using this technology for over four decades.

To maintain this world-leading position, particularly in the context of the wider political landscape, it is imperative for the UK to continue to host leading-edge instrumentation with its associated support infrastructure.

Enabling leading-edge research through access to the most up-to-date, highest performance equipment acts as an anchor for existing researchers and research groups, and is an attraction for new researchers, as well as potential industrial users.

In 2017, EPSRC led an extensive UKRI-wide survey and collection of data concerning the NMR infrastructure underpinning research in the UK research base.

This is believed to be the most comprehensive and complete survey of any extensively used research technique in any large-scale research system to date, anywhere in the world.

This survey showed that for both solution and solid state NMR, the UK possessed a very limited availability of 700 MHz instruments and above, comprising only 10% of the portfolio.

For the very highest fields of greater than or equal to 900 MHz there was only solution state capability. The availability of ultra high and very high field NMR instrumentation was limited when compared to many rival national science systems, especially in Europe.

This is particularly true when one considers the size of the science community and the scale of the science portfolio that needs to be underpinned in the UK.

The 2017 investment by the former Research Councils UK (RCUK) in solution and solid phase 1.0 GHz NMR systems went some way to addressing this. But there was always a community need to extend this to 1.2 GHz once this technology was available.

Within Europe, the first 1.2 GHz system has now been installed at the University of Florence, although COVID-19 has delayed this becoming fully operational.

Elsewhere in Europe, Hamburg has placed an order for four 1.2 GHz systems to co-locate with the European X-ray free electron laser facility. Utrecht and Frankfurt have also placed orders.

The European systems will all have a national as well as a European dimension, but it is increasingly unlikely that UK researchers will have ready access to them. There have also been more recent orders announced by Bruker from the USA and South Korea.

The fact that 1.2 GHz systems are now a commercial product has significantly de-risked this project. Bruker has confirmed that there is unlikely to be further development of even higher field systems (1.3 to 1.5 GHz) in the foreseeable future.

The existing customer base for 1.2 GHz is significant and the technological challenges that would need to be overcome are not trivial and would need to be driven by a potential customer base.

NMR research was the first such field to take a community wide approach to large-scale, strategic investments. This co-created technique roadmaps across both the physical science and life sciences, which led to the RCUK-wide project to deliver two 1.0 GHz systems to the research community in 2017.

The second phase of this national strategy was always to procure a 1.2 GHz system. This was approved by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in early 2018. However, due to spend falling outside of the current spending review, this was seen as an unfunded pressure and we have been asked to reapply through this new route.

As well as the scientific consequences of not taking this forward, there is the reputational risk for UKRI of not delivering on a UKRI-wide, community-led strategy for a technique of national importance that has previously been approved.

Supporting documents

Output from town hall meeting (PDF, 1.3MB)

Equality impact assessment (PDF, 194KB)

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