UK pulls out of key physics and astronomy projects

时间:2019-03-01 06:06:01166网络整理admin

By Stuart Clark The UK is pulling out of a number of physics and astronomy projects as a result of the cost of running large new physics facilities. Researchers in the UK say the cuts will discourage students from pursuing careers in the physical sciences. Funding will be axed for projects that include: • the twin 8-metre Gemini telescopes in Chile and Hawaii, though a plan is underway to retain some use of Gemini North in Hawaii • the Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes on the Canary Islands, which search for extrasolar planets • the International Linear Collider (ILC), a planned $6.7 billion particle smasher • high-energy gamma-ray astronomy and ground-based studies of the Sun’s effect on the Earth The announcement came from the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), which distributes public money from the government to support the UK’s scientific research. The STFC was formed earlier in 2007 by the merger of a council that funded large physical science facilities and one that handled particle physics and astronomy research. The funding crisis is the result of a comprehensive spending review in October in which government ministers set the budget and research priorities for the STFC over the next three years. The STFC says inflation and the cost of running new facilities such as the Diamond Light Source in Didcot, UK, mean around £80 million in other projects must be cut. The Diamond Light Source is designed to use light emitted by high-speed particles to probe materials’ structures. The cuts will affect how much funding astronomers and physicists receive in grants. The STFC says this will amount to a loss of 25% in grant money over the next year. Ironically, they come at a time when the UK is trying to encourage more young people to pursue careers in the physical sciences. “Cuts of this type send out the wrong message to prospective students,” says Michael Rowan-Robinson, president of the Royal Astronomical Society in London. Other facilities for which the STFC plans to review funding include the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope in Hawaii; Merlin, the national radio telescope interferometer; the Liverpool Telescope, a robotic 2-metre telescope in the Canary Islands; and AstroGrid, a virtual archive of telescope observations. They will also review whether to continue investment in the US-led Dark Energy Survey. While the STFC will continue investing in future astronomical observatories such as the European Extremely Large Telescope and the Atacama Large Millimetre Array, it is no longer investing in the International Linear Collider, which is designed to recreate conditions moments after the big bang to try to understand dark matter and search for extra dimensions. “It is the worst possible news you can imagine,” says Brian Foster of Oxford University, the spokesperson for UK involvement in the ILC. The ILC is regarded as the successor to the STFC-funded Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which begins operating in mid-2008. The STFC’s report states: “We do not see a practicable path towards the realisation of this facility as currently conceived on a reasonable timescale.” Foster counters that the international partners are convinced of ILC’s viability. “STFC seems to be implying that everyone in the rest of the world is wrong,” he told New Scientist. “Of course, that is not the case.” More on these topics: