Artificial intelligence PhDs to tackle climate change

21 February 2019

A new generation of PhD students will use artificial intelligence (AI) technology to tackle climate change, improve healthcare and create new commercial opportunities, thanks to a £100 million investment from UK Research & Innovation (UKRI).

Neural network

They will be trained at 16 new Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) based at 14 UK universities, with 300 partners, including AstraZeneca, Google, Rolls-Royce and NHS trusts. Project partners are investing £78 million in cash or in-kind contributions and partner universities are committing a further £23 million, resulting in an overall investment of more than £200 million.

The investment will sustain a pathway of talent and ensure that the UK remains at the forefront of emerging technologies, supporting the commitment in the government's AI Sector Deal.

Of the 16 UKRI CDTs, two are led by NERC-supported researchers. These are:

UKRI Centre for Doctoral Training in application of artificial intelligence to the study of environmental risks (AI4ER)

Led by: Professor Simon Redfern, University of Cambridge

AI will transform our ability to understand, monitor and predict the environmental risks associated with population and economic growth, which place increasing demands on a finite planet. Climate change and ever more complex urban lifestyles are amplifying our vulnerability to floods, earthquake, and volcanic eruptions, while biodiversity plunges. Yet, AI methods applied to new and ever larger data sets, can tell us more than we have ever known or understood about the world around us. This programme will train a new generation of innovation leaders to tackle the challenges faced by societies living in the face of environmental risk. It will develop new methods to exploit AI's potential to analyse complex environmental data and thus help plan sustainable pathways to the future.

UKRI Centre for Doctoral Training in environmental intelligence: Data science and AI for sustainable futures

Led by: Professor Gavin Shaddick, University of Exeter

The vision of the CDT is to enhance society's resilience to changes in our environment through environmental intelligence (EI): the use of AI to understand complex interactions between the environment, climate, natural ecosystems, human social and economic systems, and health. This EI will increase our understanding of environmental challenges, provide evidence for informed decision-making and provide personalised information that can inform business decisions and support behavioural change.

UK Research & Innovation Chief Executive Professor Sir Mark Walport said:

Artificial intelligence is a disruptive technology in a range of sectors, enabling new products and services and transforming data science. It allows us to develop new approaches to challenges as diverse as early disease diagnosis and climate change.

To maintain its leadership in AI, the UK will need a new generation of researchers, business leaders and entrepreneurs equipped with new skills. Working with partners across academia and industry, the centres announced today will provide the foundations for these future leaders.

Business Secretary Greg Clark said:

The UK has long been a nation of innovators and today's package of AI skills and talent investment will help nurture leading UK and international talent to ensure we retain our world-beating reputation in research and development.

Artificial intelligence has great potential to drive up productivity and enhance every industry throughout our economy, from more effective disease diagnosis to building smart homes. Today's announcement is our modern Industrial Strategy in action, investing in skills and talent to drive high skilled jobs, growth and productivity across the UK.

Digital Secretary Jeremy Wright said:

The UK is not only the birthplace to the father of artificial intelligence, Alan Turing, but we are leading the way on work to ensure AI innovation has ethics at its core.

We want to keep up this momentum and cement our reputation as pioneers in AI. Working with world class academic institutions and industry, we will be able to train the next generation of top-tier AI talent and maintain the UK's reputation as a trailblazer in emerging technologies.

A full list of the UKRI Centres for Doctoral Training in artificial intelligence can be found on the UKRI website - external link.

Further information

For further information about the UKRI CDTs, contact:

James Giles-Franklin
UKRI Media Manager
07702 611906

For NERC media enquiries, contact:

Mary Goodchild
External Communications Manager
01793 411939
07710 147485


1. NERC is the UK's main agency for funding and managing research, training and knowledge exchange in the environmental sciences. Our work covers the full range of atmospheric, Earth, biological, terrestrial and aquatic science, from the deep oceans to the upper atmosphere and from the poles to the equator. We coordinate some of the world's most exciting research projects, tackling major environmental issues such as climate change, environmental influences on human health, the genetic make-up of life on Earth, and much more. NERC is part of UK Research & Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.

2. UK Research & Innovation is a new body which works in partnership with universities, research organisations, businesses, charities, and government to create the best possible environment for research and innovation to flourish. We aim to maximise the contribution of each of our component parts, working individually and collectively. We work with our many partners to benefit everyone through knowledge, talent and ideas.

Operating across the whole of the UK with a combined budget of more than £7 billion, UK Research & Innovation brings together the Arts & Humanities Research Council, the Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council, the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council, the Economic & Social Research Council, Innovate UK, the Medical Research Council, NERC, Research England, and the Science & Technology Facilities Council.