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Supercomputer to benefit from Hammond’s £200m science package

The Government is investing more money on supercomputing, genomics and lasers to help the UK stay ahead in technology and science.

Philip Hammond has unveiled funding for science projects (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Philip Hammond has unveiled funding for science projects (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

A £200 million package of funding for science projects including a supercomputer that “might even be able to come up with a solution to the (Brexit) backstop” has been announced in the Chancellor’s Spring Statement.

Philip Hammond said that remaining at the forefront of the technology revolution was a “key pillar” of the Government’s strategy.

I am told that with the right algorithms it might even be able to come up with a solution to the backstop. Philip Hammond

As part of that commitment, the Government is investing £79 million in a powerful new supercomputer called Archer 2, to be housed at the University of Edinburgh.

It will be five times faster than the current supercomputer generation and capable of carrying out 10 thousand trillion calculations per second.

Addressing MPs, Mr Hammond quipped: “I am told that with the right algorithms it might even be able to come up with a solution to the backstop.”

A further £45 million from the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund (NPIF) would go to Europe’s flagship life sciences laboratory, the European Bioinformatics Institute, based at Hinxton, Cambridgeshire.

The institute, located on the Wellcome Trust Genome Campus, supplies free information to scientists from DNA and protein databases.

Investing in the institute would ensure “Britain’s continued lead in genomics research”, said Mr Hammond.

An £81 million investment in an Extreme Photonics Centre in Oxfordshire to develop new types of lasers provided more joke material for the Chancellor.

“Literally the cutting edge of technology, Mr Speaker,” he said, to a chorus of groans.

Another move involved relaxing restrictions on scientists from abroad wanting to come to the UK to carry out their work.

Mr Hammond said that from autumn PhD-level roles would be “completely exempt” from visa caps.

Dr Sarah Main, executive director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE), said: “Changes to visa regulations announced today are great news for researchers across the country. CaSE has long called for changes to these rules that have, in the past, been tremendously damaging for individual researchers and research projects.”

However she said the Spring Statement did not make substantial progress towards the Government’s pledge to increase R&D investment to 2.4% of GDP by 2027.

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