University partnership secures UKRI Funding for Transformative Centre for Doctoral Training

Microchips, AI, circuitboard

The University of Strathclyde is part of a project that has secured £10.6 million in funding from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) to establish SUSTAIN, a transformative Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT).

SUSTAIN will provide a cross-disciplinary, multi-institution doctoral training program to support innovative research in the application of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to sustainable agri-food. It will cover technical and social science aspects of AI, alongside training in plant, animal and/or biosciences, tailored to individual students’ needs and interests.

Whilst the agri-food sector is a key driver for the UK economy, it is also responsible for a significant proportion of Greenhouse Gas emissions and biodiversity loss. The UK’s commitment to achieving Net Zero Greenhouse Gas emissions by 2050 represents a huge challenge to make the sector sustainable while also ensuring that everyone in the UK has access to food that is nutritious, delicious, affordable, and safe.

AI will help the sector achieve the rapid transformation needed to meet this challenge and SUSTAIN will train the scientists who will help make it happen. SUSTAIN will also be highly industry-focused and it is planned for every PhD project to be co-created with industry stakeholders leading to wider engagement with AI, and greater inclusion in its development and use.

Bringing together the expertise and resources of project lead the University of Lincoln with the University of Aberdeen, Queen's University Belfast, and Strathclyde, SUSTAIN will span the entire landscape of UK agriculture, critical AI research areas, and the national geography of England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.

Expert supervision

SUSTAIN students will benefit from world-leading facilities and expert supervision. At Strathclyde this includes the National Manufacturing Institute for Scotland (NMIS), Sensor Enabled Automation Robotics and Control Hub (SEARCH), the Hyperspectral Imaging (HSI) Lab and data emerging from the Digital Dairy Chain.

Alongside this the students will have access to ASSET (Assured, Safe and Traceable) Technology Centre at Queen's University Belfast which is a lynchpin of The Institute for Global Food Security and hosts the Centre for Excellence in Agriculture and Food Integrity, in partnership with the UK's National Measurement Laboratory; the Rowett Institute at the University of Aberdeen, including a clinical investigation unit, a metabolic research facility, a body composition suite and extensive state-of-the-art laboratories; and the University of Lincoln's Riseholme campus with its diverse resources such as a working farm, robotics/plant labs, and the UK's first agri-tech incubator, Barclays Eagle Lab.

Professor Simon Parsons, who leads the project, said: “I am delighted to be leading The SUSTAIN Centre for Doctoral on behalf of the University of Lincoln. SUSTAIN will help to transform the agri-food sector in the UK through the deployment of safe, responsible, and understandable AI.”

Co-Investigator Dr Christos Tachtatzis, in the Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering at Strathclyde, will provide the AI expertise for livestock and arable applications. He said: “The SUSTAIN Centre for Doctoral Training represents an excellent example of an industrial/academia partnership, where the CDT research themes are cocreated in collaboration with our industrial partners.

The innovative interdisciplinary vision for the centre will train the next generation of scientists and engineers in fundamental AI and Agriculture and forge the path towards sustainable, efficient and resilient agriculture ecosystem, which ultimately is of strategic importance to UK society.

SUSTAIN's commitment to diversity, inclusivity, and environmental sustainability will ensure a comprehensive and impactful approach towards training the next generation of AI scientists dedicated to sustainable agriculture.