NERC’s Discovery Science fund to empower adventurous research

Cells and biological chain, molecules abstract concept

The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) is transforming its Discovery Science portfolio and increasing investment to encourage adventurous and ambitious science.

Curiosity-driven research funded by NERC will further empower adventurous and ambitious projects, following changes to its Discovery Science portfolio announced today.

The overhaul of the portfolio aims to encourage researchers to exploit innovative technologies and approaches and prepare for future challenges.

It will be supported by increased investment in the Discovery Science portfolio by an additional £15 million per annum, fully realised by the 2025 to 2026 financial year.

New application process

Additionally, a new streamlined application process will reduce the paperwork required for both applicants and those involved in peer assessment and review.

Two new funding streams will be on offer:

  • the Pushing the Frontiers scheme, which was piloted earlier this year, will fund researchers to pursue ambitious, high-reward science with a NERC investment of up to £1 million
  • the Exploring the Frontiers scheme will invest up to £100,000 in supporting researchers to explore and test ideas.

And, NERC’s large grant scheme will continue as previously but with an increase in budget to £12 million. This will enable more unfunded excellence to be supported.

Similarly, the urgency scheme is retained but with an increase in the funding limit per proposal from £65,000 to £100,000.

Ambitious research

Professor Duncan Wingham, Executive Chair of NERC, said:

We have always challenged ourselves and our community to push the boundaries of understanding, funding research, talent, and facilities throughout the UK and abroad to support this ambition.

The changes to our Discovery Science portfolio will significantly advance the frontiers of our understanding of the natural world.

Our increased investment will support scientists in exploring new ideas and preparing for future challenges, while reducing the bureaucratic burden of the application and assessment processes.

Join our town hall webinars

There will be two town hall webinars to outline the strategic rationale for the recent changes to the Discovery Science portfolio and for the community to raise questions and to discuss the changes with the NERC Discovery Science team.

The webinars will provide an overview of the Pushing the Frontiers and Exploring the Frontiers schemes, including a summary of the:

  • objectives
  • scope
  • eligibility
  • assessment process.

Webinar one

17 February 2022 10:15 to 11:45 UK time.

The deadline for registration is 15 February 2022 16:00 UK time.

Webinar two

9 March 2022 11:15 to 12:45 UK time.

The deadline for registration is 7 March 2022 16:00 UK time.

Participants should register their name, role, institution, and email address. Participants will then be sent all relevant links and instructions for joining the webinar.

Attendance at a webinar is not a pre-requisite for submitting a proposal to either of these calls.

Further information

The streamlined application process for NERC’s Discovery Science portfolio is part of a wider range of initiatives across UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

UKRI aims to make the funding journey simpler and better for researchers and innovators.

This will release their time so they can spend more time developing ideas and contributing to the research and innovation community, and less time filling in forms.

It supports the wider Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy drive to reduce bureaucracy across the whole research and innovation system.

Top image:  Credit: Jian Fan, Getty Images

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