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UK labs get £200m funding boost to upgrade infrastructure

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The UK government has pledged £213m in investment to upgrade the country's research facilities, in order to equip scientists with the infrastructure necessary to help respond to challenges such as Covid-19 and decarbonisation.

The funding will help pay for equipment including supercomputers in Cardiff to track infectious diseases; airborne sensors in London to monitor greenhouse gas emissions; autonomous marine robotics trialled in Southampton; a “blast diagnostics” laboratory at the University of Sheffield to investigate explosives used in terrorist attacks; upgrades to the University of Liverpool’s X-ray facility; and a floating offshore wind turbine testing facility at the University of Plymouth.

The funding includes almost £30m for researchers at 43 of the country’s Medical Research institutes for upgrading equipment, and replacing equipment which has been donated for urgent coronavirus research. The government said that this would enable researchers to detect and model disease in unprecedented detail, assisting the Covid-19 response and boosting resilience for future pandemics.

“The response from UK scientists and researchers to coronavirus has been nothing short of phenomenal,” said the science minister Amanda Solloway. “We need to match this excellence by ensuring scientific facilities are truly world class, so scientists can continue carrying out life-changing research for years to come as we build back better from the pandemic.”

“From the world’s most detailed telescopes tracking disease to airborne drones monitoring greenhouse gas emissions, our investment will enhance the tools available to our most ambitious innovators across the country. By doing so, scientists and researchers will be able to drive forward extraordinary research that will enable the UK to respond to global challenges such as achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.”

Kemi Badenoch, exchequer secretary to the Treasury, commented: “This investment in state-of-the-art science and research facilities will help the UK’s world-leading scientists deliver life-changing research, from tackling infectious diseases and Covid-19 to delivering net zero [carbon emissions]. It’s vital we continue to innovate to drive our economic recovery and level up the country.”

The funding will be delivered through the government’s “World Class Labs” scheme and will target disciplines from physical sciences to arts and humanities; for instance, £15m will go towards renewing vulnerable research facilities within galleries, libraries, archives, and museums.

Professor Ottoline Leyser, chief executive of UKRI, said: “Research and innovation infrastructure is key to delivering the government’s R&D Roadmap, with some of the most innovative ideas with transformative R&D potential requiring access to leading-edge infrastructures, including national research facilities, equipment and instrumentation, networks of technologies and digital infrastructures, and knowledge-based resources such as collections and museums.”

“Outstanding infrastructure helps to convene talent from the public and private sectors and across disciplines to tackle society’s most complex challenges. It acts as a magnet for researchers and innovators internationally, contributes to local and national economies, and generates knowledge and capability critical to UK policy, security, and wellbeing.”

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