EPSRC announces £17m funding for groundbreaking tech projects

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s funding will be boosted by contributions from international partners including NASA, MIT, and the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Physiology

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has announced funding for a dozen new technology projects, with UK researchers working alongside a broad range of international collaborators.

The investment of £17 million by the EPSRC, part of UK Research and Innovation, will be augmented by cash and in-kind contributions from partners including NASA, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the University of Sydney, Japan’s Riken scientific research institute, and the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Physiology (MPI) in Germany.

Areas of development are set to include cyber-secure electric vehicles, metamaterials, and advanced visible light communications.

“These new technologies have the potential to transform the way we live,” said EPSRC executive chair, Professor Dame Lynn Gladden.

“By bringing together world-leading researchers to deliver groundbreaking science and engineering solutions, these projects will generate impact that will be felt across all of society.”

The 12 projects are:

– Using ultracold molecules, cooled to within a millionth of a degree of absolute zero, as the building blocks for quantum computers. Durham University, Imperial College London, the University of Oxford, Harvard University, and the University of Colorado Boulder

– Monolithic on-chip integration of microscale laser diodes and electronics for micro-displays and visible light communications, potentially offering bandwidth more than three orders of magnitude larger than conventional wifi or 5G. Universities of Sheffield, Strathclyde and Bath, plus Harvard and MIT

– Autonomous phenotype-directed molecular discovery, mimicking nature’s approach with the aim of developing new medicines for such areas of unmet need as cancer, degeneration and infectious disease treatment. University of Leeds, MPI and the Rosalind Franklin Institute

– Supporting electric vehicle infrastructure at the ‘edge’ of the grid. Besides helping make vehicles cyber-secure, the project will co-opt the internet of energy (using the same principles as the internet of things) to optimise energy usage across transport and energy networks. Newcastle University, Cardiff University, University of Sydney, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation

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– International clock and oscillator networking. While optical clocks promise a revolution in timing accuracy, there is more to be understood about how that precision can be transferred to users in a practical and efficient way. Universities of Birmingham, Nottingham, Düsseldorf, and Tokyo, NPL, Riken, PTB, Technical University Munich

– Ultrafast single-photon detection for quantum applications, such as using quantum-enhanced imaging approaches for medical imaging or detecting faint or hidden objects. Heriot-Watt University, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology

– Manufacturing by design, aiming to increase the volume of material that can be x-rayed to identify defects by up to a million-fold, as well as bettering our understanding of how defects are introduced during manufacture and assembly. University of Manchester, European Synchrotron Radiation Facility

– A-Meta, a UK-US collaboration for active metamaterials research. Metamaterials are carefully structured materials with characteristics that can be engineered in at the point of design, boasting properties potentially beyond those found in nature and that might be used in fields including telecommunications, aerospace, healthcare, energy and camouflage. While functionality is currently fixed at the time of manufacture, this project aims to develop tuneable, reconfigurable and programmable metamaterials. University of Exeter, National Science Foundation Industry-University Cooperative Research Centre for Metamaterials, Airbus, BAE Systems, Ball Aerospace, Bodkin Design, BT, City University of New York, DSTL, Metamaterial Technologies, Ventures (Merck), NASA, Oxford Instruments, Phoebus Optoelectronics, QinetiQ, Thales, Transense Technologies, and Wave Optics

These new technologies have the potential to transform the way we live – Professor Dame Lynn Gladden, EPSRC 

– Digital design and manufacture of amorphous pharmaceuticals. Amorphous materials are rigid and can hold their shape like solids, but have disordered atomic structures like liquids.  Researchers want to explore their huge potential in medicines manufacturing, particularly treatments taken orally, such as tablets and capsules. University of Strathclyde, University of Copenhagen, Ghent University

– Enabling individualised surgical treatment of osteoarthritis by integrating experimental and computer modelling methods, and thereby optimising the performance of implants such as hip and knee replacements. University of Leeds, University of Denver

– Advancing optimisation technologies through international collaboration. The project will aim to develop new, sophisticated algorithms – building on global optimisation, machine learning, and uncertainty quantification – to reliably and efficiently maintain supply chains. Imperial College London, RWTH Aachen University, UCL

– Advanced optical frequency comb technologies and applications, with the goal of revolutionising high-speed, high-resolution spectroscopy. Aston University, University of Nice, University of Lille

“From improving cancer treatment and generating clean growth to designing the communication networks of tomorrow, UK science, technology and innovation is developing pioneering solutions to some of the world’s greatest challenges,” said science minister, George Freeman.

“These 12 international projects will harness the expertise of the UK’s world-leading researchers and global collaborators, helping us accelerate our path to an innovation nation and underline our position as a science superpower.”

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