Hospital corridor

£113m funding to turn scientists’ bright ideas into reality

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The UK government has announced a round of funding aimed at supporting the UK’s future science leaders in turning their work into reality. The funding will support almost 100 innovations, ranging from hiking search and rescue robots to naturally occurring batteries.

The science minister, Amanda Solloway, announced that 97 science and research leaders would receive Future Leader Fellowships, which come with shares of the £113m funding to “bring their innovative ideas from lab to market”.

Among the beneficiaries is Dr Dimitrios Kanoulas from University College London, who is building autonomous four-legged 'RoboHike' robots for navigating difficult terrain. He hopes that they could provide assistance in construction, agriculture and rescue missions at the scene of natural disasters. This will enable fast, robust and reliable navigation in situations where timely delivery of services and emergency aid is essential.

Newcastle University’s Dr Yujiang Wang hopes to use her share of the funding to develop a system that combines long-term brain recordings with wearable environmental sensors to capture and analyse fluctuations during epileptic seizures. Her work would provide insights into seizure activity, helping her team forecast the severity of upcoming seizures for individual patients and develop future treatments that could reduce their severity.

Dr Emily Draper of the University of Glasgow will lead a project to develop organic materials to replace environmentally damaging and expensive metals in everyday computing devices. Today, new environmentally friendly materials are often discovered by chance and then a use is found for them; Draper’s research aims to produce a predictive model that will allow organic materials to be developed to suit an intended purpose.

Other projects include development of new types of therapy to treat Crohn’s disease; a study into canals and rivers which seeks to reduce potent methane emissions, and an investigation into naturally occurring batteries (known as biogeobatteries). The funding round forms part of the government’s promise to boost public spending in R&D to £22bn by 2024-25.

Solloway said: “We are putting science and innovation at the heart of our efforts to build back better from the pandemic, empowering our scientific leaders of tomorrow to drive forward game-changing research that could improve all our lives and boost the UK economy. Supported by £113 million, the Future Leaders Fellowships will equip our most inventive scientists and researchers across the country with the tools to develop and bring their innovations to market quickly, all while helping to secure the UK’s status as a global science superpower.”

UKRI CEO Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, commented: “I am delighted that UKRI is able to support the next generation of research and innovation leaders through our Future Leaders Fellowship programme. The new Fellows announced today will have the support and freedom they need to pursue their research and innovation ideas, delivering new knowledge and understanding and tackling some of the greatest challenges of our time.”

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