Go back

EPSRC reduces funding for cold atoms research

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council is to reduce funding for cold atoms physics, synthetic organic chemistry and material engineering in ceramics.

This is one of the measures announced in the council’s research portfolio, published on 20 July.

The portfolio details which areas of the council’s grant lines will be cut from this year onwards and which will receive greater investment.

Quantum optics, water engineering and synthetic biology are to receive budget increases.

The document also says that, from the autumn onwards, all grant applications must include justification of the “strategic fit” of research into the EPSRC portfolio, as well as the importance of the work in a national or international context.

Peer reviewers will be asked to assess proposals on the basis of this “importance” element, alongside excellence.

“Peer review meetings will be asked to prioritise based on quality and importance as the primary criteria and also comment on strategic fit to the research areas in the landscape document,” says the council.

Timescales and guidance on applications and peer review will be published on the website in September.

The council has drawn up a detailed map for its research portfolio, divided into six central themes including digital economy; healthcare technologies; living with environmental change; energy; and manufacturing the future.

It has also specified its current investment—and in some cases future plans—for the research behind the themes, including engineering, physical sciences, maths, and information and communication technologies.

For instance, the council intends to grow the area of water engineering, with a current value of £16.4 million, awarded through 52 grants.

The UK has the potential to be an “international player” in water engineering, says the EPSRC, and the impact of research in the area “could be potentially transformative, raising the UK’s profile in an international context and contributing to societal challenges”.

Another engineering area set to grow is synthetic biology, currently worth £12.5m.

Engineering research areas set to see falls in funding include ceramics materials engineering and engineering approaches to manufacturing operations, currently worth £12.5m and £28.9m.

In the case of engineering approaches to manufacturing operations, the EPSRC says it will focus investment “from the qualitative to the quantitative”. It will not support research with a strong focus on qualitative social science research methodologies, but will “continue to liaise with colleagues in ESRC to manage research across disciplinary boundaries in this area”.

In the physical sciences, the EPSRC has decided to reduce funding for cold atoms and molecules research—worth £30.5m.

It says the theme has had “significant levels of funding” in recent years, but due to “infrastructure-intensive nature and the current distribution of resources, some investments are now considered to be subcritical”.

Synthetic organic chemistry, currently worth £44.4m, also faces reduced funding. This is another area that has received significant funding in the past few years, and the EPSRC says it is not “sustainable” to keep it up.

Physical sciences fields set to receive increased funding include quantum optics and information (£26.1m) and catalysis (£28.5m).

The council announced that it will channel more funding into statistics and applied probability, currently worth £32.2m.

It says it will reduce funding for speech technology and complementary metal–oxide–semiconductor device technology.

“The absence of major UK chip manufacturing restricts the national importance of further research in this area; this is exemplified by the lack of UK industrial partners on EPSRC-funded grants in Germanium CMOS technology,” says the council.

The map shows that most of the council’s areas of investment are still under review.

Final decisions on all the research areas within the EPSRC portfolio will be made by 31 March 2012.