DARPA deputy returns home to the UK to lead a new $1B government research agency
Building off the success of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency across the pond, the UK on Tuesday appointed DARPA deputy Peter Highnam as chief executive of the UK’s new Advanced Research and Invention Agency.
With £800 million ($1 billion) in funding, ARIA and Highnam will focus exclusively on research projects with far-reaching goals, with the “potential to produce transformative technological change, or a paradigm-shift in an area of science,” the UK government explained, noting that most programs may fail.
UK-born and educated Highnam, who lists “R&D that makes a difference” in his about section on LinkedIn, has spent more than a decade working for the US government, with stints at BARDA, NIH, as well as director of the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity and director of research at National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.
“Peter Highnam’s appointment is a major triumph for the UK. His expert direction will lead the agency’s formation, ensuring the funding of high-risk programmes that will continue to push the boundaries of science and technology,” UK business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said in a statement.
But his new role will be different from his work at BARDA.
While America’s DARPA, which Highnam spent his last four years at, pursues a range of tech advances tied to Department of Defense objectives, “ARIA will depart from the DARPA model, but align with other ARPA-inspired bodies around the world such as Germany’s SPRIN-D and Japan’s Moonshot R&D. We want to leave the door open to ARIA to forge links with multiple government department customers, unlocking new ways to tackle a range of societal problems, and boosting UK industry in a range of sectors,” the UK government said.
The government also said it has committed to increasing public investment in R&D to £20 billion ($27 billion) in 2024-2025, and ARIA “will be an integral and invaluable part” of this ecosystem, the government said.
The UK is still searching for ARIA’s first chair, as well, who will support Highnam to design and build ARIA from the ground up.