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Tuesday, Sep 27, 2022

Ministers land DARPA executive Highnam to lead £800m research agency ARIA

Ministers land DARPA executive Highnam to lead £800m research agency ARIA

Peter Highnam, who was educated in the UK and joined DARPA in 1999, will be named this week as the inaugural CEO of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency.

An executive at America's scientific research agency has been lured by the government to lead its new British equivalent, an appointment expected to be hailed as a coup by ministers later this week.

Sky News has learnt that Peter Highnam, deputy director of the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), is to be named as the inaugural chief executive of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA).

Dr Highnam, who was educated at university in Bristol and Manchester, according to his LinkedIn profile, began working at DARPA in 1999, and has held his current post for nearly four years.

A defence industry source said Dr Highnam was highly regarded in the international scientific research community and would be a "huge asset" to ARIA.

Britain's new 'high risk, high reward' inventions agency, as it has been dubbed, will have an initial budget of £800m, and is aimed at helping the UK "maintain its position as a global science superpower", according to an announcement from the government about its establishment last year.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said last February that ARIA would have "a much higher tolerance for failure than is normal, recognising that in research the freedom to fail is often also the freedom to succeed".

ARIA's mandate will be to focus on "moonshot" projects spearheaded by "inspiring inventors", BEIS added.

"By stripping back unnecessary red tape and putting power in the hands of our innovators, the agency will be given the freedom to drive forward the technologies of tomorrow, as we continue to build back better through innovation," Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, said at the time of the agency's proposed formation.

The US agency DARPA was cited by the government as a model on which ARIA's development would be based.

BEIS last year put the search for ARIA's first chair on hold while it recruited a chief executive.

The new agency was the brainchild of Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson's former top adviser who left Downing Street in acrimonious circumstances last year and who has continued to be a thorn in the prime minister's side as pressure on him has grown in recent months.

ARIA was billed as the crucible for "ground-breaking discoveries that could transform people's lives", according to a government statement in February.

The search for ARIA's first chief executive has been led by headhunters at Saxton Bampfylde.

A BEIS spokesperson said: "ARIA will empower scientists to pursue high risk, high reward research to create the industries of tomorrow. Further information regarding the agency's leadership will be announced shortly."

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