The University of Hertfordshire has been awarded £13.5million – its biggest ever research grant – to expand and progress its sector-leading R&D of biodetection technologies against harmful, airborne pathogens like Covid.

Herts was one of 18 research bids to successfully secure investment from Research England through their Expanding Excellence in England Fund – known as E3 – which is aimed at ‘small but outstanding research units’.

The funding, awarded to the University of Hertfordshire in collaboration with the universities of Cranfield, Leeds and Manchester, will run for five years and be used to create the ‘Future Biodetection Technologies Hub’.

The hub will address the technological leaps required to build safer, healthier, more resilient environments against bioaerosols – airborne particles of a biological origin including bacteria, viruses, fungi, pollen and toxins – and deepen our understanding of their impact on health, security and climate change.
Ian Johnston, Professor of Microfluidics and Biodetection at the University of Hertfordshire who led on the grant application, said: “There is an urgent requirement to develop technology for the early detection of biological hazards across numerous real-world applications impacting human, animal and plant health, as well as to develop instrumentation that enhances our understanding of atmospheric processes associated with climate change and its impacts.

“Our vision is to lead the innovation required to ensure that the UK is resilient to the broad spectrum of biological threats, to positively impact global health, environmental, economic and security outcomes.

“We’re thrilled that Research England share and support this vision and are hugely grateful for such a generous grant to enable us, alongside our valued university partners, to create the Future Biodetection Technologies Hub that will lead this mission.”

The E3 fund supports small and excellent research units and departments in higher education providers across England to expand and increase their activity where they have potential to grow. From Coastal and Rural Health Research to Mathematics for AI, and Digital Innovations in Health and Social Care to Blended Realities, Research England is investing in a diverse range of units across disciplines to help them build the capacity and quality of their research.

Dr Steven Hill, Director of Research at Research England, said: “We have invested in research units in universities right across England. This will diversify the regional spread of research disciplines to support the sustained enhancement of research capacity across England, and enhance the skills base, build and diversify talent and bring disciplines together to develop new skillsets and “future leaders” in areas of research excellence where there is untapped potential.

“Our investment will also help to reinforce the contribution of HEPs to their region through strategic local partnerships, focusing on sharing resources and infrastructure and generating local impact, backed by robust institutional leadership.

“We’re excited to see how these units develop over the next five years.”