Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: High-risk speculative engineering and ICT research: New Horizons – outline proposals

Apply for funding for new research ideas that are speculative, high risk, with potential for a high reward.

Your idea for a project must be within the remit of EPSRC’s:

  • engineering theme
  • information and communication technologies (ICT) theme.

You must be:

  • a UK resident
  • based at an eligible research organisation.

The full economic cost of your project can be up to £250,000. EPSRC will fund 80% of the full economic cost.

Your project can last up to two years.

This opportunity is part of the EPSRC New Horizons pilot scheme.

Who can apply

This New Horizons scheme funding opportunity will be limited to one submission per applicant as either principal investigator or co-investigator (that is, you can only appear as an investigator on one application).

Standard EPSRC eligibility rules apply.

Research grants are open to:

  • UK higher education institutions
  • research council institutes
  • UKRI-approved independent research organisations
  • eligible public sector research establishments
  • NHS bodies with research capacity.

Check if your institution is eligible for research and innovation funding.

You can apply if you are resident in the UK and meet at least one of the bullets below:

  • are employed at the submitting research organisation at a level equivalent to lecturer or above
  • hold a fixed-term contract that extends beyond the duration of the proposed project, and the host research organisation is prepared to give you all the support normal for a permanent employee
  • hold an EPSRC, Royal Society or Royal Academy of Engineering fellowship aimed at later career stages (that is, fellowships from these bodies that are not aimed primarily at the postdoctoral level)
  • hold fellowships under other schemes (please contact EPSRC by emailing newhorizons@epsrc.ukri.org to check eligibility, which is considered on a ‘case by case’ basis).

Holders of postdoctoral level fellowships are not eligible to apply for an EPSRC grant.

If you are in doubt about whether you are eligible to apply for this opportunity, contact EPSRC by emailing newhorizons@epsrc.ukri.org. Please note that enquiries submitted within five working days of the outline proposal deadline of 25 January 2022 may not be responded to.

A dynamic, diverse and inclusive research and innovation system must be an integral part of UK society, giving everyone the opportunity to participate and to benefit.

Therefore, we particularly encourage applications from:

  • early career researchers
  • women
  • people who identify as an ethnic minority
  • people with a disability
  • other groups who are currently under-represented.

We welcome applications from people based in all regions and nations of the UK.

Note that career stage or diversity information will not be used in the assessment process and will not be used to make funding decisions.

Submissions to the outline proposal stage and the invited full proposal stage will not count towards the EPSRC repeatedly unsuccessful applicants policy.

Applications and awards to this funding opportunity will not preclude applicants from schemes that include holding previous awards as an eligibility factor (for example, New Investigator Awards).

What we're looking for

In this second phase of the pilot New Horizons scheme, the aims are to:

  • support speculative, high-risk research ideas that could potentially offer high reward, to ensure the continued flow of these types of research projects into the EPSRC portfolio and wider UKRI funding streams
  • trial ways to minimise the bureaucracy of the application process, particularly for the applicant
  • deliver a faster process compared to current standard funding routes, whilst maintaining robust decision making that is proportionate to the level of risk.

Scope

The scope of this funding opportunity is to encourage and support speculative, high-risk research ideas that could potentially offer high reward.

The New Horizons funding route is intended to stimulate creativity within the research community to give researchers time and space to test out their speculative ideas.

Applicants are advised to strongly consider whether their research idea is truly speculative, high-risk and could potentially offer high reward before applying.

We expect the research projects funded to, for example:

  • revolutionise existing fields of research
  • create new fields of research
  • test new, unproven tools or techniques
  • cause paradigm shifts in existing thought and knowledge
  • support discovery that might lead to radically new and disruptive technologies.

Proposals are welcome that are considered to be majority within the remit of the EPSRC engineering and ICT theme research areas.

The EPSRC engineering theme research areas are:

  • biomaterials and tissue engineering
  • built environment
  • coastal and waterway engineering
  • combustion engineering
  • complex fluids and rheology
  • control engineering
  • electrical motors and drives / electromagnetics
  • fluid dynamics and aerodynamics
  • ground engineering
  • infrastructure and urban systems
  • materials engineering (ceramics)
  • materials engineering (composites)
  • materials engineering (metals and alloys)
  • microsystems
  • particle technology
  • performance and inspection of mechanical structures and systems
  • process systems: components and integration
  • robotics
  • sensors and instrumentation
  • structural engineering
  • synthetic biology
  • water engineering.

