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by Sofia Villegas
13 March 2024
Scotland to train next-generation technology expertise

New investment to push to UK to the forefront of next-generation technology research | Alamy

Scotland to train next-generation technology expertise

As part of UK Government's effort to stay at the forefront of cutting-edge research

Four Scottish universities have been selected to train a new generation of researchers in critical technologies as part of a major UK Government drive.

The initiative forms part of the UK’s biggest investment in engineering and physical sciences doctoral skills.

As announced by UK science secretary Michelle Donelan, a sum of £1bn will be shared between 65 Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs), ten of which will be based north of the border.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council – part of UK Research and Innovation – invested £500m, and a further £590m came from universities and business partners.

“As innovators across the world break new ground faster than ever, it is vital that government, business and academia invests in ambitious UK talent, giving them the tools to pioneer new discoveries that benefit all our lives while creating new jobs and growing the economy”, Donelan said.

The initiative will upskill more than 4,000 students studying PhD degrees in areas including artificial intelligence, quantum technologies, semiconductors, telecoms and engineering biology.

Heriot-Watt University is leading two of the ten Scottish CDTs.

One will focus on photonics in sensing and metrology, which is "vital for our economy" yet is facing a weak talent pipeline, Professor Derryck Reid from Heriot-Watt University said.

“Photonics is the fifth most productive manufacturing sector in the UK and generates £14.5bn annually across 1,200 firms with 76,000 staff.  

“Photonic sensing and metrology is part of this sector that’s vital to our economy. However, there aren’t enough professional-level researchers who understand this field and also have high-level business, management and communication skills."

This technology has applications ranging from remote wind turbine monitoring and precision measurement in manufacturing to tools to measure nutrients and potential contaminants in food production.

The site represents a continuation of Heriot-Watt’s doctoral training in photonics, making it one of the UK’s longest-running doctoral centres.

Its other centre will focus on net zero industries and deliver a cohort of 100 PhD graduates trained in environmental sustainability and the transition to clean energy, helping to bridge the doctoral-level skills gap in industrial decarbonisation.

Projects will look into hydrogen and low-carbon fuels; carbon capture, use and storage; carbon dioxide removal and energy efficiency and also address the social and environmental considerations for integrating these technologies.

The University of Glasgow will lead a centre focusing on algebra, geometry, and quantum fields. This will be the UK’s first centre for doctoral training to offer specific training in algebra, geometry, topology, and mathematical physics - all fields that are currently fuelling advancements in areas such as quantum computing, machine learning and information security.

It will also lead a centre which will aim to create an environment where interdisciplinary scientific excellence can be born by focusing on inclusive practice and good research practice such as responsible research and innovation. 

The University of Edinburgh will lead four centres. Two will centre around AI, one focusing on machine learning systems while the other will look into sensing, processing and AI for defence and security, with support from the Ministry of Defence. The remainder will focus on offshore renewable energy and quantum informatics.

The University of Strathclyde will lead a centre on applied quantum technology, as well as another focusing on training on cyber-physical systems for medicines development and manufacturing.

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