Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Future underground dark matter science experiments

Only applicants who have successfully submitted an expression of interest can apply.

Apply for funding to deliver a dark matter science project at the Boulby Underground Laboratory. Science projects are anticipated to span design, installation, commissioning, and operation phases.

You must be based at a UK research organisation eligible for Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) grant funding.

Applicants must confirm that the proposed project can be hosted at the Boulby Underground Laboratory.

The cost to STFC for the project can be up to £10 million, over five years.

Who can apply

You can only apply for this funding opportunity if we have invited you to do so following a successful outline application.

In addition, all invited applicants must ensure that they are eligible for UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)/STFC funding.

Before applying for funding, check

Each proposal must identify a project lead (formerly known as principal investigator), who has overall responsibility for the delivery of the proposal, and there are no limits to the size of project teams.

An individual should not be a project lead or co-project lead on more than one application.

Please note there has been a change in terminology for project role: see UKRI revises project role types for full details.

Equality, diversity and inclusion

We are committed to achieving equality of opportunity for all funding applicants. We encourage applications from a diverse range of researchers.

We support people to work in a way that suits their personal circumstances. This includes:

  • career breaks
  • support for people with caring responsibilities
  • flexible working
  • alternative working patterns

Find out more about equality, diversity and inclusion at UKRI.

Please note that a key requirement of this funding opportunity is for the experiment to be based at the Boulby Underground Laboratory. STFC recognise that this may be present practical difficulties for some applicants and members of research teams. We would, therefore, encourage any applicants who have accessibility concerns about this to contact STFC as soon as possible so that individual requirements can be discussed with Boulby staff who can advise on ways to facilitate access.

What we're looking for

Aim

The STFC ‘Dark Matter Strategic Review 2020’ noted the potential for the Boulby Underground Laboratory to host a next generation dark matter experiment. This funding opportunity is designed to allow the UK dark matter research community to support this ambition and to further enhance the existing research at Boulby.

It is anticipated that a single science project will be funded through this funding opportunity.

Please note that this funding opportunity will not support research and development projects.

Scope

This funding opportunity will provide up to £10 million, over five years, for UK researchers to conduct a dark matter science project that utilises the Boulby Underground Laboratory space, and which:

  • aligns with the recommendations of the Dark Matter Strategic Review 2020
  • meets the definition of dark matter (see below)
  • has confirmed feasibility and viability for deployment within the current capacity and capability of the Boulby Underground Laboratory
  • provides short to medium-term scientific returns

A medium-scale science project is anticipated to start in spring 2025 and will exploit the Boulby Underground Laboratory facilities to design and deploy an experimental set up to directly detect dark matter signals and are anticipated to span design, installation, commissioning, and operation phases.

Definition of dark matter: This funding opportunity will encompass experimental approaches that can be broadly split into complementary routes:

  • direct searches for particulate (for example, WIMP-like)
  • DM direct searches for wave-like hidden sector DM

This funding opportunity will not consider:

  • multidisciplinary projects
  • research and development projects
  • projects that are specifically focused on neutrino physics

Duration

The duration of this award is five years.

Projects must start by 1 April 2025.

Funding available

You can claim up to a maximum of £10,000,000 from STFC for this project.

Please note that in line with standard UKRI policy the institution holding the award will be expected to provide 20% of the non-exceptions costs. This means that the actual full-economic cost (FEC) of the award may be in excess of £10 million.

In general, we expect to contribute around 50% of the cost of equipment items costing between £10,000 and £138,000, although this will be assessed on a case-by-case basis. For full details see STFC equipment policy.

Please note that at present it is not possible to add equipment costs at 50% to the high-level ‘resources and costs’ table on the UKRI Funding Service. As such you should enter equipment costs within the Directly Incurred cost heading (at 80%) on the understanding that we will only supply 50% of the total equipment cost for items in excess of £10,000. We recognise that this may result in the final requested funding amount listed exceeding the maximum STFC contribution. However, the work package cost tables (within the Vision and Approach document) should list these costs at 50%.

