A decade long effort by Dr Anneke Lubben, Director of Research Infrastructure and Facilities, has paid off with the announcement of £49M of funding towards a UK-wide hub and spoke infrastructure in mass spectrometry.

The capital funding from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) for the Critical Mass UK (C-MASS) project will create the world’s most integrated national mass spectrometry infrastructure.

Dr Lubben was part of a small team of UK mass-spectrometry leaders who galvanised the whole community to evolve and refine the proposal through town hall meetings and discussions with international experts, funders, industrial partners, and government, including several Chief Scientific Advisors. This ten year-long effort has culminated in the successful proposal which has already gained support from more than 40 Higher Education Institutes, 35 industrial partners and numerous research institutes.

She said: “I am delighted that UKRI’s Infrastructure Fund has approved £49M for Critical Mass UK, harnessing recent technological advances to rapidly accelerate research in a huge range of areas through coordination of effort, technology and data.

“This success is the culmination of 10 years of effort from a focussed team of UK and international academic and industry colleagues, working with the UK mass spectrometry community to deliver ambitious infrastructure to integrate and advance the UK’s capabilities in mass spectrometry.

“I am thrilled to have been a part of getting it this far and can’t wait to see the vision being realised. I will certainly be popping a cork or two to celebrate!”

The C-MASS project will create a hub-and-spoke model to enable teams of scientists working across research institutions to work collaboratively on challenges of national importance. Research challenges will be co-ordinated by a national hub with responsibility for signposting researchers, coordinating collaborative activities, and providing analysis pipelines to unlock data in existing repositories. The location of the hub will be determined by an open competition. This national coordination will accelerate advances and allow researchers to combine datasets in ways previously unimaginable.

Applications may include deepening understanding of the molecular structures and functions of new materials for quantum technologies, semiconductors, batteries, catalysts, medicines and associated devices. Together with significant advances in sensitivity, the new capabilities will be able to precisely identify and locate compounds in tissues, and even single cells, to study the structures of emerging pathogens, discover new targets for medicine, and improve the development of drugs and drug delivery.

Adam Staines, Infrastructure Portfolio Director at UKRI, said: “Mass spectrometry is a fundamental tool which delivers to many research disciplines and industrial users. C-MASS will be a very important resource for the UK, enabling researchers to share infrastructure, hardware, expertise, data and ways of working in mass spectrometry. We are pleased the UKRI Infrastructure Fund can support C-MASS as one of the new projects in our growing portfolio of UKRI National Infrastructures.”

Many areas of research at the University of Bath are dependent on mass spectrometry. Research areas range from the monitoring of air quality in buildings by our Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering, and detection of emerging pollutants in river water in our Department of Chemistry, to detection of protein modifications in disease in our Department of Life Sciences. Most mass spectrometry provision at Bath is provided through our Core Research Facilities, with cutting-edge technology and expertise to unlock the potential of this powerful tool. This new investment in a national UK infrastructure in mass spectrometry will not only facilitate access to further mass spectrometry tools, data and expertise, but will also ensure that our researchers are fully embedded within national efforts to respond to challenges of national importance.

Mass spectrometry was invented in the UK in 1912 by Francis Aston and JJ Thompson, and is an essential analytical tool in many research areas. All babies born in the UK are screened for rare metabolic disorders using a blood spot from their heel which is analysed using mass spectrometers in hospitals. All new drugs are tested throughout their development cycle using mass spectrometry, checking that they contain the right chemicals and structures, and aren’t contaminated. Mass spectrometers provide data on the chemicals in our rivers, soils and air, monitoring for harmful contaminants. Mass spectrometers are even launched into space to test the atmosphere and rocks on other planets and look for life on Mars.

The technique has recently undergone a revolution with capacity and sensitivity increasing 50-fold, enabling a step-change in impact. C-MASS infrastructure will enable these new technologies to be available and used to maximum effect by the wider UK research base.