UKRI invests £72m upgrading UK research infrastructure

Posted on 20 Jun 2023 by The Manufacturer

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has announced a £72m investment in new infrastructure projects.

The funding will provide world-class facilities and equipment to help maintain the UK’s position as a science superpower in line with the ambitions set out in the government’s Science and Technology Framework.

Funding includes:

  • £23m for 11 individual wind tunnels, an experimental database and upgrades to existing facilities across the UK’s National Wind Tunnel Facility network
  • A new £34m digital infrastructure for sharing and reuse of biological and biomedical science data
  • £6.8m to scope a second-generation instrumentation suite for the European Southern Observatory’s Extremely Large Telescope
  • An £8m investment in the conceptual design of new technologies for next-generation gravitational wave infrastructure

National Wind Tunnel Facility+ (NWTF+)

UKRI is investing in 11 individual wind tunnels, an experimental database and upgrades to existing facilities, totalling £23 million, to transform UK research capability in fluid dynamics.

NWTF+ will deliver a network of world-leading wind tunnels. It will address societal and industrial grand challenges including:

  • the generation of net zero technologies
  • advances in emissions reduction
  • future technologies for transport, energy, and healthcare

Fluid dynamics, the study of the movement of liquids and gases, represents a £13.9bn UK industry, employing more than 45,000 people.

Wind tunnels support this industry by replicating real-life conditions in aviation, aerospace, and environmental science. The development of NWTF+ will maintain and enhance the UK’s research leadership in this critically important field for engineering and technology.


BioFAIR, a new digital infrastructure, will be established to support research in biological and biomedical sciences. It will widen access to existing data processing, analysis and repository infrastructures, from organisations like ELIXIR, to maximise the findability, accessibility, interoperability, reusability (FAIR) and reproducibility of researchers’ data.

Bridging the gap between researchers, data sources at individual institutions, and existing data infrastructures, BioFAIR will accelerate discovery and aid research advances in fields as diverse as medicine and agriculture.

Funding of £34m over five years is subject to business case approvals.

UK ELT: the next generation instrumentation suite for the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT)

The European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) ELT, currently under construction in the Atacama Desert in Chile, will be the largest visible and infrared light telescope in the world.

It will explore the early universe and other worlds in unprecedented detail and provide clearer observations of cosmic objects than ever before. The UK is one of 16 ESO member states funding the construction of the state-of-the-art telescope.

UKRI is investing £6.8m in a scoping project to enable essential design and development work to deliver the full instrumentation suite for the ELT, which will allow scientists to:

  • analyse data collected by the telescope
  • and fully utilise the power of this ground-breaking new facility

Next-generation gravitational waves: the next generation gravitational wave infrastructure

Gravitational wave observatories measure tiny distortions in spacetime called gravitational waves.

It is a radical way of observing astronomical objects, like black holes, that cannot be studied with traditional telescopes.

UKRI is investing £8m in the conceptual design of instrumentational and computational technologies to enable UK leadership in next-generation gravitational waves infrastructure.

Science and Technology Secretary, Chloe Smith, said: “World-class facilities and equipment are at the root of cutting-edge research and our £72m investment will further accelerate innovation in astronomy, aviation, medicine and beyond.

“By working with our private sector partners and investing a record £20bn in R&D by 2025, we are making Britain a scientific superpower and creating the jobs which are so vital to growing our economy, boosting our productivity, and bringing prosperity to British people.”

Investing in research infrastructure

The £72m investment has come from UKRI’s Infrastructure Fund and Digital Research Infrastructure programme.

Executive Chair of the Science and Technology Facilities Council and UKRI Champion for Infrastructure, Professor Mark Thomson, said: “Scientists working on research from life sciences to aircraft safety depend on access to the most advanced equipment and facilities.

“This £72m investment in the UK’s research and innovation infrastructure will ensure the UK is at the forefront of scientific discovery. It will support our scientists in responding to major global challenges including net zero and food security.

“Five years on from the publication of UKRI’s Infrastructure Roadmap, this shows how we are taking a strategic approach to identifying the facilities the UK needs and how to support them.”

Ongoing infrastructure investment

Today’s announcement follows recent investments in critical research and innovation infrastructure valued at £414m, which are starting work this year.

UK Biobank, the world’s most significant source of data and biological samples for health research, will begin its move to a purpose-built facility at Manchester Science Park. It will also start work on a new hub to help small and medium-sized enterprises collaborate with industry and academia.

Research Infrastructure for Conservation and Heritage Science (RICHeS) has recently announced its headquarters will be sited at the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC) Daresbury Campus in Cheshire. RICHeS will be a network of facilities and expertise in the interdisciplinary field of heritage science.

Endeavour is the next generation capability for the ISIS Neutron and Muon Source at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory on the Harwell Campus in Oxfordshire. It will begin work on building new and significantly upgraded instruments for the facility.

This will enable research in areas such as materials for the future, clean energy technologies and healthcare.

HiLUX is a major upgrade of the ultrafast laser spectroscopy and dynamics infrastructure at STFC’s Central Laser Facility. It has started lab infrastructure designs and recruiting key project staff.

Both the total-body positron emission tomography (PET) platform, which will be the first head-to-toe PET infrastructure in Europe, and Vulcan 2020, the highest power civilian laser in the world, also initiate this year.

This pipeline of newly announced and initiating projects demonstrates that UKRI continues to deliver on its goal of establishing a long-term and strategic approach to funding large-scale infrastructure. That supports disciplines across the sector, ranging from the arts and humanities to the physical sciences.

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