What we will fund

Standard STFC funding policy will apply. See costs we fund for details.

Supporting skills and talent

We encourage you to follow the principles of the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers and the Technician Commitment.

International collaboration

If your application includes international applicants, project partners or collaborators, visit UKRI’s trusted research and innovation for more information on effective international collaboration.

Find out about getting funding for international collaboration.

How to apply

We are running this funding opportunity on the new UKRI Funding Service. You cannot apply on the Joint Electronic Submissions (Je-S) system.

The project lead is responsible for completing the application process on the Funding Service, but we expect all team members and project partners to contribute to the application.

Only the lead research organisation can submit an application to UKRI.

To apply

You can only apply for this funding opportunity if we have invited you to do so following a successful stage one application. The start application link will be provided via email.

  1. Confirm you are the project lead.
  2. Sign in or create a Funding Service account. To create an account, select your organisation, verify your email address, and set a password. If your organisation is not listed, email support@funding-service.ukri.org
    Please allow at least 10 working days for your organisation to be added to the Funding Service.
  3. Answer questions directly in the text boxes. You can save your answers and come back to complete them or work offline and return to copy and paste your answers. If we need you to upload a document, follow the upload instructions in the Funding Service. All questions and assessment criteria are listed in the How to apply section on this Funding finder page.
  4. Allow enough time to check your application in ‘read-only’ view before sending to your research office.
  5. Send the completed application to your research office for checking. They will return it to you if it needs editing.
  6. Your research office will submit the completed and checked application to UKRI.

Where indicated, you can also demonstrate elements of your responses in visual form if relevant.

  • use images sparingly and only to convey important information that cannot easily be put into words
  • insert each new image onto a new line
  • provide a descriptive legend for each image immediately underneath it (this counts towards your word limit)
  • files must be smaller than 5MB and in JPEG, JPG, JPE, JFI, JIF, JFIF, PNG, GIF, BMP or WEBP format

Watch our research office webinars about the new Funding Service.

For more guidance on the Funding Service, see:

Deadline

We must receive your application by 30 May 2024 at 4.00pm UK time.

You will not be able to apply after this time.

Make sure you are aware of and follow any internal institutional deadlines. 

Following the submission of your application to the funding opportunity, your application cannot be changed, and applications will not be returned for amendment. If your application does not follow the guidance, it may be rejected.

Personal data

Processing personal data

STFC, as part of UKRI, will need to collect some personal information to manage your Funding Service account and the registration of your funding applications.

We will handle personal data in line with UK data protection legislation and manage it securely. For more information, including how to exercise your rights, read our privacy notice.

Publication of outcomes

STFC, as part of UKRI, will publish the outcomes of this funding opportunity at Board and panel outcomes – STFC – UKRI

If your application is successful, we will publish some personal information on the UKRI Gateway to Research.

Summary

Word limit: 550

In plain English, provide a summary we can use to identify the most suitable experts to assess your application.

We usually make this summary publicly available on external-facing websites, therefore do not include any confidential or sensitive information. Make it suitable for a variety of readers, for example:

  • opinion-formers
  • policymakers
  • the public
  • the wider research community

Clearly describe your proposed work in terms of:

  • context
  • the challenge the project addresses
  • aims and objectives
  • potential applications and benefits

Core team

List the key members of your team and assign them roles from the following:

  • project lead (PL)
  • project co-lead (UK) (PcL)
  • researcher co-lead (RcL)
  • specialist
  • grant manager
  • professional enabling staff
  • doctoral student
  • research and innovation associate
  • technician
  • visiting researcher

Only list one individual as project lead.

Please note that whilst doctoral students with existing funding may work as part of the research team and are eligible for research costs, new studentships cannot be funded through this funding opportunity.

Find out more about UKRI’s core team roles in funding applications.

