Saturday, May 25, 2024

Major research and innovation infrastructure investment announced

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New funding that will equip the UK’s research and innovation base for the future was announced today by the Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, Michelle Donelan.

Multimillion pound investments from UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) Infrastructure Fund will cover a wide range of needs.

These include:

  • digitising the UK’s natural science collections
  • the world’s most powerful high energy electron microscope
  • supporting international collaboration
  • advancing the UK’s capability in mass spectrometry

Science and Technology Secretary, Michelle Donelan, said:

As science and technology develops faster than ever, it is vital we ensure UK innovators have the right tools at their disposal to continue groundbreaking work from revolutionising medicine to protecting the world we live in for generations to come.

From digitising millions of specimens to help halt future pandemics, to building the most powerful microscope of its type right here in the UK to improve drug design, to better information sharing between labs, our £473m investment infrastructure will set the conditions that allow our brightest minds to thrive and build a healthier and more prosperous UK.

Strengthening the quest for discovery

Professor Mark Thomson, Executive Chair for the Science and Technologies Facilities Council and Infrastructure Champion for UKRI said:

Through these investments UKRI continues to equip the research and innovation community with the tools it needs to explore and develop the science and technologies needed for the coming decades.

From improving our understanding of the structure of matter itself to digitising the country’s collections of natural specimens, these projects will strengthen the UK community’s quest for discovery and innovative applications.

The long-term nature of this investment also helps to maintain the UK’s key position on the world stage of research and innovation for the future.

On a personal level, I am particularly pleased that today’s announcement will strengthen the UK’s collaboration with the US Department of Energy, in the development and delivery of a major new scientific facility.

Digitising natural science

DiSSCo UK (Distributed System of Scientific Collections) is a 10-year programme to digitise natural science collections across the UK, which hold more than 138 million items spanning an incredible 4.6 billion year history.

DiSSCo UK will harness cutting-edge digitisation innovations and techniques to power groundbreaking scientific research.

Once digitised, the data will unlock huge socio-economic impact by making information freely available to tackle global challenges.

Scientists around the world will use these collections to work on solutions to global problems from tackling biodiversity loss to protecting against future pandemics.

It is also expected to generate approximately £2 billion of economic benefits for the UK in sectors including food and health.

Delivered by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) in partnership with the Natural History Museum, the programme will involve up to 90 organisations across the UK. It will receive £155.6 million from the UKRI Infrastructure Fund.

World’s fastest facility

Relativistic Ultrafast Electron Diffraction and Imaging (RUEDI), will be the most powerful high energy electron microscope in the world for ultrafast imaging and the world’s fastest electron diffraction facility.

It will provide the UK with a significant competitive advantage to observe, quantify and understand irreversible ultrafast processes.

RUEDI will drive forward scientific discoveries and advances in sustainable energy, advanced materials and quantum technologies, and structural biology.

These unparalleled capabilities will allow scientists to study dynamic changes such as:

  • the underlying atomic diffusion mechanisms leading to sustainable energy generation, storage and conversion technologies
  • biological function within living cells for better drug design
  • the structural integrity of materials during explosions, earthquakes and advanced manufacturing processes
  • the interplay between electrical and magnetic fields driving quantum computing and technologies

All of these fundamental biological and chemical processes and the reactions they lead to can be studied in a way that has not been possible before.

Unprecedented new insights

RUEDI will enable researchers to directly observe and measure fundamental dynamic structural and chemical processes in materials as they happen in real time rather than static before and after structure. This will provide unprecedented new insights and understanding to deliver transformative innovations.

This could be likened to the difference between seeing the final score in a football match and being able to observe all the action taking place.

It will be based at the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) Daresbury campus in Cheshire and is to receive £124.4 million from the UKRI Infrastructure Fund.

It is a joint venture between the University of Liverpool, STFC, part of UKRI, and the Rosalind Franklin Institute.

