Physical Sciences priority areas

For general enquiries please contact: Ian Hickman

  • Design and discovery of materials, molecules and systems:
  • Theoretical and computational physical sciences:
  • Transforming understanding of physical and chemical phenomena and processes:
  • New physical sciences for biology and medicine:
  • New physical sciences for energy:
  • New ways of working in the physical sciences:
  • Materials for Energy:
  • Biological Chemistry and Chemical Biology:
  • Biophysics and Soft Matter:
  • Surface Science:

New and Novel Approaches to the Design and Discovery of Materials and Molecules (Early Career fellowships only)

Through this fellowship priority area EPSRC aims to encourage research looking to develop creative new approaches to the design and discovery of novel structures, molecules and materials with specific functionality, unique properties, or desired performance in mind. Included within this area are the design and synthesis of novel organic, organometallic, and inorganic structures. Research may focus on the discovery of new synthetic methods, development of innovative reagents or catalysts, development of material deposition/growth techniques, and modification of molecules and materials. Approaches are likely to be highly novel, and are expected to be potentially transformative for the delivery of new structures, molecules and materials more quickly, efficiently and sustainably.

Proposals can be purely experimental in approach, or may combine experimental with theoretical and computational elements, but applicants wishing to focus on computational/theoretical technique development or purely computational studies of properties should consider other Physical Science fellowship priority areas. Engagement with contiguous research fields is desirable, and cross-fertilisation of ideas from other disciplines is encouraged. Therefore in addition to the main focus being on chemistry, physics and material science, we envisage the involvement of disciplines as diverse as ICT, engineering, mathematics, medicine and biotechnology to encourage creativity and adventure in developing new synthetic methods. Applicants should also consider the interests and role of end users in the development of their research ideas, and how they should engage with relevant end users on pathways to application.

Applicants to this priority area should consider how their research has the potential to address the many ambitions described in EPSRC Outcomes Framework over the immediate to long-term. Access to novel structures, molecules and materials underpins many goals within Productive, Resilient, Healthy and Connected Nation. Applicants should consider how their research aligns to and/or capitalises on strengths within the wider national landscape, e.g. the Henry Royce Institute, the Francis Crick Institute as well as the capabilities of national facilities such as Diamond Light Source.

Theoretical and Computational Physical Sciences (Early Career fellowships only)

Through this fellowship priority area EPSRC aims to encourage leading theoretical and computational researchers within the remit of EPSRC's Physical Sciences theme to gain research independence at an early stage in their career. This area brings together theoretical and computational chemistry, physics and materials research which can have common approaches but are often separated by traditional discipline boundaries. Through the introduction of this area, EPSRC aims to drive the development of innovative new theoretical and computational approaches to physical science research. EPSRC encourages applicants to take advantage of advances in mathematical and computer science techniques or to apply existing techniques to new problems.

This priority area includes new and novel computational and theoretical work within the remit of EPSRC's Physical Science theme. This could include, but is not limited to, analytical and numerical approaches, development of new software for use in fundamental physical science research, and big data/artificial intelligence approaches to physical science research. All research should have the development of new theoretical and computational methods for the discovery of new physical science knowledge, or the development of new approaches, as its primary objective. We encourage theoretical and computational researchers to engage and collaborate with experimental and/or applied researchers, but this priority area should not be used as a route for funding large experimental projects. Funds for experimental research undertaken for validation are admissible in this priority area.

Applicants to this priority area should consider how the proposed activities of their fellowship align to EPSRC's outcomes framework, particularly elements of the Productive and Connected Nation outcomes. Applicants should also consider EPSRC's policy framework on research data and the policies of the EPSRC supported Software Sustainability Institute.

Transforming Understanding of Physical and Chemical Phenomena and Processes (Early Career fellowships only)

Through this fellowship priority area EPSRC aims to encourage the development of approaches that can elicit new understanding of physical and chemical phenomena and processes. This could include the development of new tools and techniques, the application of techniques from other disciplines, or the transformative characterisation of new materials. The elucidation of the previously inaccessible information thus obtained should have the potential to have a major impact on the nature of the research that can be conducted.

This priority area includes research which will cause a step change in our understanding of physical or chemical behaviour. Such research may cover a diverse range of topics including: improving the fundamental understanding of electron behaviour within molecules or solids, determining new reaction mechanisms and synthetic processes through the identification of previously unknown reaction intermediates, and transforming understanding of molecular interactions or material behaviour through structural and chemical characterisation. New approaches employed could include (but are not limited to) developing the ability to make in situ measurements, or to allow molecular reactions to be studied on single molecules.

Applicants should consider how the research within their fellowship can have an accelerated pathway to impact through the engagement of end users throughout their fellowship. Furthermore, applicants to this priority area are expected to demonstrate how their research will contribute to the EPSRC prosperity outcomes framework such as the Healthy Nation, Connected Nation or Productive Nation and the ambitions contained within these. They should also consider the relevance of the research to the challenge areas set out in the Industrial Strategy such as bioscience and biotechnology, and manufacturing process and materials of the future.

