New Horizons for research through adventurous projects

More than 100 transformative projects have been funded through a ground-breaking new programme designed to support adventurous, high-risk research.

Projects funded through the New Horizons programme include:

  • mathematical models to determine the best way to save the Amazon rainforest
  • the tools that tiny robots need to detect bowel lesions that could be signs of cancer
  • and systems of electromagnetic mirrors to protect electronic devices such as smartphones from threats.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), has allocated almost £25.5 million of funding to 126 adventurous projects in the mathematical and physical sciences through this pilot programme.

Adventurous, high-risk research

New Horizons forms part of UKRI’s wider Reforming our Business agenda to simplify and streamline processes and practice across the organisation.

Applicants applied for New Horizons through a streamlined application process and a review process focused on the transformational potential of the research.

Projects funded through New Horizons are as follows:

  • Dr Jan Sieber and Dr Bert Wuyts at the University of Exeter will use advanced mathematical models to develop new strategies for reforestation and preventing the Amazonian rainforest from collapse.
  • Dr Gabriele Gradoni at the University of Nottingham intends to design a system of electromagnetic mirrors that can be used to protect electronic devices such as smartphones or computers from threats such as attack by electromagnetic pulse or data theft
  • Dr Georgina Klemencic at Cardiff University aims to develop super-thin superconducting diamond structures, tens of times narrower than a human hair, with properties that will be crucial to the development of new quantum technologies.
  • Professor Catherine Powell at The University of Manchester intends to develop new algorithms for forward uncertainty quantification, which allows us to understand how uncertain inputs in mathematical models affects predictions of outcomes of interest. This could have a transformative effect on a wide range of engineering applications involving physics-based models.
  • Dr Yuval Elani at Imperial College London aims to create a molecular assembly line to create compartmentalised soft-matter nanoparticles. This could help to create particles that can be programmed to respond to certain stimuli, and lead to more effective drugs and vaccines.
  • Dr Yang Liu at the University of Exeter intends to develop the mathematical tools required to allow micro-robots to detect hard-to-visualise bowel lesions within the human body, that could identify conditions such as cancer.

Simplified and streamlined process

Science Minister Amanda Solloway said: “It is critical we give the UK’s best researchers the resources to drive forward their revolutionary ideas so they can focus on identifying solutions to some of the world’s greatest challenges, such as climate change.

“This government funding will allow some of our brightest mathematicians and physicists to channel all their creative ingenuity into achieving potentially life-changing scientific breakthroughs – from mathematics informing how we save our rainforests to robotics that will help track cancer faster.”

Applications were invited up to a value of £200,000, for a duration of two years, without costing required in the application.

The proposal paperwork submission consisted of an anonymous four-page case for support, with a further two pages outlining the team’s ability to deliver, with the successful projects providing detailed costings after a decision was made.

Promoting excellence

EPSRC’s 2019 Delivery Plan highlighted the desire to continue promoting excellence in research by investing in new approaches to delivery that are optimised to the specific researcher base and research outputs desired.

EPSRC Executive Chair, Professor Dame Lynn Gladden, said: “New Horizons reflects EPSRC’s commitment to funding creative, transformative and ambitious new ideas across our portfolio. In this pilot, we have funded more than 100 projects in the mathematical and physical sciences.

“The scheme also piloted a new, simplified applications process designed to minimise the administrative burden of submitting grant applications, thereby enabling researchers to focus on developing their research ideas.

“The call for proposals attracted a very positive response in terms of both the number and quality of applications and we look forward to exploring how to include the approaches taken through New Horizons in further areas of our portfolio.”

EPSRC will now evaluate the pilot and the outcomes of New Horizons in line with the wider UKRI Reforming our Business programme and consider how the approaches taken through New Horizons can be included in future activities.

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