Good news for UK physics
Nov 23, 2000
Physics has fared well in the UK government's latest round of science spending. As part of a 7% real terms rise in the country's science budget between 2001 and 2004, the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) will use most of a £22.5m increase in its core programmes to join the European Southern Observatory (ESO). PPARC will also receive £26m for work on two advanced computing projects. This sum is part of a £252m investment package - previously announced in July - for strategic work across all of the research councils in three areas: genomics research (£110m), 'e-science' (£98m), and 'basic technology' (£44m).
"This budget is seriously good news for UK physics," Ian Halliday, PPARC chief executive, told PhysicsWeb. "It has provided PPARC's first real budget increase for 20 years." This contrasts with the last round of spending two years ago when PPARC was the only research council not to receive a real-terms rise in funding.
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council has done well in the strategic areas of the budget. Over the three years of the spending review it will receive £41m for basic technology, which will cover work in areas such as quantum computing, photonics and nanotechnology. It will also get £32m for e-science and £13m for genomics. However, it will receive only a £17m increase across its core programme areas.
Joining ESO was considered a top priority for UK astronomy following a recent long-term review of PPARC science, because it will give astronomers access to four 8-metre telescopes in Chile and will ensure that astronomers are involved in the next generation of even larger facilities. Under current proposals, the UK will become a member of ESO in 2002, following final negotiations in the interim, but the £70m joining fee and £12m annual costs will mean PPARC having to make cut backs in other areas.
PPARC will use its money for computing to develop the 'Grid', a way of processing huge volumes of data such as those that will be produced by the Large Hadron Collider when it comes on line at CERN in 2005. It will involve distributing data to a network of computers around the world and is being touted as the successor to the Web. PPARC will also fund a similar project in astronomy called the 'Astro-grid', which is being designed to combine vast amounts of astronomical data and images from a range of international ground and space-based telescopes.