UCL 'gobsmacked' by grants sweep

December 8, 2000

University College London scooped a third of the grants announced in the latest round of Joint Infrastructure Fund awards. Of the 28 successful research applications to share the £125 million, nine are based at UCL, bringing in awards totalling more than £45 million.

The other awards are shared among 15 universities.

A UCL press officer said the college was "absolutely gobsmacked". The grants will be used to refurbish outdated research space and build new laboratories in areas ranging from an eye disease unit to an economics research laboratory to investigate game theory and bargaining.

A spokesperson for the Wellcome Trust, which runs the fund with the Department of Trade and Industry, said: "All the applications are judged on their scientific merit and the quality of the bid. UCL put together a very good package of bids."

This is the fourth round of JIF grants. In this round, 181 applications were submitted. Awards ranged in value from £800,000 to £15 million.

Since the awards were established with money from the DTI and the Wellcome Trust in 1998, £729 million has been handed out. The aim was to "meet essential building, refurbishment and equipment costs to ensure that the UK scientific community remains at the forefront of international research". The final tranche, in April, will be restricted to funding for equipment.

Trade and industry secretary Stephen Byers, who announced the winners, said: "For science, we face a clear choice: whether to continue the cycle of cuts in spending and decline in our science base or to invest in science and provide new opportunities. We have chosen investment."

Mike Dexter, director of the Wellcome Trust, added: "This fund is a giant first step in modernising the country's medical research facilities, but the challenge is to ensure that they never get so run down again."

The largest award, £15 million, went towards a new biomedical centre at Manchester University. It will house 31 research groups working in cell biology, genomics and bioinformatics. None of the new universities was awarded funding.

Other projects given JIF funding include: the development of instruments for observational cosmology at Cardiff University's physics and astronomy department to explore the beginning of the universe; a new minerals, rock and ice physics laboratory at UCL to study polar ice-caps and global climate change; a Social Statistics Research Centre at Southampton; and plant science projects at Edinburgh and Glasgow universities.

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