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UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and Wellcome have announced a £18 million investment for nine multidisciplinary research projects through the Physics of Life Strategic Priorities Fund. Two of these projects are co-led by academics in MPLS departments.

Artists' impressions of an early stage embryo and a brain

'Physics of Life' is a unique approach harnessing physics approaches to tackle grand challenges in the life sciences. The aim is to transform our understanding of life by bringing together innovative approaches in life sciences and physics; projects have been selected based on their potential to generate new knowledge and to have a broad range of applications.

The projects announced include:


Optimising light-tissue interaction to enable multiscale imaging of neuronal dynamics deep within the neocortex

Led by: Professor Martin Booth from the Department of Engineering Science, and Professor Angus Silver of University College London.

Award: £2.4 million

The neocortex is the part of the brain that plays a central role in allowing us to learn new motor skills, such as typing, driving a car or playing tennis.

Despite its importance in the process of learning, attempts to find out exactly how it helps us to improve task performance during learning is hampered by an inability to image activity within the neocortex.

The project will bring together physicists, microscope developers and neuroscientists to develop new ways to find out how this important area of our brain functions.

Read more about Professor Martin Booth's project


Early-stage Embryo as an Active Self-tuning Soft Material

Led by: Professor Julia Yeomans from the Department of Physics, Professor Kees Weijer and Dr Rastko Sknepnek from the University of Dundee, and Professor Guillaume Charras from UCL.

Award: £1.7 million

Gastrulation is an essential process during embryonic development that establishes the basic three-dimensional tissue organisation of the body plan.

In this project a combination of advanced imaging and modelling will be used to investigate the key biophysical mechanisms. These control the spectacular way in which thousands of dividing and differentiating cells self-organise to form an embryo.

This will improve our ability to prevent and treat the many congenital diseases such as heart defects and spinal conditions. These are caused by errors during gastrulation and is relevant to explaining how complex life has evolved on Earth.

Read more about Professor Yeomans' project


See the full list of projects funded