The University of Hertfordshire has been awarded £13.5million – its biggest ever research grant – to expand and progress its sector-leading, research-led development of biodetection technologies against harmful, airborne pathogens.  


Research England, as part of their Expanding Excellence in England Fund – known as E3 – announced that Herts were one of 18 research bids to have successfully secured investment from their £156 million pot aimed at expanding “small but outstanding research units.” 

The funding, awarded to the University of Hertfordshire in collaboration with the universities of Cranfield, Leeds and Manchester, will run for five years and be used to create the ‘Future Biodetection Technologies Hub’. The hub will address the technological leaps required to build safer, healthier, more resilient environments against bioaerosols – airborne particles of a biological origin including bacteria, viruses, fungi, pollen and toxins - and deepen the understanding of their impact on health, security and climate change. 

Capacity for innovation

University of Hertfordshire Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research and Enterprise, Professor Wendy Wills, said:  “The University of Hertfordshire is committed to the effective translation of its excellent and innovative research. This significant investment from Research England will enable us to expand our capabilities, and support our talented academics, students and partners, to lead on innovation that will address some of the most pressing issues of our time.   

“Coming just ahead of the opening of our new School of Physics, Engineering and Computer Science, a multi-million-pound building equipped with state-of-the-art facilities, including our new Wolfson Centre for Biodetection and Instrumentation Research, the funding will catapult our capacity for innovation in this strategically important area –I am now excited to see what discoveries Herts researchers develop next.” 

Early detection

Ian Johnston, Professor of Microfluidics and Biodetection at the University of Hertfordshire who led on the grant application, said:  “There is an urgent requirement to develop technology for the early detection of biological hazards across numerous real-world applications impacting human, animal and plant health, as well as to develop instrumentation that enhances our understanding of atmospheric processes associated with climate change and its impacts. 

“Our vision is to lead the innovation required to ensure that the UK is resilient to the broad spectrum of biological threats, to positively impact global health, environmental, economic and security outcomes.  

“We’re thrilled that Research England share and support this vision and are hugely grateful for such a generous grant to enable us, alongside our valued university partners, to create the Future Biodetection Technologies Hub that will lead this mission.” 

Research units

The E3 fund supports small and excellent research units and departments in higher education providers across England to expand and increase their activity where they have potential to grow. From Coastal and Rural Health Research to Mathematics for AI, and Digital Innovations in Health and Social Care to Blended Realities, Research England is investing in a diverse range of units across disciplines to help them build the capacity and quality of their research.  

Dr Steven Hill, Director of Research at Research England, said:  “We have invested in research units in universities right across England. This will diversify the regional spread of research disciplines to support the sustained enhancement of research capacity across England, and enhance the skills base, build and diversify talent and bring disciplines together to develop new skillsets and “future leaders” in areas of research excellence where there is untapped potential. 

“Our investment will also help to reinforce the contribution of HEPs to their region through strategic local partnerships, focusing on sharing resources and infrastructure and generating local impact, backed by robust institutional leadership. 

“We’re excited to see how these units develop over the next five years.”