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Universities get £85m equipment boost for key technologies

Technologies underpinning automotive, manufacturing, aerospace, energy, and healthcare get boost

UK universities will receive an £85m equipment investment to develop technologies of the future across three key areas.

Chancellor George Osborne identified the key areas in the pre-budget statement as part of the government's 'eight great technologies' initiative, which was introduced with the aim of boosting UK growth.

The government said 20 universities would receive funding through the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to support existing research in the areas of autonomous systems, advanced materials, and grid-scale energy storage.

The government's investments will be supplemented by donations from higher education and industrial partners.

Science and universities minister David Willetts said that Britain must back emerging technologies with the latest equipment if it is to compete on a global scale.

"This capital investment will help scientists make new discoveries and take their research through to commercial success. It will drive growth and support the government's industrial strategy," he said.

The government claims the investment will underpin key sectors for the UK economy, including automotive, manufacturing, aerospace, energy, and healthcare.

Robotics and autonomous systems will receive an EPSRC grant of £25m with additional funding contributions of £8.4m from higher education institutions and £6m from industrial partners.

Advanced materials will receive an EPSRC grant of £30m with additional funding contributions of £11.7m from higher education institutions and £5.5m from industrial partners; and grid-scale energy storage will receive £30m in EPSRC funding with additional funding contributions of £9.8m from higher education institutions and £5.8m from industry.

Equipment being funded includes micro-engineering facilities at Imperial College London for the development of miniaturised robots for surgery and targeted therapy, and a new research facility at the University of Bristol for understanding the evolving microstructure of advanced composite materials like graphene.

Prof David Delpy, EPSRC chief executive, said: "The successful bids will build capability in areas that are vital for the country and where exciting research is already being carried out.

"Developing new ways to storing energy, creating new materials for manufacturing and other industries, and increasing our understanding of how autonomous systems communicate, learn and work with humans."

Earlier this week Willetts also announced a £200m investment in the UK space industry to help it try and capture 10 per cent of the global space market.

More than a quarter (£60m) of government investment will go into SABRE (Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine) - a rocket engine built by Oxfordshire-based Reaction Engines that the government believes could revolutionise air travel and decrease the cost of getting to space.

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