UK-US collaboration

Another project will receive £58.8 million from UKRI in a partnership with the US Department of Energy (DOE), to develop new detector and accelerator infrastructure to address fundamental questions on the nature of matter.

The technology will be built by:

  • two STFC national laboratories, Daresbury Laboratory in Cheshire and the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire
  • the universities of Birmingham, Brunel, Glasgow, Lancaster, Liverpool, Oxford and York
  • the Cockcroft Institute for Accelerator Science and Technology in Cheshire

It will be installed at the Electron-Ion Collider (EIC), a major new particle accelerator facility at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York in the US.

Advanced capability

Another project, Critical Mass UK (C-MASS), will be a national hub-and-spoke infrastructure that will integrate and advance the UK’s capability in mass spectrometry, a technique that identifies the characteristics of molecules.

Mass spectrometry is used across a wide range of scientific research and C-MASS will enable large-scale screening and accelerated data access and sharing.

It will bring together cutting-edge instrumentation at a range of laboratories connected by a coordinating central hub that will manage a central metadata catalogue. Together this will provide unparalleled access to data and will be a critical health resource for the UK.

C-MASS will receive £49.35 million from the UKRI Infrastructure Fund.

Future marine research

The investments announced today follow £4 million from the Infrastructure Fund on 18 March for a scoping study on future marine research infrastructure.

Digital Research Infrastructure

In addition to these new capabilities an extra £85 million will be put into the Digital Research Infrastructure (DRI) programme, in the current Spending Review period, April 2022 to April 2025.

The DRI funding will support critical improvements in digital services, for example those for computing and data, as well as funding for software and skills training to empower researchers and innovators across the UK.

This phase of DRI will support:

Enabling software, networks, security and net zero

This will include:

  • activities relating to authentication, authorisation and accounting infrastructure (AAAI)
  • cybersecurity
  • support for pilot mechanisms to fund software maintenance
  • activities to support the development of net zero DRI, such as supporting a net zero digital research infrastructure (NZ DRI) coordinator to develop and lead an NZ DRI network

Data services

UKRI will build upon its current investments in data infrastructures.

This includes taking forward initiatives supported at pilot scale in the first phase of the programme, plus further development of underpinning tools and techniques relating to finding and accessing data.

Projects will include a programme to build and enhance infrastructure for digital arts and humanities, and another to provide technology and best practices for data sharing in physical sciences.

National Computational Research Services

UKRI will establish several National Computational Research Services with compute and data storage hardware, service provision and research software engineer costs all included.

To do this it will fund the EPSRC Tier-2 compute services, to extend their useful lifetime and allow a wider range of users to access the high performance computational research services.

In addition, UKRI will build collaboration and knowledge exchange across the research and stakeholder communities that use and provide national computational services. This will be done with a view to creating an interoperable, secure compute ecosystem across UKRI by 2030.

Software for large-scale compute

The funding will ensure that the UK is ready to deploy the next generation of technologies in our DRI to support a varied computing landscape.

Activities include funding for adjusting software code to move to newer compute architectures, knowledge exchange and communications hubs, and hubs for research technical professionals and research software engineers.

DRI professionals

The funding is an investment in skills and careers for DRI professionals. It will ensure that the UK has the skills base it needs to deliver effective, world-leading research and innovation in the future, in the context of ever-growing data volumes.

This includes funding for an interdisciplinary ‘NetworkPlus’ to address challenges related to digital research technical professional skills in UK research and innovation.

It adds to the £8 million announced last week which, combined with a further £8 million from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), will support 11 community-driven projects providing training and development for research technical professionals.

Adam Staines, Infrastructure Portfolio Director for UKRI, said:

In addition to our important long-term infrastructure investments, I am pleased that we are also able to announce our initial Digital Research Infrastructure investments.

Research is increasingly dependent on the collection, management and analysis of our data. This programme is key to support of digital infrastructure investments and the people who use them across all research disciplines.

Top image:  Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, Michelle Donelan, visits the Natural History Museum. Credit: DSIT

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