From lab to market: Next-gen UK science leaders set for £113m boost

Projects supported include autonomous four-legged robots given the ability to navigate through difficult terrain, including in construction and agriculture, as well as during natural disasters and measuring and mapping the origins of and reducing methane emissions

A cash boost of £113 million is being announced to support nearly 100 of the UK’s next-generation science leaders to push their innovative ideas from the laboratory to market.

Projects to develop organic materials to replace environmentally-damaging and expensive metals in everyday smart devices such as tablets and smartphones – led by Dr Emily Draper from the University of Glasgow – and tackling major global issues such as climate change are being supported.

The projects are from 97 of the UK’s most promising science and research leaders, who will benefit from the funding bring delivered through UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) flagship Future Leaders Fellowships scheme.

Among those being backed include Dr James Byrne from the University of Bristol for his project aimed at understanding how iron-containing minerals found in the ground can act like natural batteries, known as biogeobatteries.

His project will investigate how bacteria use these batteries to generate and store energy.

In addition, Dr Joshua Dean from the University of Liverpool is leading a project that will use urban waterways, such as canals and rivers, to work out how to measure and map the origins of and reduce methane emissions – a greenhouse gas that is 86 times more potent than CO2, with more than half of these emissions coming from human activity.

Part of his research will involving mapping how urban waterways deliver methane into the atmosphere, for example, through leaking gas pipes.

Dr Dimitrios Kanoulas from University College London will also receive funding for leading the RoboHike project to give autonomous four-legged robots the ability to navigate through difficult terrain, including in construction and agriculture, as well as during natural disasters.

This is expected to enable fast, robust and reliable navigation in situations where timely delivery of services and emergency aid is essential.

Science Minister Amanda Solloway is expected to say: “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 £113m, 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.”

Each project will last between four to seven years, with awardees receiving between £400,000 and £1.5 million over an initial four-year period.

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