Particle physics – it matters, say UK policy makers
May 28, 2009 4 comments
A new report, Particle Physics – It Matters, was released today after collaboration between the UK Institute of Physics (IOP) and the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). CERN physicist and TV presenter Brian Cox was alongside STFC Director of Science Programmes, John Womersley, at the IOP headquarters in London to present the report to the UK media.
One of the key messages in the report is the imperative to continue investing public money in fundamental research, like the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, despite the deepening recession. “Getting ourselves out of this mess will require a scientifically trained workforce,” said Womersley.
With the UK being a leading investor in the experiments at CERN the report places a strong emphasis on the economic return of this facility. For every £1 CERN pays to an industrial contractor, it generates £3 of utility, claims the report.
Both presenters were eager to point out the wide benefits of applications that have sprung incidentally from particle physics, such as the World Wide Web and the charge couple devices (CCDs) found in digital cameras. Looking to the future, Cox also described emerging spin-offs like grid computing and the idea of converting nuclear waste into less harmful material using high energy proton accelerators.
Womersley was similarly optimistic about the continued emergence of new technologies from particle physics, but he also talked about the need for scientists and policy makers to develop a common language to aid the decision-making process over science funding. He rejected the allegation that the Government have been short-sighted over previous policy decisions. “The political importance assigned to climate change, which is certainly an issue beyond the horizon of the next budget, shows that the Government are not immune to long-term thinking.”
On this issue, Cox emphasized the economic and political incentives for investing larger amounts of money in UK science, perhaps even “doubling” current investment. “Investing in fundamental science is perhaps the cheapest way of becoming a global leader in anything,” he said.
Particle Physics – It Matters can now be downloaded from the Institute of Physics website.
About the author
James Dacey is a reporter for physicsworld.com