The EPSRC ICT theme research areas are:

  • architectures and operating systems
  • artificial intelligence technologies
  • biological informatics
  • databases
  • digital signal processing
  • graphics and visualisation
  • human communication in ICT
  • human computer interaction
  • ICT networks and distributed systems
  • image and vision computing
  • information systems
  • microelectronic device technology
  • microelectronics design
  • music and acoustic technology
  • natural language processing
  • optical communications
  • optical devices and subsystems
  • optoelectronic devices and circuits
  • pervasive and ubiquitous computing
  • programming languages and compilers
  • radio frequency and microwave communications
  • radio frequency and microwave devices
  • software engineering
  • speech technology
  • theoretical computer science
  • verification and correctness
  • vision, hearing and other senses.

Find detailed remit information for each EPSRC research area.

You will need to select the primary EPSRC engineering or ICT theme research area that your idea aligns to from the lists above and copy and paste the name of this single research area into the keywords box on the Je-S form. Please see the ‘How to apply’ section for more information.

EPSRC will reject proposals that do not fall within the opportunity scope. Ideas must be majority within the remit of the EPSRC engineering and ICT theme research areas.

For projects requesting funding for researchers at different eligible organisations to work together, only the lead organisation, on behalf of all organisations involved in a project, can submit one proposal through the Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) system. This means that projects consisting of multiple proposals (sometimes known as joint proposals) are not eligible for this opportunity.

Funding available

Applicants can apply for up to a full economic cost of £250,000. EPSRC will fund 80% of the full economic cost (up to £200,000).

This funding opportunity follows typical EPSRC funding guidelines which means indexation will be added by EPSRC and so costings should exclude indexation as usual.

Standard EPSRC costs can be applied for.

Equipment over £10,000 in value (inclusive of VAT) can be included through this opportunity within the £200,000 (80% value of full economic cost) maximum. For more information, see EPSRC approach to equipment funding.

Successful projects from this opportunity which show promise can seek further funding afterwards through the current routes, for example, standard mode proposals or fellowships.

Responsible innovation and including international collaborators

Applicants are expected to work within the EPSRC Framework for Responsible Innovation given on the EPSRC website.

Applicants planning to include international collaborators on their proposal should visit Trusted Research (CPNI). This site provides information and advice on how to get the most out of international collaboration whilst protecting intellectual property, sensitive research and personal information.

How to apply

Intention to submit

To help EPSRC plan for this opportunity, applicants are asked to submit an ‘intention to submit’ by 16:00 on 7 December 2021.

This should contain:

  • name of the principal investigator
  • host organisation of the principal investigator
  • email address of the principal investigator
  • person ID (PID) of the principal investigator from Je-S contact record (if known)
  • name of any co-investigators
  • host organisations of any co-investigators
  • the primary EPSRC engineering or ICT theme research area that the idea aligns to (the ‘what we’re looking for’ section lists these eligible research areas)
  • proposed title of the research idea
  • acknowledgement that your organisation’s research office is aware of your intention to submit an application to this funding opportunity.

The above information (investigator details, research area, title) can change prior to submission of the outline proposal.

Email confirmation for completion of this survey will only be sent once the survey has closed.

Submitting an outline proposal through Je-S

You should prepare and submit your outline proposal using the research councils’ Joint Electronic Submission system (Je-S).

Applicants should ensure they are aware of and comply with any internal institutional deadlines that may be in place.

When adding a new proposal, you should go to documents, select ‘new document’, then select:

  • ‘create new document’
  • council: ‘EPSRC’
  • document type: ‘outline proposal’
  • scheme: ‘standard/outline/ …’
  • ‘New Horizons 2021 Outline’ on the project details page.

Guidance for completing the Je-S form

For the ‘keywords’ page, copy the name of the primary EPSRC engineering or ICT theme research area that your idea aligns to from the lists in the ‘What we’re looking for’ section. Paste this single research area into the ‘keywords’ box.

The box is not wide enough to view the full text of the research area name at once, please use your keyboard arrow keys to check the single research area has copied across correctly from this funding opportunity guidance.

The mandatory sections of the Je-S form are:

  • project details
  • disciplines
  • principal investigator
  • resource summary
  • keywords
  • attachments.

The ‘co-investigator’, ‘project partners’ and ‘notes and comments’ sections are all optional. However, information on co-investigators and project partners should be included if they are known to be part of the application.

There is no requirement to include co-investigators or project partners, they should only be included if they are considered to add value to the research idea. When providing project partner details, note that project partner letters of support are not required at this outline proposal stage and therefore cannot be attached to the application.

