Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Quantum sensing for environmental sciences

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Apply for funding to explore the potential for quantum sensing to transform multiple areas of environmental science.

EPSRC and NERC are looking to fund proposals:

  • with a specific focus on quantum sensing
  • from a multidisciplinary team of researchers from the quantum technology and environmental science community.

Standard eligibility criteria apply.

Projects must be:

  • within EPSRC’s quantum technology sensing remit
  • relevant to environmental science.

Projects should last between 18 and 36 months, starting by 13 February 2023. Your project must not exceed £1 million full economic cost. We will fund 80% of the full economic cost.

Who can apply

Standard eligibility rules apply. Research grants are open to:

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

Check if your institution is eligible for funding.

You can apply if you are resident in the UK and meet at least one of the criteria 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 a research fellowship from one of the research councils, UKRI, the Royal Society or the Royal Academy of Engineering
  • hold fellowships under other schemes (please contact EPSRC to check eligibility, which is considered on a case-by-case basis).

If you are on a fellowship, the duration of the fellowship must cover or extend beyond the duration of the project.

Submissions to this funding opportunity will count towards the EPSRC repeatedly unsuccessful applicants policy, but will not count towards NERC demand management measures for future submissions.

What we're looking for

EPSRC and NERC are looking to fund proposals with a specific focus on quantum sensing being applied to transform one or more areas of environmental science.

Through this funding opportunity, EPSRC and NERC are looking to:

  • increase collaboration between environmental scientists, quantum scientists and engineers
  • explore the potential for quantum sensing to transform multiple areas of environmental science
  • accelerate uptake of quantum sensing in environmental science applications.

The environmental science community are significant users of sensing technologies. Previous advances in sensor technologies, such as low-cost distributed sensor networks, have transformed our understanding of the environment.

Whilst quantum sensors are not yet a low-cost technology, the development of field deployable, high-resolution, mobile sensors has huge potential to deliver new understanding of the environment. These devices would:

  • fill a different capability gap by offering sensitivity and temporal resolution at scale
  • provide complementary data, which could be combined with other forms of environmental sensing to generate significant benefits.

By working in partnership, EPSRC and NERC will fund research activities together, building collaborations between the NERC and quantum technologies communities and leveraging the expertise of the internationally leading UK National Quantum Technologies Programme (NQTP).

Research activities will enable the UK’s substantial expertise in quantum sensing to address the most promising and exciting environmental science problems, building world-leading capability in quantum sensing for environmental science challenges.

About your proposal

Proposals should:

  • be within the remit of the EPSRC quantum technology theme
  • have a specific focus in quantum sensing being applied to transform one or more areas of environmental science
  • be from an appropriate multidisciplinary team made up of researchers from both quantum technology and environmental science.

To help you put forward a compelling and transformative proposal you could seek to include:

  • industry collaboration and secondments
  • partnerships with other academic researchers, both in the UK and abroad
  • at least one co-investigator, bringing complementary experience and different skills.

If you are unsure whether your proposed research fits this remit, you can submit a remit query to the quantum technologies team using the email address provided in the ‘contact’ section.

Research in the area of quantum technologies for fundamental physics is out of the scope of this opportunity. If you have any questions about this exclusion, please email qtfp@stfc.ukri.org for more information.

We are expecting a high volume of applications to this funding opportunity. There is no limit to the number of applications from a host organisation, but as this scheme will fund only the highest quality applications, we encourage organisations to focus their efforts on an appropriate, relatively small number of high quality applications in order to improve their success rates.

Potential research areas

You can submit a proposal in any area of quantum sensing for environmental science where there is a compelling case that quantum sensing could be transformative. Application areas could include, but are not limited to:

  • quantum sensors for invisible water, including:
    • flood and drought management
    • climate change adaptation
  • quantum sensors for carbon sequestration, such as net zero carbon
  • quantum sensors for subsea mapping, oceanography, subsea navigation, such as the blue economy
  • quantum sensors for soil characterisation:
    • precision agriculture
    • sustainable soil management
    • nutrient management
  • quantum sensor network for space weather, including:
    • critical national infrastructure
    • minerals
  • ecological applications of quantum-enabled radar, such as the impact of the urban landscape on migratory bird routes.

