Editorial Feature

UK Government Bodies Behind Nanotechnology Research Funding

UK universities are world-leading nanotechnology research centers, backed up by strategic public investment.

UK Government Bodies Behind Nanotechnology Research Funding

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UK Funding and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

Public funding for science and technology in the UK is overseen by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), and funded through the UK Government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. The funding landscape is dynamic and changes frequently, but the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is responsible for much public investment into nanotechnology research, while other councils such as the Medical Research Council (MRC) also contribute.

The EPSRC is a UK research council that directs government funding in the form of research grants and postgraduate degree funding for (mostly) UK universities. Public funding for nanotechnology research undertaken at universities is largely granted with EPSRC funding calls.

Nanotechnology development is also privately funded in the UK in an active venture capital environment.

Graphene and Carbon Nanotechnology

The UK is a world leader in graphene and carbon nanotechnology research, with the University of Manchester, in particular, remaining a focal point for international research on graphene since the two-dimensional material was first described by its own researchers a few decades ago.

In this research area, EPSRC funds research to advance theoretical knowledge, characterization, and synthesis of carbon-based nanomaterials such as graphene, graphene oxide, and carbon nanotubes.

Funding is intended to help researchers understand carbon nanomaterials’ properties, develop new methods for growing these materials, understand how defects influence their properties, and explore applications for nanoscale carbon-based electronics.

EPSRC is focused on funding projects with strong end-user orientated research embedded within to establish strong links with the manufacturing sector and good routes to commercialization.

Other applications for this research area include biomaterials and tissue engineering, energy storage, microelectronics, and manufacturing technologies.

In 2022, EPSRC is investing approximately £29 million in graphene and carbon nanotechnology research through university grants, with the University of Manchester receiving the largest share with nine grants totaling £10.7 million or 37% of the total funded.

The University of Cambridge, and Norwich, Nottingham, and Bristol Universities also receive a relatively large share of graphene and carbon nanotechnology-based EPSRC funding.

Functional Ceramics and Inorganics

Functional ceramics and inorganic materials is another defined area of EPSRC funding activity that awards grants for nanotechnology research.

Areas studied include electroceramics, complex oxides, solid-state materials, inorganic 2D materials (other than carbon-based materials like graphene), and inorganic framework materials.

The council believes that advanced materials like these can have a significant impact in the UK’s economy, environmental costs, and on society as a whole.

As a result, proposals that develop potential applications in areas such as microelectronics, radio frequency and microwave technology, biomaterials and tissue engineering, and materials engineering are encouraged.

EPSRC is currently investing about £68 million here, with a significant proportion of this for projects with applications in energy and manufacturing. This reflects the UK’s industrial ambitions.

The Universities of Cambridge, Leeds, and Manchester, Imperial College London, and UCL receive much of the EPSRC funding under this theme. However, investment is split relatively evenly between a lot more institutions than in graphene and carbon nanotechnology.

Polymer Materials

Polymer materials is another area of EPSRC research funding that provides grants to researchers working on nanotechnology in UK institutions.

There is currently about £53 million of public investment going towards polymer materials research, with eight grants totaling £5.2 million (nearly a tenth) specifically directed for research combining progress in polymer materials with graphene and carbon nanotechnology.

Funding is to gain a better theoretical understanding of novel polymer materials such as polymer nanocomposites, develop improved synthesis and characterization approaches, and explore applications, for example, in soft nanotechnology.

The UK is a leader in polymer materials research internationally, contributing approximately 17% of research to the top 10% of highly cited publications in fields like polymerization methodology.

Nottingham and Durham Universities receive more EPSRC funding in this area than other institutions, with about £9 million each in 2022, or approximately 17% of the total amount funded for polymer materials research.

Medical Research Council (MRC)

As well as EPSRC, nanotechnology research is sometimes funded by other UK government bodies. A key example is the Medical Research Council (MRC). The MRC funds research that can change lives through improved health outcomes.

The Molecular and Cellular Medicine Board (MCMB), a part of the MRC, in particular tends to fund nanotechnology research with health applications. The MCMB is focused on developing chemical, physical, and biological tools for studying and manipulating biological systems – including nanotechnology, synthetic biology, and chemical biology.

MCMB also funds pharmacology research to gain a better understanding of drug delivery mechanisms, which are increasingly using nanotechnology methods to improve patient outcomes.

The board also funds research into risks posed by nanoparticles on human health.

Nanotechnology research for health and care is also funded by various charities and NGOs (non-governmental organizations).

Continue reading: The Current State of Nanotechnology in Europe

References and Further Reading

Functional ceramics and inorganics. [Online] UKRI. Available at: https://www.ukri.org/what-we-offer/browse-our-areas-of-investment-and-support/functional-ceramics-and-inorganics/

Graphene and carbon nanotechnology. [Online] UKRI. Available at: https://www.ukri.org/what-we-offer/browse-our-areas-of-investment-and-support/graphene-and-carbon-nanotechnology/

Molecular and cellular medicine. [Online] UKRI. Available at: https://www.ukri.org/what-we-offer/browse-our-areas-of-investment-and-support/molecular-and-cellular-medicine/

Polymer Materials. [Online] UKRI. Available at: https://www.ukri.org/what-we-offer/browse-our-areas-of-investment-and-support/polymer-materials/

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Ben Pilkington

Written by

Ben Pilkington

Ben Pilkington is a freelance writer who is interested in society and technology. He enjoys learning how the latest scientific developments can affect us and imagining what will be possible in the future. Since completing graduate studies at Oxford University in 2016, Ben has reported on developments in computer software, the UK technology industry, digital rights and privacy, industrial automation, IoT, AI, additive manufacturing, sustainability, and clean technology.


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