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Major funding unveiled for cutting-edge research tools that could halt future pandemics and protect the planet

Researchers around the world will soon be able to access millions of the natural, historic specimens found in UK museums at the click of a button as part of a £473 million UK fund to enhance key research infrastructure.


£473 million for research tolls that could stop future pandemics and protect the planet

Researchers around the world will soon be able to access millions of the natural, historic specimens found in UK museums at the click of a button as part of a £473 million UK fund to enhance key research infrastructure. These samples are key to scientific breakthroughs like stemming future pandemics and protecting the planet, making the UK a leading country in scientific development.


In a visit to the Natural History Museum in London this week, Science and Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan announced that more than £155 million from UK Research and Innovation’s Infrastructure Fund will support the museum’s cutting-edge Distributed System of Scientific Collections (DiSSCo). It will digitise most of the UK’s 137 million natural science specimens – some of them billions of years old – so that teams in the UK and round the world can access key detailed data at their fingertips.


The process involves capturing images of a specimen such as a pinned insect, a pressed plant or microscope slides of samples like micro-fossils or algae and logging them with key data like when and where it was collected. This can in turn support research into groundbreaking solutions for major global problems like supporting biodiversity and protecting countries against future pandemics.


This is expected to generate around £2 billion of economic benefits for the UK by enabling advances in sectors such as developing new drugs and discovering sources of minerals.

A further £124 million will go towards building the most powerful high energy electron microscope in the world – the Relativistic Ultrafast Electron Diffraction and Imaging (RUEDI) facility in Daresbury, Cheshire. It will give UK researchers a significant competitive advantage in observing and understanding irreversible ultrafast processes, which allow them to measure structural and chemical processes in materials as they happen in real time – rather than simply ‘before and after’.


It will lead to a deeper understanding of the biological function within living cells which can be used for better drug design. It will also provide more insight into the interplay between electrical and magnetic fields driving quantum computing and the structural integrity of materials during explosions, earthquakes and advanced manufacturing processes.


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