Find out more about EPSRC’s quantum technology theme.

Funding and duration

Up to £3 million of joint EPSRC and NERC funding is available. Proposals must have a value between £350,000 and £1 million full economic cost. EPSRC and NERC will fund 80% of the full economic cost of your project.

Your project should run for 18 to 36 months. Grants must start on or before 13 February 2023.

You may request funding for:

  • staff costs
  • equipment and other items needed to carry out the project
  • costs related to impact
  • travel and subsistence
  • career development activities and training.

Equipment costs

Individual items of equipment below £10,000 (including VAT) can be included in proposals for individual research projects and will be paid at 80% full economic costing (fEC). They should be included in ‘other directly incurred costs’ within your Joint Electronic Submission system application. If VAT or import duty do not apply, a value of zero should be entered in the relevant fields.

The £10,000 threshold applies to individual items of equipment. Where items costing £10,000 and below are to be combined into one asset costing more than £10,000, these items should be included as a directly-incurred equipment cost as one item.

Find out more about the EPSRC approach to equipment funding.

Additional justification and supporting documentation are required for items over £10,000. For details, see equipment on research grants.

EPSRC will fund 80% of the final purchase price of equipment.

Funding is available for proposals of duration between 18 to 36 months.

Responsible research and innovation

EPSRC and NERC are fully committed to develop and promote responsible research and innovation that makes a positive contribution to society and the environment, not just through research outputs and outcomes but through the way in which research and innovation is conducted and facilities are managed.

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 encourage our research community to do likewise. Applicants are expected to work within the EPSRC framework for responsible innovation.

As this is a joint EPSRC and NERC funding opportunity, grant holders must also adopt responsible research practices set out in the NERC responsible business statement. Responsible research is defined as reducing harm and enhancing benefit on the environment and society through effective management of research activities and facilities. Specifically, this covers:

  • the natural environment
  • the local community
  • equality, diversity and inclusion.

You should:

  • consider responsible research and innovation in the context of your project, not just your host institution as a whole
  • take action to enhance your responsible research approach where practicable and reasonable.

If you plan to include international collaborators in your proposal, you should visit Trusted Research for 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

You must apply using the Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) system.

You can find advice on completing your application in the Je-S handbook.

We recommend you start your application early.

Your host organisation will also be able to provide advice and guidance.

Submitting your application

Before starting your application, you will need to log in or create an account in Je-S.

When applying:

  1. Select ‘documents’, then ‘new document’.
  2. Select ‘call search’.
  3. To find the opportunity, search for: Quantum Technology Call for Quantum Sensors for Environmental Sciences.

This will populate:

  • council: EPSRC
  • document type: standard proposal
  • scheme: standard
  • call/type/mode: Quantum Technology Call for Quantum Sensors for Environmental Sciences.

Once you have completed your application, make sure you ‘submit document’.

You can save completed details in Je-S at any time and return to continue your application later.

Deadline

EPSRC must receive your application by 4 October 2022 at 16:00.

You will not be able to apply after this time. Please leave enough time for your proposal to pass through your organisation’s Je-S submission route before this date.

You should ensure you are aware of and follow any internal institutional deadlines that may be in place.

EPSRC will not fund a project if it believes that there are ethical concerns that have been overlooked or not appropriately accounted for. All relevant parts of the ethical information section in Je-S must be completed.

Attachments

As well as the Je-S application form, the following mandatory documents must be submitted:

  • case for support
  • work plan
  • justification of resources
  • quotes
  • CVs
  • project partner letters of support.

You may also wish to include a proposal cover letter. This attachment is optional.

You should attach your documents as PDFs to avoid errors. They should be completed in single spaced Arial 11 font or similar-sized sans serif typeface.

