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Ulster University and Queen’s University Belfast have been awarded a major grant of £2.1million for a state-of-the-art computing facility, which will allow researchers to use high performance computing (HPC) technology to address some of society’s biggest challenges.

Named “Kelvin-2”, the project has received the funding from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) via the Engineering and Physical Research Council (EPSRC).

The facility, which will be based at Queen’s University’s McClay library, will be used to accelerate research in six specialist areas which both institutions are experts in and are economically and socially important to the UK.

These are neurotechnology and computational neuroscience, advanced chemistry, innovative drug delivery, precision medicine, metabolomics and hydrogen safety.

In neurotechnology and computational neuroscience, researchers will work on brain modelling and on AI for brain-computer interface based rehabilitation technologies. Research in heterogeneous catalysis will involve modelling chemical processes, which contribute to the production of items used in everyday life.

There will also be a focus on innovative drug delivery for improving drug based therapies and for use in diagnostics, as well as on precision medicine where automated tools will be created to analyse data and identify indicators for health conditions.

The new facility will also help to advance research in food fingerprinting, including techniques for detecting chemical contaminants in food; and hydrogen deflagration to assist with developing accident prevention and mitigation for hydrogen tanks.

Professor Damien Coyle, Research Director at Ulster’s Intelligent Systems Research Centre, and Ulster University’s principal investigator for the project, says:

“This high performance computing facility will enable researchers to conduct scale data analytics, simulation and optimisation of AI technologies to significantly enhance large-scale research productivity and quality. In collaboration with our partners at Queen’s we will focus on developing the knowledge and skills of researchers for high performance computing software development by providing hands-on technical training, coaching sessions and promoting the adoption of best practices. We expect this to a have huge impact across a range of disciplines at both universities and industry sectors across Northern Ireland.”

Professor Roger Woods from Queen’s University’s School of Electronics, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science is Queen’s University Belfast principal investigator for the project. He comments:

“As one of only seven major computer resources funded via this Tier 2 programme by EPSRC, the facility will allow Northern Ireland universities and academics to use advanced computer hardware to accelerate simulation and analytics in core research areas. There will also be opportunities to work with industry partners and educate schoolchildren with the facility, hopefully inspiring them to consider engaging with high performance computing in the future.”

Professor Paddy Nixon, Vice-Chancellor of Ulster University, commented: “We welcome the funding from the Engineering and Physical Research Council and the partnership approach to deliver impact between Ulster and Queen’s. Together, we have increased power to translate research into technologies that catalyse innovation with impact that will be felt locally, nationally and internationally across a wide range of industries.”

Professor Ian Greer, President and Vice-Chancellor of Queen’s University Belfast, said: “This funding is vital in helping our researchers to improve our global research impact. The six chosen priority areas have the potential to transform aspects of healthcare, our environment and influence how we live.”

EPSRC Executive Chair Professor Dame Lynn Gladden said: “Computation is becoming an ever-more important scientific tool, be it for analysing large data sets generated from experimental work or modelling situations which can’t be replicated in experiments.

“The High Performance Computing services announced today will give researchers access to the tools they need to make breakthroughs in a wide range of fields that impact on how we live our lives.

“These include heterogeneous catalysis – modelling chemical processes which contribute to the production of items used in everyday life - understanding the performance of materials for better batteries for electric vehicles and other energy storage applications, and using advanced computational drug design for therapeutics targeting a large variety of health conditions.”