Researcher co-investigators are allowed to be included in successful proposals from this funding opportunity, however they cannot be included on the Je-S form at this stage. If you are invited to submit a full proposal, instructions for adding researcher co-investigators will be made available to you.

Costings

Outline costings should be confirmed with your institution’s research office and included in the Je-S form.

Please provide estimated total costs for each of the ‘directly allocated’, ‘directly incurred’ and ‘indirect’ headings.

Costs under the ‘exceptions’ heading are not allowed. Proposals requesting exceptions costs will be rejected.

For applicants invited to submit a full proposal the costs can change from the outline proposal stage, as long as the total cost remains within the £250,000 full economic cost maximum.

This funding opportunity follows typical EPSRC funding guidelines. This means indexation will be added by EPSRC and so costings should exclude indexation as usual.

Case for support

You must attach a one-page ‘case for support’ document on the attachments page.

The case for support for this opportunity follows a non-standard format.

It must address these key questions:

  • what is the engineering or ICT research idea?
  • why is this idea speculative and high-risk?
  • if the proposed idea is successful, what is the potential reward and why is this exciting?

The idea must be within either the EPSRC engineering or ICT theme’s remit or across these two remits. By this we mean that the majority of the research idea should fit within one or more of the EPSRC engineering and ICT theme research areas, which are listed in the ‘Scope’ section.

The one-page case for support should focus on the ‘what’ and ‘why’, rather than the ‘how’. Therefore the specific methodology or detail of work packages should not be included.

The peer review for stage one of the assessment process is being performed anonymously and therefore your proposal will be considered with the panel members not having knowledge of your identity or your affiliations.

For that reason, no track record should be included in the case for support. Your academic publications or research track record should not be included in your outline proposal, nor any references that may reveal your identity or the identity of your institution. EPSRC reserves the right to reject proposals where the identity of an applicant or institution is revealed or can be inferred.

Formatting and attachment guidance

You should attach your case for support as a PDF to avoid errors. It should be completed in single-spaced Arial 11 font or similar-sized sans serif typeface, with margins of at least 2cm.

EPSRC will reject all outline proposals which do not conform to these formatting rules with no exceptions made. Please be aware that converting to PDF can alter the formatting and result in layout changes, for example converting from LaTeX to PDF can add small serifs or alter font size. You should ensure documents converted to PDF still meet the formatting guidelines outlined prior to submission.

EPSRC will not be returning any outline proposals for amendment due to errors in submission, such as wrong attachment types. EPSRC will reject these outline proposals with no exceptions made.

After completing the form

After completing the application you must ‘submit document’ which will send your application to your host organisation’s administration.

Your host organisation’s administration is required to complete the submission process. Applicants should allow sufficient time for your organisation’s submission process between submitting your proposal to them and the funding opportunity closing date.

EPSRC must receive your application by 16:00 on 25 January 2022.

Ethical information

EPSRC will not fund a project if it believes that there are ethical concerns that have been overlooked or not appropriately accounted for.

Ethical information is not requested at the outline proposal stage for this opportunity.

Invited applications at full proposal stage will need to provide ethical information. See what information will be needed in the guidance on completing ethical information on the Je-S form.

EPSRC guidance can be found in ‘related content’.

Submitting an invited full proposal through Je-S

Note that this funding opportunity information is for outline proposals only. Some detail on the process for full proposals is given here to enable applicants to start to prepare in advance.

For this stage invited applicants will need to submit a four-page case for support. In addition to the information provided at the outline proposal stage, this should describe the project’s methodology and the applicant team’s ability to deliver the proposed research.

The ability to deliver information should not be written as a standard track record. Instead, it should contain evidence that the applicant team has the skills and expertise required to carry out the project.

More detailed information about this stage, including what to include in your case for support and documentation required, will be provided in early 2022.

How we will assess your application

Assessment process

This initiative will aim to deliver a simpler application process for applicants with a shortened timeline between application and funding decision compared to current standard funding routes. Applications will follow a non-standard format as detailed within this opportunity information.

Applications will be assessed via a two-stage process. There will be no postal peer review in either stage, applications will be assessed at panels.

In stage one (outline proposals), the case for support must be anonymised because, in the peer review of this stage, identity of applicants will remain anonymous to panel members.

Applicants must therefore be extremely careful not to give away their identity or institution in the case for support.

EPSRC reserves the right to reject proposals where the identity of an applicant or institution is revealed or can be inferred. The panel members will not see the Je-S form in stage one.