Case for support

This should be no more than eight sides of A4, including:

  • two sides of A4 detailing your track record
  • six sides of A4 describing the scientific case.

Work plan

This should be no more than one side of A4.

The work plan should be illustrated with a simple diagrammatic work plan, such as a programme evaluation and review technique or Gantt chart.

Justification of resources

This should be no more than two sides of A4, giving a narrative description of the need for the resources requested.

You must ensure you justify all of the resources you request.

Quotes

This should include:

  • quotes for equipment above £25,000 (no page limit)
  • an equipment business case for any items of equipment or combined assets with a value above £138,000 (up to two sides of A4)
  • technical assessments for facilities listed as requiring one in the Je-S guidance (no page limit).

CVs

Up to two sides of A4 each for:

  • the principal investigator
  • any named postdoctoral staff
  • any researcher co-investigators (research assistants who have made a substantial contribution to the proposal and will be employed on the project for a significant amount of time)
  • visiting researchers.

Project partner letters of support

There is no page limit for this document type.

The letter or letters must outline how involving the project partner helps to enhance the quality of the specific activities proposed.

A letter must be included from each listed project partner. The letter must be signed, dated (no more than six months before the opportunity closing date) and on letter headed paper.

Proposal cover letter

This optional attachment should be no more than two sides of A4. It will only be seen internally by UK Research and Innovation.

You can use this to present any other information you feel is relevant to your application.

Read EPSRC’s advice on writing proposals.

How we will assess your application

The assessment is a two-stage process including:

  • postal peer review
  • panel meeting.

Applications will be sent out for peer review.

Proposals with unsupportive reviews will be rejected and will not be progressed to the panel.

If your proposal receives sufficient support at peer review, you will be given the opportunity to respond to peer reviewers’ comments (within a given timeframe), which will be used to support the panel discussion.

Proposals receiving sufficient support will progress to be assessed by a panel that will score the proposals against the assessment criteria and rank them.

Applicants will be informed of outcomes by early February 2023. Funded projects must start by 13 February 2023.

Assessment criteria

Our assessment criteria includes:

  • fit to opportunity (primary criterion)
  • research quality (primary criterion)
  • applicant and partnerships
  • national importance
  • resources and management.

Fit to opportunity (joint primary criterion)

Alignment of research programme to aims and objectives of the funding opportunity, particularly the demonstration of one or both of the following:

  • novel research into adventurous new applications for quantum sensing in environmental science, where there is potential to go beyond traditional sensing capabilities
  • quantum sensing applications exploring the more mature use cases in environmental science. For example, subsurface sensing of structures and water, with field deployment capabilities to support:
    • the water industry, insurance and agricultural sectors to improve flood and drought management and freshwater quality
    • use in sustainable soil management to increase soil carbon and improve nutrient management).

Research quality (joint primary criterion)

Reference should be made to:

  • the novelty and timeliness and relevance to quantum technology priorities identified in the National Quantum Technologies Programme (NQTP) strategic intent
  • the ambition, adventure and transformative aspects or potential outcomes
  • the suitability of the proposed methodology and the appropriateness of the approach to achieving impact.

Applicant and partnerships

Including the:

  • appropriateness of the applicant’s track record
  • balance of skills of the project team, including collaborators and partners.

National importance

How the research:

  • aligns with relevant UK Research and Innovation programmes and strategies, specifically NQTP and NERC Digital Strategy
  • contributes to, or helps maintain the health of other disciplines, contributes to addressing key UK societal challenges, or contributes to future UK economic success and development of emerging industry or industries.

Resources and management

Including:

  • the effectiveness of the proposed planning and management
  • whether the requested resources are appropriate and fully justified
  • whether the resources requested for activities to either increase impact, increase public engagement or support responsible innovation are appropriate and justified
  • whether the arrangements described for accessing equipment are viable, appropriate and justified, particularly with reference to any university or third-party contribution (if required).

Feedback

Feedback on full proposals will be provided in the form of reviewer comments, plus information on the panel provided on Grants on the Web shortly after the meeting.