Application questions

Vision and Approach

Create a document that includes your responses to all criteria. The document should not be more than 35 sides of A4, single spaced in paper in 11-point Arial (or equivalent sans serif font) with margins of at least 2cm. You may include images, graphs, tables. You can have an additional page for a diagrammatic workplan.

For the file name, use the unique Funding Service number the system gives you when you create an application, followed by the words ‘Vision and Approach’.

Save this document as a single PDF file, no bigger than 8MB. Unless specifically requested, please do not include any sensitive personal data within the attachment.

If the attachment does not meet these requirements, the application will be rejected.

The Funding Service will provide document upload details when you apply.

What are you hoping to achieve with and how will you deliver your proposed work?

What the assessors are looking for in your response

For the Vision, explain how your proposed work:

  • is of excellent quality and importance within or beyond the field(s) or area(s)
  • has the potential to advance current understanding, generates new knowledge, thinking or discovery within or beyond the field or area
  • is timely given current trends, context and needs
  • impacts world-leading research, society, the economy or the environment
  • will embed EDI considerations into, and how these will guide your aims, as well as other activities such as stakeholder engagement, events and networking.
Contextual information

Within your response, please ensure that you explain how your project:

For the Approach, explain how you have designed your work so that it:

  • is effective and appropriate to achieve your objectives
  • is feasible, and comprehensively identifies any risks to delivery and how they will be managed
  • if applicable, uses a clear and transparent methodology
  • if applicable, summarises the previous work and describes how this will be built upon and progressed
  • will maximise translation of outputs into outcomes and impacts
  • describes how your, and if applicable your team’s, research environment (in terms of the place, and relevance to the project) will contribute to the success of the work
Contextual information

Within the Approach criteria listed above, we also expect you to provide:

  • a detailed overview of the project’s management and governance structures and mechanisms (see STFC Project Management Framework (PDF, 2,007KB)
  • a comprehensive project plan, milestones and timelines (including a Gantt chart or diagram) including details of acceptance processes for key deliverables and milestones
  • your monitoring and reporting plans
  • a risk register tabulating the risks to delivery identified in the Approach section.
  • an outline of the change control processes and procedures to take into account the impact of any change on all aspects of the project
  • consideration of a descope scenario to lower the ambition of the project by 10% of the requested budget
  • a detailed breakdown of all work packages with associated costs, resource requirements and clear leadership team roles and responsibilities. Please use STFC work package cost tables template to provide finance information to be appended to the Vision and Approach document.
  • a concise list of the most relevant and current references

As far as possible, please structure your Vision and Approach document around the bullet points listed above.

Applicant and team capability to deliver

Word limit: 3,000

Why are you the right individual or team to successfully deliver the proposed work?

What the assessors are looking for in your response

Evidence of how you, and if relevant your team, have:

  • the relevant experience (appropriate to career stage) to deliver the proposed work
  • the right balance of skills and expertise to cover the proposed work
  • the appropriate leadership and management skills to deliver the work and your approach to develop others
  • contributed to developing a positive research environment and wider community

You may demonstrate elements of your responses in visual form if relevant. Further details are provided in the service.

The word count for this section is 3,000 words: 2,000 words to be used for R4RI modules and, if necessary, a further 1,000 words for Additions.

Use the Résumé for Research and Innovation (R4RI) format to showcase the range of relevant skills you and, if relevant, your team (project and project co-leads, researchers, technicians, specialists, partners and so on) have and how this will help deliver the proposed work. You can include individuals’ specific achievements but only choose past contributions that best evidence their ability to deliver this work.

