A vaccine research centre at Oxford University, a research ship that monitors the shallow ocean and a southern-hemisphere telescope aimed at deepest space have won funding in the first round of competition for the Joint Infrastructure Fund.
Thirty-seven projects, totalling about Pounds 150 million, will be funded in the first round. At total of Pounds 700 million will go to universities over the next three years to replace and refurbish out-of-date research equipment and infrastructure.
Of the winning projects, five are based at Oxford University.
A Strathclyde University biophotonics centre, which will link the biological sciences and optics to get images of living organisms, has also won a grant. Cancer laboratories at Southampton University linking clinical and laboratory research are also winners.
One of the largest winners is thought to be Cambridge University's chemistry department, which may have netted more than Pounds 20 million towards rebuilding and refurbishment.
A decision on another 20 of the 180 applications submitted in the first round has been deferred, either for further information or so they can be considered alongside other bids. Some 120 applications were rejected. There are to be a further four rounds.
The contest was announced in last year's comprehensive spending review. The Wellcome Trust is contributing Pounds 300 million and the Department of Trade and Industry matching it. A further Pounds 100 million comes from the Higher Education Funding Council for England.
Michael Dexter, director of the Wellcome Trust, which is administering JIF's biological and medical arm, said the number of high-quality applications proved that the initial estimate by Lord Dearing of about Pounds 450 million needed to bring UK labs up-to-date was "a gross underestimation".
"We turned down about 120 bids," he said. "Some of those were very good science."
He said that the massive response to the first round left a "strong suspicion" that JIF would not be able to meet all the infrastructure needs. "We have always said that JIF should not be seen as an excuse by government not to give more money for university refits when necessary."
Dr Dexter said the Wellcome Trust had received more bids for the second round, whose deadline has just passed, than for the first.
Richard Moxon, head of the molecular infectious diseases group at Oxford University, said the clinical centre for vaccinology and tropical medicine research in Oxford would make "Oxford and the UK a leading centre on the international scene".
John Simpson, professor of oceanography at the University of Wales, Bangor, said the 34-metre research ship will study the environment in sea up to 200 metres deep.
David King, head of chemistry at Cambridge, said the JIF money came on top of industry contributions. "I feel a great sense of relief," he said. "Without this money we could not have kept on going."
Research, pages 40-43