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Science projects to benefit from £290m investment

The Government has announced details of how a £290 million investment will benefit a group of cutting edge science projects.

In a speech at the University of Manchester’s Jodrell Bank Observatory, David Willetts, the Minister for Universities and Science, named three development projects which stand to benefit from a boost to science capital spending announced last year.

The Government will contribute £165 million to the development of the European Spallation Source – a research facility in Lund, Sweden, which will house the world’s most powerful neutron microscope.

The project aims to allow researchers to study everyday materials – such as plastics and proteins – in far greater detail than has been possible to date. Possible applications include developing faster planes, better computer chips and new drugs. The UK has been a partner in the international project since 2011, and the facility is expected to be fully operational in 2020.

Another £100 million will be invested in the Square Kilometre Array –which is intended to be the largest and most sensitive radio telescope in the world. This project aims to create a telescope made up of around 4,000 dishes in Australia and South Africa, which will be able to survey the whole sky more than ten thousand times faster than ever before. The international project is being led in the UK by the Universities of Manchester, Oxford and Cambridge and the Science and Technology Facilities Council.

Finally, the Government will contribute £25 million to the European Space Agency’s Planetary Transits and Oscillations of stars (PLATO) mission. PLATO is a spacecraft made up of 34 telescopes which would work together with the aim of finding thousands of planets beyond our Solar System. Professor Don Pollacco, of the University of Warwick, is the science coordinator for the mission, and the spacecraft is due to be launched in 2024 on the M3 launch of ESA’s Cosmic Vision programme.

The Government said the investment would drive growth and create jobs in the UK's science sector, and claimed it would create £150 million for the economy every year.

David Willetts said: “Investment in science is a crucial part of this government’s long-term economic plan. It’s about investing in our future, helping grow new industries and create more jobs – and that will mean more financial security for people across the country.”

The funding is part of the £500 million boost to science capital spending announced by George Osborne last year – which will bring the science capital total to £1.1 billion per year until 2020.