Darpa deputy returns across Atlantic to lead new UK funder Aria

British-born computer scientist Peter Highnam to lead ‘high-risk, high-reward’ agency

February 1, 2022
Peter Highnam

A senior leader at an American scientific funding agency has been named the first chief executive of the UK’s new “high-risk, high-reward” science funding body.

Peter Highnam will move from the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa), where he has been deputy director since February 2018, to lead the Advanced Research and Invention Agency, known as Aria, which is the UK equivalent of Darpa.

His appointment was hailed as “a major triumph for the UK” by Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary.

“His expert direction will lead the agency’s formation, ensuring the funding of high-risk programmes that will continue to push the boundaries of science and technology,” said Mr Kwarteng.

“Under Dr Highnam’s leadership, Aria will ensure the benefits of research and development will be felt in our society and economy over the course of generations, and that the technologies, discoveries, products and ideas the agency invests in are supported to create the industries of tomorrow.”

Dr Highnam, who will begin his five-year term of office in May, was born in the UK and studied at the universities of Manchester and Bristol in computer science and mathematics, respectively. He also holds a DPhil from Carnegie Mellon University.

He worked in industry in the computer sector for more than a decade before moving into government, first at the US Department of Health and Human Services and then at Darpa, specialising in electronic warfare. In recent years, he has served as the agency’s acting director.

The new UK agency, which will have an £800 million budget over its first five years, was created by legislation last year and is designed to support high-risk research that might otherwise not be supported via traditional peer review.

Science minister George Freeman said the appointment would “enable our groundbreaking new agency to push the boundaries of high-risk science in the 21st century”.

Dr Highnam’s “impressive wealth of experience puts him in a unique position to lead the direction of funding for the most groundbreaking projects in the UK and maintain our status as a leading innovation nation”, said Mr Freeman.

The government also confirmed that it was restarting its search for ARIA’s first chair, who will be “key counsel” to Dr Highnam and will “ensure the agency’s effective governance”.


Register to continue

Why register?

  • Registration is free and only takes a moment
  • Once registered, you can read 3 articles a month
  • Sign up for our newsletter
Please Login or Register to read this article.

Related articles