The UK government has backed 100 scientists with a total of £109 million for basic research into global issues such as food supply, cancer diagnosis and dementia treatment.

This so-called future leaders programme is part of the government’s commitment to increase public research spending to 2.4% of GDP by 2027. Over three years and six funding rounds, the programme will offer a total of £900 million, shared among up to 550 fellows. Scientists from academia and industry can apply for grants from £400,000 to £1.5 million running for four to seven years. The emphasis is on blue skies research that might one day be turned into tangible products or services.

Projects range from astronomy to psychology, but the latest funding round has also seen a number of chemical scientists receive fellowships. For example, Rianne Lord from the University of East Anglia will investigate new vanadium compounds to treat cancer, while Jennifer Garden at the University of Edinburgh will use the grant to study catalysts that can turn plastic waste into useful materials. On the business side, Zoe Tolkien from Advanced Furnace Technology will work on tantalum carbide coatings in the manufacture of silicon carbide electronic materials, and Catagen’s Jonathan Stewart hopes to improve systems that reduce exhaust emissions.

Proposals for the fifth funding round are currently under review, with final decisions expected in April 2021, while the sixth round is open for applications until later this year.