Nominating reviewers

As part of the application process, you will be invited to nominate up to three potential reviewers who you feel have the expertise to assess your proposal. Please ensure that any nominations meet the EPSRC conflicts of interest policy.

For more information about the reviewer selection process, please see the related content links.

Guidance for reviewers

If you are a reviewer for this opportunity, please refer to:

Contact details

Get help with developing your proposal

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

Ask about this funding opportunity

Adam Oliver, Dawn Chan and Cameron Ross

Email: quantumtechnologies@epsrc.ukri.org

Include ‘quantum sensing for environmental sciences’ in the subject line.

Get help with applying through Je-S

Email

jeshelp@je-s.ukri.org

Telephone

01793 444164

Opening times

Je-S helpdesk opening times

Additional info

National Quantum Technologies Programme

The National Quantum Technologies Programme (NQTP) was established in 2014 to make the UK a global leader in the development and commercialisation of quantum technology, which is set to transform the global society and economy.

The NQTP Strategic Intent sets out the programme’s ambitions for the next 10 years, including the following overall aims:

  • stimulate market growth, unleash innovation and grow a thriving ecosystem
  • maintain the UK’s excellence in research and technology
  • build a resilient network of national assets and mutually beneficial international relationships
  • grow, attract and retain talent.

The strategic intent also further sets out the following specific objectives in relation to maintaining the UK’s excellence in research and technology:

  • continue to build on existing excellence to strengthen our global position in research, build the skills pipeline and open-up new opportunities for technological convergence, enabling work across disciplines to unlock innovation
  • as an enabling technology we will develop new quantum tools and opportunities for wider science applications.

You can download the NQTP Strategic Intent from NQTP resources.

EPSRC are a key partner within the NQTP and share the ambition to maintain the UK’s reputation as an excellent place to do research.

EPSRC forms an integral part of the international landscape in quantum technologies.

EPSRC funded a national network of four quantum technology hubs through a £120 million investment in phase one (2014 to 2019) and a £94 million investment in phase two (2019 to 2024) to harness the UK’s strengths in quantum science by turning this into strength in quantum technologies. The hubs cultivate strong links with international partners and facilitate collaboration across the breadth of the quantum technology landscape.

EPSRC continues to deliver opportunities for multidisciplinary collaboration through standard mode, lead agency opportunities and other strategic funding opportunities.

EPSRC has funded many UK partners in European research consortia through QuantERA and the Quantum Flagship under the Horizon 2020 framework. EPSRC remains a partner in phase two of the QuantERA network through UK Research and Innovation, with the intention to participate in the next funding opportunity in 2023.

The UK is a serious global challenger in the race to realise the biggest quantum innovations based on the successes of the first phase of the programme. It has achieved success:

  • by focusing on quantum technologies and not just quantum science from the outset
  • because it builds on excellent research and the existing industrial base.

This focus has set the UK apart from the international competition, but the UK needs to continue moving forward as technological developments gather pace.

NERC Digital Strategy

In May 2022, NERC published its first Digital Strategy, setting out a vision for digitally enabled environmental science for the next decade. The strategy outlines how NERC plans to empower the environmental sciences research sector to exploit technology and data advances.

To realise NERC’s vision, seven strategic themes have been developed that span the landscape of NERC’s commitment to world-class environmental science through digital research, skills and infrastructure. One theme, ‘next-generation environmental sensing systems’, details NERC’s ambition to support systems-based development of new environmental sensing technologies, integrating thinking about data use into new sensor deployment.

To achieve this aim, NERC will seek to:

  • support the development of next-generation environmental sensing and measurement systems designed for user needs, with effective connectivity and feedback between data capture and use
  • support the development of an ecosystem of digital infrastructure, embracing:
    • sensor networks
    • data capture and transmission
    • big data technology
    • modelling and visualisation
  • facilitate the development and deployment of contemporary data capture tools and technologies to address environmental science questions.

Supporting documents

Equality impact assessment (PDF, 135KB)

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