Complete this section using the R4RI module headings listed. Use each heading once and include a response for the whole team, see the UKRI guidance on R4RI. You should consider how to balance your answer, and emphasise where appropriate the key skills each team member brings:

  • contributions to the generation of new ideas, tools, methodologies, or knowledge
  • the development of others and maintenance of effective working relationships
  • contributions to the wider research and innovation community
  • contributions to broader research or innovation users and audiences and towards wider societal benefit
Additions

Provide any further details relevant to your application. This section is optional and can be up to 1,000 words. You should not use it to describe additional skills, experiences, or outputs, but you can use it to describe any factors that provide context for the rest of your R4RI (for example, details of career breaks if you wish to disclose them).

Complete this as a narrative. Do not format it like a CV.

UKRI has introduced new role types for funding opportunities being run on the new Funding Service.

For full details, see Eligibility as an individual.

Ethics and responsible research and innovation (RRI)

Word limit: 500

What are the ethical or RRI implications and issues relating to the proposed work? If you do not think that the proposed work raises any ethical or RRI issues, explain why.

What the assessors are looking for in your response

Demonstrate that you have identified and evaluated:

  • the relevant ethical or responsible research and innovation considerations
  • how you will manage these considerations

You may demonstrate elements of your responses in visual form if relevant. Further details are provided in the service.

Trusted Research and Innovation (TR&I)

Word limit: 100

Does the proposed work involve international collaboration in a sensitive research or technology area?

Demonstrate how your proposed international collaboration relates to Trusted Research and Innovation, including:

  • list the countries your international project co-leads, project partners and visiting researchers, or other collaborators are based in
  • if international collaboration is involved, explain whether this project is relevant to one or more of the 17 areas of the UK National Security and Investment (NSI) Act
  • if one or more of the 17 areas of the UK National Security and Investment (NSI) Act are involved list the areas
  • Is this application part of an experiment at an international facility? If yes, please indicate which facility.

If your proposed work does not involve international collaboration, answer ‘n/a’ here.

We may ask you to provide additional information about how your proposed project will comply with our approach and expectation towards TR&I, identifying potential risks and the relevant controls you will put in place to help manage these risks.

Research involving the use of animals

Word limit: 10

Does your proposed research involve the use of vertebrate animals or other organisms covered by the Animals Scientific Procedures Act?

What the assessors are looking for in your response

If you are proposing research that requires using animals, download and complete the Animals Scientific Procedures Act template (DOCX, 74KB), which contains all the questions relating to research using vertebrate animals or other Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 regulated organisms.

Save it as a PDF. The Funding Service will provide document upload details when you apply. If this does not apply to your proposed work, you will be able to indicate this in the Funding Service.

Resources and cost justification

Word limit: 2,000

What will you need to deliver your proposed work and how much will it cost?

What the assessors are looking for in your response

Justify the application’s more costly resources, in particular:

  • project staff
  • significant travel for field work or collaboration (but not regular travel between collaborating organisations or to conferences)
  • any equipment that will cost more than £10,000
  • any consumables beyond typical requirements, or that are required in exceptional quantities
  • all facilities and infrastructure costs
  • all resources that have been costed as ‘Exceptions’
  • International collaboration costs

Assessors are not looking for detailed costs or a line-by-line breakdown of all project resources. Overall, they want you to demonstrate how the resources you anticipate needing for your proposed work:

  • are comprehensive, appropriate, and justified
  • represent the optimal use of resources to achieve the intended outcomes
  • maximise potential outcomes and impacts
Guidance
Equipment costs

Please see equipment cost guidance in the ‘What we are looking for’ section above.

Working allowance

This is used to cope with the uncertainties that occur in all projects, such as increased cost of materials, complexity of design and manufacture of components. There should be a reasonable chance (greater than 75%) that the project can be completed within the budget of the base cost plus the working allowance. The working allowance is awarded as part of the grant at announcement (at 100%).

Contingency

This should not be requested on the application form. It is for the unknown and unexpected things that can occur within a project and which could not reasonably be predicted. It should be calculated on the basis of an understanding of the risks of the project.

STFC laboratory costs

Costs for STFC laboratories must be shown as 100% in the finance tables and must include staff costs and overheads. These always count as ‘new’ costs.

