Heriot-Watt to train new generation of researchers in critical technologies through six new centres



Heriot-Watt University's Edinburgh campus

Heriot-Watt University is to help train a new generation of researchers in critical technologies through six new centres being announced today.

The new centres are part of an investment of more than £1 billion in 65 Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) led by universities across Britain that is being announced by the UK government’s Department for Science, Innovation and Technology.

The centres are being funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) – the main funding body for engineering and physical sciences research in the UK – and will train more than 4,000 students studying Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degrees in areas of national importance including artificial intelligence, quantum technologies, semiconductors, telecoms and engineering biology.

Heriot-Watt is leading two of the six new centres and collaborating in a further four. 

There’s a substantial and pressing demand for training doctoral-level graduates to underpin research and development for industrial decarbonisation, and also more widely, to prepare future leaders for the net zero agenda.

Professor Mercedes Maroto-Valer, Deputy Principal for Global Sustainability, Heriot-Watt University

The two centres being led by Heriot-Watt will train researchers in net zero industries and the use of photonics – the science of light – in sensing and measurement. These are called the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Green Industrial Futures and the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Use-Inspired Photonic Sensing and Metrology.

Derryck Reid, Professor and photonics expert in Heriot-Watt’s School of Engineering and Physical Sciences, said the science of photonic sensing and metrology – using light to create highly advanced detection and measurement tools – was vital to addressing challenges in sectors including transport, energy, manufacturing, medicine, food production and security – but was hampered by a lack of specialist researchers.

“Photonics is the fifth most productive manufacturing sector in the UK and generates £14.5 billion annually across 1,200 firms with 76,000 staff,” Professor Reid said. “Photonic sensing and metrology is part of this sector that’s vital to our economy. But there aren’t enough professional-level researchers who understand this field and also have high-level business, management and communication skills.

“Our new Centre for Doctoral Training will train these specialists to help the sector continue advancing products and services that have far-reaching impacts on our society.”

Real world applications for photonic sensing and metrology include remote wind turbine monitoring, precision measurement in manufacturing and tools to measure nutrients and potential contaminants in food production.

The new EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Use-Inspired Photonic Sensing and Metrology is a collaboration with six other universities, including the University of Huddersfield, which is a centre of excellence in optical metrology. The centre represents a continuation of Heriot-Watt’s doctoral training in photonics, making it one of the UK’s longest-running doctoral centres.

The EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Green Industrial Futures being led by Heriot-Watt is a collaboration with four of the UK's leading institutions in industrial decarbonisation – Heriot-Watt University, Imperial College London, University of Bath and University of Sheffield.

The partners will deliver a cohort of 100 PhD graduates trained in environmental sustainability and the transition to clean energy.

Professor Mercedes Maroto-Valer, Deputy Principal for Global Sustainability at Heriot-Watt University and Director of the Industrial Decarbonisation Research and Innovation Centre, said: “There’s a substantial and pressing demand for training doctoral-level graduates to underpin research and development for industrial decarbonisation, and also more widely, to prepare future leaders for the net zero agenda.

“Our Centre for Doctoral Training will deliver this next generation of global leaders, through a world-leading research and training programme than spans multiple research disciplines. This will systematically bring together key technology solutions to fully decarbonise industry and address national and global priorities.”

Research projects at the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Green Industrial Futures will be “challenging and original,” Professor Maroto-Valer added, and will include a focus on hydrogen and low-carbon fuels; carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS); CO2 removal and resource and energy efficiency. Research projects will also address the key policy, social and environmental considerations to integrate and deploy these technologies.

The Industrial Decarbonisation Research and Innovation Centre is a UK research and innovation hub for industrial decarbonisation. It is based virtually at Heriot-Watt and was launched in 2021 with  more than 140 partners from industry, research organisations, trade organisations, policy makers and government bodies.

Heriot-Watt University is co-leading a third EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in collaboration with the Universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh to bring together researchers in fundamental mathematics and physics. The EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Algebra, Geometry and Quantum Fields (AGQ) CDT is the UK’s first Centre for Doctoral Training to offer specific training in algebra, geometry, topology and mathematical physics.

Multidisciplinary research in these fields is driving developments in areas including quantum computing, machine learning, information security and cryptography.

Professor Richard Szabo, of Heriot-Watt's School of Mathematical and Computer Sciences, is the coordinator of industrial engagement for the CDT. He said: “Our graduates will be equipped with the skills needed to translate mathematics into practical tools with real-world applicability and will be ready to become leaders in their chosen field.”

Heriot-Watt is also a partner in three further EPSRC Centres for Doctoral Training: the EPSRC and MOD CDT in Sensing, Processing, and AI for Defence and Security (SPADS), led by the University of Edinburgh with Dr Yoann Altmann at Heriot-Watt; the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Quantum Informatics led by University of Edinburgh with Professor Erika Andersson at Heriot-Watt – and the EPSRC CDT in Applied Quantum Technologies, led by University of Strathclyde with Professor Alessandro Fedrizzi at Heriot-Watt.

The announcement of these six EPSRC Centres for Doctoral Training follows the recent news of a further two CDTs being led by Heriot-Watt University: the UKRI AI CDT in Dependable and Deployable Artificial Intelligence for Robotics, led by Professor Ron Petrick and the NERC Centre for Ecologically Relevant Multiple Stressor Effects on Wildlife (ECOWILD), led by Dr Frances Orton.

Overall, the eight CDTs are expected to help train almost 600 PhD students in technologies that are critical to industry, the economy and sustainability.

Steve McLaughlin, Deputy Principal of Research and Impact at Heriot-Watt University, said: “This investment represents a significant uplift in Doctoral Training programmes for Heriot-Watt University and recognises our research strengths in critical technologies including photonics, green technologies and quantum applications. We’re involved in more than 10% of the EPSRC-funded CDTs which, for an institution of our scale, is remarkable.

“The CDTs focus on key technological areas that will deliver for the UK economy. They also attract significant industry support in terms of investment and engagement in the training of the next generation of researchers. Our integrated approach to business and enterprise partnership working was key to this success, with more than 170 unique industry organisations agreeing to support the CDTs and fully funded studentships.”

EPSRC is part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) – the UK’s national funding agency for investing in science and research. The investment being announced includes £500 million from UKRI and the Ministry of Defence, plus a further £590 million from universities and business partners.

Professor Charlotte Deane, EPSRC Executive Chair, said: “The Centres for Doctoral Training announced today will help to prepare the next generation of researchers, specialists and industry experts across a wide range of sectors and industries.

“Spanning locations across the UK and a wide range of disciplines, the new centres are a vivid illustration of the UK’s depth of expertise and potential, which will help us to tackle large-scale, complex challenges and benefit society and the economy.

"The high calibre of both the new centres and applicants is a testament to the abundance of research excellence across the UK, and EPSRC’s role as part of UKRI is to invest in this excellence to advance knowledge and deliver a sustainable, resilient and prosperous nation.”


Victoria Masterson