EPSRC Network Plus: Tomorrow’s Engineering Research Challenges


Engineering is crucial to translating the frontiers of knowledge into disruptive new technologies and creative solutions which can transform the world around us, improve our lives and strengthen economic prosperity.

The Tomorrow’s Engineering Research Challenges report identified how engineers and engineering have a vital role in addressing many of the world’s most important and urgent challenges over the next 10 to 15 years. It highlighted the opportunities that will be created if the deep-rooted strengths in engineering (and science) disciplines were reimagined to transform how we approach complex systemic and interrelated challenges, and if we can enable the next generation of engineers to ‘tear up the current rulebook’ by exploring new concepts, creative ways of working and radical engineering solutions to solve them.

The challenges identified in the report exist on three levels:

  • high level priorities highlight the most pressing actions for the wider engineering community to enable researchers to address future challenges. These look to:
    • promote inclusive engineering outcomes for all with more diverse input
    • strengthen mechanisms to facilitate and fund multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research
    • re-engineer the discipline of engineering
    • convene and connect with the professional engineering community to enhance impact
    • encourage diverse, agile and impactful skills
    • inspire the next generation
  • seven cross cutting themes identify where engineering and engineers have a key role to contribute across all sectors and technologies. These themes are:
    • achieving net zero and sustainability
    • faster digital design
    • greater access and use of data
    • increasing human resilience
    • understanding complex systems
    • harnessing emerging, disruptive technologies
    • underpinning tools and techniques
  • finally, and importantly, eight Technological Challenges describe where novel approaches and creative engineering research will be vital to make progress. The challenges will:
    • ensure space research is sustainable, and design and develop technologies that will be used to explore and sustain life in both space and on Earth
    • design sustainable, integrated and equitable transportation systems
    • accelerate environmentally sustainable and socially responsible creation and utilisation of materials
    • improve whole life health and wellbeing by developing sustainable, inclusive and resilient healthcare systems and technologies
    • co-design and embed robotics and artificial intelligence into engineering while ensuring ethical use with transparent and equitable decision making
    • foster environmentally and socially responsible approaches to engineering guided by our understanding of human behaviours and needs
    • unlock the full potential of nature based engineering
    • deliver adaptable global engineering solutions that are compatible with our understanding of the planet eco system

Whilst presented in isolation, there are profound interconnections between these challenges that can be exploited through interdisciplinary collaboration and radical new approaches that involve academia, industry, policy makers and other stakeholders.


EPSRC aims to encourage this fundamental change of approach in how we address such challenges by supporting a suite of ‘Network Plus’ grants that will bring together diverse, dynamic teams from across disciplines to promote dialogue, form inclusive collaborations and build unprecedented research capabilities.

These Networks should have ‘engineering at their heart’ and facilitate knowledge exchange between disciplines whilst building and supporting connections and collaborations between academic and non-academic stakeholders. The Networks should imaginatively use the plus element to initiate feasibility studies or create small research activities that can pursue new engineering insights, techniques and approaches to address relevant challenges identified within the TERC report, whilst ensuring a level of interoperability and integration across the different levels of challenges.

For example, the focus of a TERC Network Plus could:

  • bring unique knowledge from scientific principles and mathematics to develop or advance underpinning engineering tools, methods and techniques
  • adapt, evolve and redesign current engineering approaches and processes towards more agile, resilient and sustainable solutions to tomorrow’s challenges
  • harness latest discoveries and emerging technologies to enable new disruptive solutions
  • identify, understand and resolve the complexities of the systemic challenges identified throughout the TERC report
  • exploit the interconnections between the challenges to inform new engineering knowledge, methods and products
  • lay foundations to evolve and expand current engineering domains beyond traditional boundaries, including with social and ethical perspectives

Each TERC Network Plus should be encouraged to create an inclusive research environment that:

  • establishes a ‘safe space’ to test new ways of working (to address a challenge) where failure is permitted and can be exploited to inform alternative approaches
  • embraces good practices of team research and value creation (that is, values a range of contributions from across the research community ensuring all necessary disciplines, skills, levels of experience and career paths are brought together to address specific research opportunities)
  • creates new engineering concepts, platforms and practices upon which others will build to accelerate the pace of research and innovation
  • builds on core skills and expertise developed in engineering, but has flexibility to add, remove, augment or dilute different elements (for example, humanities and social science) to enable interdisciplinarity
  • promotes inclusive engineering outcomes (for example, ensuring that potential outcomes of ensuing research are accessible of all users and free from discrimination and bias, and informed by diversity of inputs)

Whilst the above lists are suggestions, you are encouraged to tailor your Network Plus activities to the needs of the different challenges identified in the TERC report and to be innovative in your approach. You should also pay due consideration to how your proposed activities complement other active EPSRC/UKRI investments and opportunities that address aspects of the technological challenges identified in the TERC report, such as:

For more information visit the UKRI funding portal. 

Closing date: 9 Jul 2024