UKRI: Infrastructure investments to boost UK research and innovation

01 Jul 2021 | Network Updates | Update from Innovate UK
These updates are republished press releases and communications from members of the Science|Business Network

UKRI is investing £50 million into a portfolio of over a dozen infrastructure projects and scoping studies to underpin the UK’s position as a research superpower.

The UKRI infrastructure fund represents the first portfolio of investments to come from UKRI’s Infrastructure Roadmap programme to boost the UK’s research and innovation capabilities. It marks the first time UKRI has a long-term strategic approach to infrastructure across all research disciplines.

The projects cross all disciplines and span the research and innovation spectrum. They include:

  • a boost to the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope network
  • carbon capture technologies
  • a state-of-the-art airborne research laboratory
  • a £17 million investment in digital research infrastructure.

UKRI Chief Executive Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser said: "Infrastructure and the skilled people who design, build, maintain and operate it are vital to research and innovation. 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."

Building for the future

Addressing problems such as climate change and antimicrobial resistance are obvious and immediate priorities, reflected in the projects receiving funding. But this funding is as much about future challenges and opportunities as those we currently face.
The aim is to put the infrastructure in place for the UK to lead in the research and innovation challenges facing society, and to boost the UK’s long-term innovation capability.

Science 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."

Looking to the skies

One of the major projects announced is a £14.75 million boost to the Square Kilometre Array Observatory (SKAO). SKAO will have the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope network on Earth, with the SKAO headquarters based in Manchester and facilities in South Africa and Western Australia.

The SKAO telescopes will be able to image huge areas of the sky with unparalleled sensitivity and on an unparalleled scale. Its image resolution quality will exceed the Hubble Space Telescope, and it will lead the way for the UK in scientific discovery, helping to maintain our world-leading position.

This investment also provides £5.5 million for this year, to upgrade the UKRI Airborne Laboratory, enhancing its world-leading research capability and enabling it to remain at the cutting-edge of atmospheric research.

This world-class aircraft is unique in the UK, is capable of being deployed anywhere in the world, and provides invaluable data that allows for climate modelling and weather prediction.

The upgrades will provide new air pollution and aerosol instrumentation and will assess the impact of pollution on both the atmosphere and human health. They will ensure continued capability to respond to airborne environment incidents that could cause an impact economically and socially.

A broad spectrum

Further funding is going to projects covering a broad spectrum of innovative work, including:

  • £17 million to initiate a national Digital Research Infrastructure to enable UK researchers to harness the full power of modern digital platforms, tools and techniques, including net zero computing
  • a scoping study into developing a CO2 Storage Testbed that will de-risk carbon capture and storage on an industrial scale, positioning the UK as a global leader in Clean Growth
  • funding to plan for infrastructure offering cutting-edge technologies to drive innovation in the UK’s screen and performance industries
  • investment to unlock the power of our rich population data to address important health issues and identify early markers for serious diseases
  • £260,000 for a project to investigate the requirements for a new national Floods and Droughts Resilience Infrastructure, which would provide a world-leading observation network. With weather events increasing due to climate change, the aim is to reduce the impacts of floods and droughts in the UK by better understanding the water cycle.

This article was first published on June 21 by Innovate UK/UKRI. 

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