A significant step towards restoring the United Kingdom's declining university research facilities has been taken with the announcement of almost Pounds 320 million of new investment.
The second tranche of awards made from the Joint Infrastructure Fund will channel cash into 45 projects in universities. Sums involved vary from Pounds 750,000 to Pounds 30 million.
The money will be used to construct new laboratories, like Cambridge University's proposed centre for behavioural neurosciences; re-equip existing ones, such as Jodrell Bank's radio telescope; and buy equipment and instruments, including deep ocean bed autonomous landers and atmospheric research aircraft.
The investment aims to give existing world class teams of UK scientists the means to stay in pole position in a wide spread of fields.
Stephen Byers, secretary of state for trade and industry, said this would ultimately boost the economy.
"Thanks to this substantial funding, British scientists will be able to produce more of the break-through discoveries and knowledge-based companies they are famous for," he said.
John Taylor, director general of the research councils, said: "We're not trying to increase the volume of research - our focus has been on giving world class groups in the UK the tools they need to do the job."
This was the only way research could continue to flourish, according to Michael Dexter, director of the Wellcome Trust, the medical charity that contributed Pounds 123 million of the latest tranche alongside Pounds 195 million from the Government.
"The university system can only retain and attract the best if universities are equipped with first-class facilities. This also shows we have a real belief and commitment to science in the UK which will increase the morale among academics," he said.
Among those projects given JIF funding are:
A specially equipped aircraft, fitted with an array of instruments for atmospheric research, including airborne pollution, weather forecasting and climate change.
Facilities at the University of Aberdeen to test and construct autonomous marine environment research stations that can explore and study the deep ocean bed in unprecedented detail
The creation at the University of Edinburgh of one the fastest computers in the world to simulate particle physics interactions
The second round takes the total allocated under the scheme to more than 60 per cent of the Pounds 750 million pledged in July 1998. The remainder will be assigned in three further rounds, with closing dates for bids for the last two in April and October 2000.
So far, UK universities have submitted more than Pounds 2 billion of bids under the scheme.