New Physical Sciences for Biology and Medicine (Early Career fellowships only)

Through this fellowship priority area EPSRC aims to encourage early career physical sciences researchers to develop their careers and become leaders in interdisciplinary research that brings novel physical sciences to bear on challenges in the health and life sciences.

This priority area includes fundamental physical sciences innovations and developments, in interdisciplinary areas such as (but not limited to) biophysics, biological physics, chemical biology and biological chemistry, and materials science. All applicants to this priority area should have a clear vision of the area of long term impact for their research in the health and life sciences, whether this impact is on a health or disease challenge, or on advancing technologies and approaches for basic biomedical science. Research which primarily focusses on the development of diagnostic or therapeutic technologies, or on advancing biological or biomedical understanding, lies within other priority areas across the research councils.

All applicants should demonstrate that they have considered the pathway from novel fundamental physical sciences research to impact, including clinical or laboratory application, through the development of collaborations with end users from other research communities or industrial sectors.

This area is directly related to the cross council initiative Technology Touching Life, and applicants should consider how their research contributes to EPSRC's Healthy Nation Outcome. Applicants may find the Healthcare Technologies Impact and Translation Toolkit useful in the preparation of their application.

New Physical Sciences for Energy (Early Career fellowships only)

Through this fellowship priority area EPSRC aims to draw in ambitious new ways that novel physical sciences research approaches could ultimately have a transformative impact on the Energy sector. It aims to inspire collaborative research between Physical Sciences research areas, with future relevance to Energy. This will enable greater diversity in the area and promoting interdisciplinary networks linking the two fields together.

This priority area includes research that involves novel chemistry, physics or materials approaches that can be pulled through to demonstrate clear potential applications in the energy sector, resulting in a major step change for Energy. Examples of relevant areas of research include (but are not limited to) re-cycling/re-use and sustainable innovations, critical elements and strategic materials, application of theoretical and computational methods, electrochemistry, surface science and analytical science techniques that could offer new and unique insights into the fundamental physical science processes within energy applications.

Applicants to this priority area should demonstrate inventive ways in which their research ideas could have medium to longer term impact in the energy sector. This includes establishing appropriate collaborations to their research or through Pathways to Impact activities, in order to build links with the relevant end users of the research outputs. Applicants should consider the recent prioritisation of 'smart flexible and clean energy technologies' as a focus challenge area within the Government's Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. The fellowship area would feed into Resilient Nation and Productive Nation of the EPSRC Outcomes Framework, in particular the ambition to 'Achieve energy security and efficiency' and 'Introducing the next generation of innovative & disruptive technologies'

New Ways of Working in the Physical Sciences (Early Career fellowships only)

Through this fellowship priority area EPSRC aims to support researchers who wish to challenge the traditional approaches used to conduct research in their area of chemistry, material science, or physics research. This should include combining/changing approaches or methodologies, bringing them in from other fields or disciplines, or making previously unforeseen connections between disparate research ideas.

This priority area will support high risk, transformative research agendas that demonstrate the potential to drive cultural innovation in physical sciences. Applicants to this area should consider the potential of their research, to create paradigm shifts within and between disciplines, create new fields of research, and/or change the direction of travel for whole areas.

Applicants to this priority area should clearly demonstrate the benefits of undertaking such a fellowship and approaching it in this manner. As well as delivering high quality, novel research outputs, we expect fellowships of this type to be highly influential on the research styles, approaches, and/or methods of the relevant scientific field(s). As a fellow you will be expected to be able to provide the community leadership required to encourage adoption of these. Taking into account the cultural and high-risk nature of such a fellowship we would expect that the work plan would deviate from that of a traditional research fellowship in order to support these aspects.

Biophysics and Soft Matter (Established Career fellowships only)

Through this fellowship priority area EPSRC aims to encourage research leaders in biophysics and soft matter physics to push the boundaries of research in this highly interdisciplinary area.

Established career fellows in this area are expected to undertake ambitious new research at the boundaries between chemistry, physics, and life sciences. Relevant research may be focussed on bringing together quantitative, experimental and theoretical approaches from physics with biological questions and hypotheses, to study problems at and across a range of biological length scales and to understand biological systems. Alternatively, it may be focussed on the investigation of the structure, self-assembly, kinetics and properties of liquids, colloids, particles, formulations, gels, foams, sprays, soft solids and interfaces.

Applicants to this priority area should consider the interdisciplinary aspects of their fellowship, particularly how they will build links with other relevant research communities (e.g. biology, medicine, polymer science, materials science, chemical engineering), and how they will facilitate the pull through from fundamental physical sciences to application. Input from end users and/or other research communities is particularly encouraged.