Please ensure that all information provided here matches that in the Vision and Approach section.

Your organisation’s support

Word limit: 500

Provide details of support from your research organisation.

What the assessors are looking for in your response

Provide a statement of support from your research organisation detailing why the proposed work is needed. This should include details of any matched funding that will be provided to support the activity and any additional support that might add value to the work.

The committee will be looking for a strong statement of commitment from your research organisation.

We recognise that in some instances, this information may be provided by the research office, the Technology Transfer Office (TTO) or equivalent, or a combination of both.

You must also include the following details:

  • a significant person’s name and their position, from the TTO or research office, or both
  • office address or web link

Upload details are provided within the service on the actual application.

Project partners

Word limit: 500

Add details about any project partners’ contributions. If there are no project partners, you can indicate this on the Funding Service.

A project partner is a collaborating organisation who will have an integral role in the proposed research. This may include direct (cash) or indirect (in-kind) contributions such as expertise, staff time or use of facilities.

Add the following project partner details:

  • the organisation name and address (searchable via a drop-down list or enter the organisation’s details manually, as applicable)
  • the project partner contact name and email address
  • the type of contribution (direct or in-direct) and its monetary value

If a detail is entered incorrectly and you have saved the entry, remove the specific project partner record and re-add it with the correct information.

For audit purposes, UKRI requires formal collaboration agreements to be put in place if an award is made.

Project partners: letters (or emails) of support

Word limit: 10

Upload a single PDF containing the letters or emails of support from each partner you named in the Project Partner section.

What the assessors are looking for in your response

Enter the words ‘attachment supplied’ in the text box, or if you do not have any project partners enter N/A.  Each letter or email you provide should:

  • confirm the partner’s commitment to the project
  • clearly explain the value, relevance, and possible benefits of the work to them
  • describe any additional value that they bring to the project

Save letters or emails of support from each partner in a single PDF no bigger than 8MB. Unless specially requested, please do not include any sensitive personal data within the attachment.

For the file name, use the unique Funding Service number the system gives you when you create an application, followed by the words ‘Project partner’.

If the attachment does not meet these requirements, the application will be rejected.

The Funding Service will provide document upload details when you apply. If you do not have any project partners, you will be able to indicate this in the Funding Service.

Ensure you have prior agreement from project partners so that, if you are offered funding, they will support your project as indicated in the contributions template.

For audit purposes, UKRI requires formal collaboration agreements to be put in place if an award is made.

Do not provide letters of support from host and project co-leads’ research organisations.

Data management and sharing

Word limit: 1,500

How will you manage and share data collected or acquired through the proposed research?

What the assessors are looking for in your response

Provide a data management plan that clearly details how you will comply with UKRI’s published data sharing policy, which includes detailed guidance notes.

Facilities

Word limit: 500

Does your proposed research require the support and use of a facility?

What the assessors are looking for in your response

If you will need to use a facility, follow your proposed facility’s normal access request procedures. Ensure you have prior agreement so that if you are offered funding, they will support the use of their facility on your project.

For each requested facility you will need to provide the:

  • name of facility, copied and pasted from the facility information list (DOCX, 35KB)
  • proposed usage or costs, or costs per unit where indicated on the facility information list
  • confirmation you have their agreement where required

If you will not need to use a facility, you will be able to indicate this in the Funding Service.

How we will assess your application

Assessment process

We will assess your application using the following process.

Peer review

We will invite experts, peers or both to review your application independently, against the specified criteria for this funding opportunity.

You will not be able to nominate reviewers for applications on the new UKRI Funding Service. Research councils will continue to select expert reviewers.

We are monitoring the requirement for applicant-nominated reviewers as we review policies and processes as part of the continued development of the new Funding Service.

Panel

Following peer review, we will invite experts, peers or both to use the evidence provided by reviewers and your applicant response to assess the quality of your application and rank it alongside other applications after which the panel will make a funding recommendation.

