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Blue sky projects get £109m in public funding

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Scientists and engineers working on blue sky research projects, from AI-driven traffic management to allowing spacecraft to re-enter the atmosphere safely, are among those to receive government funding.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said that the investments are intended to back blue-sky solutions for global challenges including cancer, dementia, uncertain food supplies and climate change. The funding has been awarded through UK Research and Innovation in the Future Leaders Fellowship initiative, on which the government will spend more than £900m over three years.

The funds will help those judged UK’s most promising future science leaders buy equipment and pay wages associated with their projects. The government said that it hopes that this can help “turn novel science innovations into a reality”.

Projects supported by the round of funding are: a University of Leeds project to render crops resistant to viruses and extreme weather; a University of Sussex project using simulations to help predict the progression of non-Hodgkin lymphoma; a University of Huddersfield project to create an AI-driven traffic-management system; an Advanced Furnace Technology project to develop new semiconductors with reduced energy loss and greater lifespan; a University of Nottingham project to develop advanced endoscopes to help identify difficult-to-find cancers; a University of Glasgow project to create new therapeutics for glioblastoma, colorectal cancer, and pancreatic cancer and reduce side-effects of radiotherapy; a University of Sheffield project to combine technology and simple musical instruments to boost the wellbeing of people with dementia; and a University of Oxford project to ensure that spacecraft can re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere safely while being exposed to extreme heat.

Each fellowship will last from four to seven years, and receive between £400,000 to £1.5m over an initial four-year period.

“By backing these inspirational Future Leaders Fellows, we will ensure that their brilliant ideas can be transferred straight from the lab into vital everyday products and services that will help to change all our lives for the better,” said the Science Minister Amanda Solloway.

UKRI CEO Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser said: “The fellows announced today illustrate how the UK continues to support and attract talented researchers and innovators across every discipline to our universities and businesses, with the potential to deliver change that can be felt across society and the economy.”

The funding is part of the government’s commitment to boosting public spending on R&D to 2.4 per cent of UK GDP by 2027.

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