It is expected that applicants will consider how their fellowship might contribute toward delivering the biophysics and soft matter physics research area strategy, as well as how it might deliver against priorities within the EPSRC outcomes framework, for example the Productive Nation and/or Healthy Nation.

Established Career Fellows in Biophysics and Soft Matter Physics are expected to advocate for and contribute towards the development of the UK research community in this area. For biophysics this includes contributing toward a more cohesive interdisciplinary community which will deliver collaborative, problem-focused experimental and theoretical research at the interface with biology and medicine.

Materials for Energy Applications (Established Career fellowships only)

Through this fellowship priority area EPSRC aims to encourage the creation of a more integrated community of researchers that enable the acceleration of discovery, characterisation and integration of novel materials with the potential to make a step change in future energy applications in the transition to a low carbon economy.

The focus of established career fellowship applications in this area should predominately be on development of novel materials with the potential for energy applications. This priority area only includes research into materials for current and future energy technologies. Specific application areas for new materials include advanced batteries for electrical vehicles and broader energy storage solutions, solar cells, low energy semiconductor materials, catalysts for the conversion and capture of CO2. It does not include technology development, which is covered in related priority areas.

Applicants to this priority area should consider the importance of materials for energy applications to external bodies such as the AMLC (Advanced Materials Leadership Council) and the Henry Royce Institute. They should also consider the ambition of EPSRC to support the growth of this area and alignment with wider strategic investments within the RCUK Energy Portfolio. It is expected that this fellowship area would feed into Resilient Nation of the EPSRC Outcomes Framework, in particular the ambition to 'Achieve energy security and efficiency'. Applicants should consider the recent prioritisation of 'smart flexible and clean energy technologies' as a focus challenge area within the Government's Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. An established leader in this area should be able to enhance cohesion within the community and actively engage with other disciplines in the Energy sector to promote the impact the research area can have.

Surface Science (Established Career fellowships only)

Through this fellowship priority area EPSRC aims to facilitate the development of strong leadership within the diverse surface science community to encourage the creation of a cohesive, integrated community of researchers. As an Established Career fellow, you will be expected to deliver transformative fundamental research in this area, helping to ensure a strong core research capability for the future.

The focus of fellowships within this area should predominantly be in the development and use of new, highly specialised instrumentation and techniques to explore fundamental questions in chemistry and physics. This priority area includes the development of innovative techniques and new approaches to understand the structure, processes, dynamics and functionality of surfaces and interfaces, and how these determine chemical and physical properties. Research focussing primarily on the use of common surface analytical techniques to examine novel surfaces or interfaces for a range of applications (for example materials development, catalysis, or tribology) is covered elsewhere within EPSRC. Surface Science research has the potential to make a significant contribution to research challenges across a number of sectors important to the UK economy, such as manufacturing, healthcare technologies, energy and transport. Applicants to this fellowship area should consider how they will facilitate the pull through from underpinning fundamental physical sciences into relevant research communities and/or end users. Applicants should also consider how their fellowship may contribute to the outcomes framework, for example the Productive and Healthy Nation outcomes.

Established Career Fellows in this area should be able to enhance cohesion within the Surface Science community and demonstrate active engagement with other researchers across other disciplines and research challenges to promote the impact of Surface Science research.

Chemical Biology and Biological Chemistry (Established Career fellowships only)

Through this fellowship priority area EPSRC aims to encourage new physical sciences innovation in Chemical Biology and Biological Chemistry, and has been put in place to support individuals pursuing adventurous research in this highly interdisciplinary area. However, as an Established Career fellow you will also be expected to provide leadership for the community, contributing to the development and maintenance of a strong core research capability for this area within the UK.

This priority area includes the development of novel chemical tools and techniques for biological systems, as well as biologically inspired chemistry. Fellowship applications must primarily focus on novel chemical and physical approaches, as opposed to the application of known chemical techniques and methodologies to life science fields such as cell or structural biology research. Applicants are encouraged to use the remit query service if they are unsure whether the research falls predominantly within EPSRC, BBSRC, or MRC remit.

Chemical Biology and Biological Chemistry research has the potential to impact on a number of areas across disciplinary interfaces, and applicants to this priority area should consider how their fellowship and the research within it will realise impacts on research communities and/or end users beyond the physical sciences, as recognised in the cross council Technology Touching Life initiative. Potential areas of impact include, but are not limited to: synthetic biology, bioenergy, drug discovery and development, personal care, and life science disciplines. Applicants should consider how their Pathways to Impact plans will be integral to the research project; input from end users and/or other research communities in the development and planning of the research is particularly encouraged. Finally, it is expected that applicants will consider how their fellowship might contribute toward the realisation of challenges articulated in the Outcomes Framework within EPSRC's Delivery Plan, for example the Healthy Nation and Resilient Nation.