We will make the final funding decision.

We reserve right to amend the process where it is deemed necessary.

Timescale

We aim to complete the assessment process within eight months of receiving your application.

Feedback

We will give feedback with the outcome of your application.

Principles of assessment

We support the San Francisco declaration on research assessment and recognise the relationship between research assessment and research integrity.

Find out about the UKRI principles of assessment and decision making.

We reserve the right to modify the assessment process as needed.

Assessment areas

The assessment areas we will use are:

  • vision and approach
  • applicant and team capability to deliver
  • resources and cost justification

Find details of assessment questions and criteria under the ‘Application questions’ heading in the ‘How to apply’ section.

Contact details

Get help with your application

If you have a question and the answers aren’t provided on this page

IMPORTANT NOTE: The Helpdesk is committed to helping users of the UKRI Funding Service as effectively and as quickly as possible. In order to manage cases at peak volume times, the Helpdesk will triage and prioritise those queries with an imminent opportunity deadline and/or a technical issue. Enquiries raised where information is available on the Funding Finder opportunity page and should be understood early in the application process (for example, regarding eligibility or content/remit of an opportunity) will not constitute a priority case and will be addressed as soon as possible.

Contact Details

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.

For questions related to this specific funding opportunity please contact:

Please ensure that you include ‘Future underground dark matter call’ in the subject line of your message.

Any queries regarding the system or the submission of applications through the Funding Service should be directed to the helpdesk.

Email: support@funding-service.ukri.org

Phone: 01793 547490

Our phone lines are open:

  • Monday to Thursday 8:30am to 5:00pm
  • Friday 8:30am to 4:30pm

To help us process queries quicker, we request that users highlight the council and opportunity name in the subject title of their email query, include the application reference number, and refrain from contacting more than one mailbox at a time.

Find information on submitting an application.

Sensitive information

If you or a core team member need to tell us something you wish to remain confidential, email the Funding Service helpdesk on grantspolicy@stfc.ac.uk

Include in the subject line: [the funding opportunity title; sensitive information; your Funding Service application number].

Typical examples of confidential information include:

  • individual is unavailable until a certain date (for example due to parental leave)
  • declaration of interest
  • additional information about eligibility to apply that would not be appropriately shared in the ‘Applicant and team capability’ section
  • conflict of interest for UKRI to consider in reviewer or panel participant selection
  • the application is an invited resubmission

For information about how UKRI handles personal data, read UKRI’s privacy notice.

Additional info

Background

Building upon the recommendations of the Dark Matter Strategic Review 2020, this funding opportunity simultaneously provides support for dark matter research and innovation in the UK and increases Boulby Underground Laboratory’s experience with hosting science projects.

As part of our commitment towards exploring the hosting of an international project at Boulby, it is important to develop the capacity and capability of Boulby through hosting medium sized science experiments. This funding opportunity will support dark matter science projects at Boulby, simultaneously increasing Boulby’s experience with hosting science projects underground and providing support for dark matter research and innovation in the UK.

Research disruption due to COVID-19

We recognise that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused major interruptions and disruptions across our communities. We are committed to ensuring that individual applicants and their wider team, including partners and networks, are not penalised for any disruption to their career, such as:

  • breaks and delays
  • disruptive working patterns and conditions
  • the loss of ongoing work
  • role changes that may have been caused by the pandemic

Reviewers and panel members will be advised to consider the unequal impacts that COVID-19 related disruption might have had on the capability to deliver and career development of those individuals included in the application. They will be asked to consider the capability of the applicant and their wider team to deliver the research they are proposing.

Where disruptions have occurred, you can highlight this within your application if you wish, but there is no requirement to detail the specific circumstances that caused the disruption.

Supporting documents

STFC Finance Tables template

STFC Project Management Framework (PDF, 2,007KB)

Equality impact assessment (PDF, 218KB)

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