Intention to submit

There is an ‘intention to submit’ stage for this opportunity. This will not be assessed but will enable EPSRC to estimate demand and appropriately plan for peer review panels.

Stage one: outline proposals

The peer review for stage one of the assessment process is being performed anonymously.

Outline proposals will be batched and sent to panels. There will be no postal peer review. There may be a number of parallel panels, depending on demand, covering broad research areas. The expertise of the panel members will reflect the broad areas of the research proposals being considered.

The panel will place proposals into bands based upon the two criteria described below. Outline proposals placed in the top band or bands as deemed by the panel will be invited to stage two (invited full proposals). Based on the budget available, EPSRC anticipate inviting up to 200 full proposals.

Stage two: invited full proposals

The peer review for stage two of the assessment process is not being performed anonymously.

More detailed information about the assessment process for this stage will be provided in early 2022.

EPSRC plans to communicate final funding decisions to applicants in June 2022. 50 to 60 awards are expected to be made.

Assessment criteria

Below describes the assessment criteria for stage one (outline proposals).

These two assessment criteria are equally weighted.

Assessment criterion one

‘How speculative and high-risk is the research idea proposed?’

Panel members will use the following descriptors in their assessment:

  • very high risk: idea is highly speculative and wholly untested
  • high risk: idea is speculative and most aspects are untested
  • medium risk: idea is risky with some aspects currently untested
  • low risk: the idea involves little risk (does not fit the scope of the New Horizons scheme funding opportunity)

Assessment criterion two

‘If the proposed idea is successful, how exciting is the potential reward?’

Panel members will use the following descriptors in their assessment:

  • very exciting: potentially revolutionary or ground-breaking
  • exciting: potential for significant breakthroughs
  • somewhat exciting: potential for interesting or novel insights
  • not exciting: little potential for reward (does not fit the scope of the New Horizons scheme funding opportunity)

Feedback

Due to the nature and timescales of the funding opportunity, in stage one there will not be a right to reply stage and no specific feedback will be given.

In stage two there will not be a right to reply stage, however we aim to provide some feedback to applicants at this stage.

Contact details

For help and advice on costings, requesting resources and writing your proposal please contact your research office in the first instance, allowing sufficient time for your organisation’s submission process.

Ask a question about this opportunity

Please read this opportunity guidance in full before contacting EPSRC with any questions.

Email: newhorizons@epsrc.ukri.org

We will endeavour to respond to queries within five to ten working days.

Please note that enquiries submitted within five working days of the outline proposal deadline of 25 January 2022 may not be responded to.

Enquiries made directly to EPSRC staff may not be responded to.

Get help with Je-S

Any queries regarding the submission of proposals through Je-S should be directed to the Je-S helpdesk.

Email: jeshelp@je-s.ukri.org

Telephone: 01793 444164

Opening times: Je-S opening times

Additional info

Background

The EPSRC 2019 Delivery Plan (PDF, 4.3MB) highlighted the desire to continue promoting excellence in research by investing in ways that are optimised to the specific researcher base and research outputs desired. As part of this strategy, EPSRC propose investing in new approaches to delivery, such as this New Horizons scheme funding opportunity.

New Horizons is a pilot scheme that comprises funding for researcher-led, high-risk research focused on:

  • advancing knowledge
  • securing the pipeline of next-generation innovations.

It will enable funding for completely new ideas, which are essential to future-proof our research base. The first phase of the pilot was held in 2020 with a focus on the mathematical and physical sciences community: New Horizons: piloting a streamlined application process.

This is the second phase of the pilot where the aim of the funding opportunity is to challenge the engineering and ICT communities to formulate speculative, high-risk research ideas that could potentially offer high reward. The scheme aims to ensure the continued flow of these types of research projects into the EPSRC portfolio and wider UKRI funding streams.

Community feedback on the first phase of the pilot has been used to inform the process of the second phase. For example, anonymous peer review will be retained for stage one of this second phase as it was well received by applicants in the first phase. In addition, 74% of reviewers felt the anonymisation removed bias from the process and 66% felt that it helped them to focus on assessing the science.

Responsible innovation

EPSRC is fully committed to develop and promote responsible innovation. Research has the ability to not only produce understanding, knowledge and value, but also unintended consequences, questions, ethical dilemmas and, at times, unexpected social transformations.

We recognise that we have a duty of care to promote approaches to responsible innovation that will initiate ongoing reflection about the potential ethical and societal implications of the research that we sponsor and to encourage our research community to do likewise.

UKRI guidance and resources on responsible innovation.

Supporting documents

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