Wind tunnels for fluid dynamics boffins among UKRI's £72M funding

Funds will focus on energy, transportation, astronomy, and healthcare

The UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) agency is investing £72 million ($91.7 million) to build infrastructure to support next-generation technologies in energy, transportation, medicine, and astronomy.

The agency has targeted four different projects, including building 11 wind tunnels and upgrading existing facilities for £23 million ($29 million). Wind tunnels are massive tubes covered in channels for air to blow through, and are designed to mimic the flight conditions to test objects like aircraft, spacecraft, or rockets.

In general, they allow engineers to study fluid dynamics, the flow of liquids and gases, so they can develop detailed models and simulations of other types of hardware or materials too. The agency believes that the new wind tunnels will boost the UK's ability to explore new technologies for green energy, transport, and healthcare.

The majority of the funding – £34 million ($43 million) – will go towards building BioFAIR, a digital platform for biological and biomedical research. BioFAIR will act as a central repository for data processing and analysis so scientists can better access resources needed to collaborate, build upon, or replicate experiments.

The remaining £6.8 million ($8.6 million) and £8 million ($10 million) will be spent on building the European Southern Observatory's Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) and next-generation gravitational waves detectors.

Under construction in the Atacama Desert in Chile, the ELT will be the largest ground-based observatory operating at infrared and optical wavelengths. The UK is one of 16 countries helping fund the project, and has been tasked with developing and implementing the full instrumentation suite for the telescope capable of capturing astronomical objects in more detail than the Hubble Space Telescope.

Finally, UKRI will fund the design of physical instruments and computational infrastructure to detect gravitational waves at higher resolution. Gravitational waves require sensitive apparatus capable of observing the tiniest distortions of laser light caused by ripples spread throughout the universe from violent cosmic events like the collision of black holes or exploding supernovae.

Mark Thomson, Executive Chair of the Science and Technology Facilities Council and UKRI's Champion for Infrastructure, said in a statement: "Scientists working on research from life sciences to aircraft safety depend on access to the most advanced equipment and facilities.

"This £72 million investment in the UK's research and innovation infrastructure will ensure the UK is at the forefront of scientific discovery. It will support our scientists in responding to major global challenges including net zero and food security.

"Five years on from the publication of UKRI's Infrastructure Roadmap, this shows how we are taking a strategic approach to identifying the facilities the UK needs and how to support them." ®

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