The Leverhulme Trust Board has announced the first four winners of its new Leverhulme Research Centre awards. Each centre, to be led by a named Director, will be funded for up to £10 million over 10 years, to support fundamental cross-disciplinary research across the whole range of the sciences, humanities and social sciences.
The competition was designed to encourage original research which would establish or reshape a significant field of study and transform our understanding of an important topic in contemporary societies. The Trust encourages research which is fundamental or curiosity-driven, multi-disciplinary, and often higher risk. Applicants were therefore invited to be bold in compiling their bids. In line with the Trust’s responsive-mode of operation the choice of research topic was left deliberately open. The quality of the bids was exceptionally high and the task of selecting these four was correspondingly challenging. The four new research centres are detailed below.
Professor Gordon Marshall, Director of the Trust, said: ‘The new Leverhulme Trust Centres are a major investment in discovery-led research at a time when funding for scholarly inquiry is under great pressure. They are our vote-of-confidence in the quality of the UK’s outstanding researchers at every level. Each Centre will embrace multi-disciplinary and international collaborations designed to bring the highest calibre of expertise to bear on these exciting areas of inquiry. We look forward to working with our new award holders over the coming years as they explore these new research agendas.’
The Leverhulme Centres are:
The Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence (Professor Huw Price, University of Cambridge) will develop a new interdisciplinary research field on the long-term impacts of artificial intelligence. Technology and science seem to be converging, from several directions, on the possibility of human-level intelligence in non-biological systems. Some researchers predict this may happen well within this century. Unconstrained by the metabolic and size limits of the human brain, such machines might be more intelligent than we are. With partners at Oxford University, Imperial College, and UC Berkeley, the Centre will study the implications for humanity of this potentially epoch-making development.
The Leverhulme Centre for Forensic Science (Professor Sue Black, University of Dundee) will disrupt the current inertia within the forensic science ecosystem and create a pathway for innovation, enterprise and enlightened engagement at national, international and global levels. Forensic science is a highly valued component of the criminal justice system but it is widely recognised to be in crisis. Working across the forensic science and judicial landscapes and communities, this research centre will address existing research gaps in a range of evidence types, unlock enterprise potential with industry to encourage emerging opportunities and restore public and judicial confidence in forensic science.
The Leverhulme Centre for Functional Materials Design (Professor Andrew Cooper, University of Liverpool) will drive a design revolution for functional materials at the atomic scale by fusing chemical knowledge with state-of-the-art computer science. Control over function in materials at the atomic level can change our lives. Clean energy and carbon emissions are just two problems that might be solved by new materials with step-change properties. The computational design of completely new materials from the ‘atoms up’ is currently impossible. To tackle this, the Centre will integrate, in a physical hub, an interdisciplinary blend of experts in chemical synthesis, physics, computer science, robotics, engineering, and management and social science research.
The Leverhulme Centre for Climate Change Mitigation (Professor David Beerling, University of Sheffield) will address one the greatest challenges facing humanity in the twenty-first century: global climate change. The vision is to develop and assess the role of enhanced rock weathering as a means of safely removing large amounts of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to cool the planet while also mitigating ocean acidification. The plan is to deliver these aims through Earth system modelling, lab-based controlled environment experimental investigations and large-scale field studies, embedded with social science analyses of sustainability and public engagement.