Astronomy and Particle Physics

Written evidence submitted by the Institute of Physics (APP 17)

Astronomy and particle physics

The Institute of Physics is a scientific charity devoted to increasing the practice, understanding and application of physics. It has a worldwide membership of around 40,000 and is a leading communicator of physics-related science to all audiences, from specialists through to government and the general public. Its publishing company, IOP Publishing, is a world leader in scientific publishing and the electronic dissemination of physics.

The Institute welcomes the opportunity to respond to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee’s inquiry into the impact of reduced capital funding on UK astronomy and particle physics research. The attached annex details our response to the questions listed in the call for evidence.

However, astronomy and particle physics research are not the only STFC funded areas affected, thus we have included an appendix to our response which focuses on nuclear physics and the impact reduced capital funding will have on access to international facilities.

If you need any further information on the points raised, please do not h esitate to contact us .

Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell Professor Peter Main

President Director, Education and Science

16 February 2011

The impact of reduced capital funding on UK capability

1. The reduction in capital funding, as we understand it, refers not only to expenditure in relation to the construction of large facilities and upgrades to existing facilities, but also includes maintenance costs associated with existing facilities, and the funding available for university-based laboratory equipment. This is effectively a loss of flexibility in the use of capital across all areas of science supported by RCUK, which will disproportionately affect all of the research areas supported by STFC as it is the most capital intensive of the research council s . Such cuts can be coped with for a short period but if maintained for any length of time the decay in infrastructure will cause considerable harm to UK science. In relative terms, the UK will very rapidly fall back compared with its international competitor nations where investment levels are greater because they recognise the long-term value of science to their economies and quality of life.

2. The reduction s in capital funding will make medium and long-term planning very difficult , whilst also affecting ongoing STFC funded research . Rese arch in particle physics, astroparticle physics, astronomy and nuclear physics involves long timescales and careful planning. The development of equipment and facilities relies on capital expenditure at the appropriate point in the development cycle and cuts to funding for capital projects would provide uncertainty for future research projects.

3. STFC funds a considerable amount of work on accelerator beam technology R&D which is an essential prerequisite for the development of future international facilities. This work , which requires considerable capital expenditure, provides the science and technology infrastructure that underpins the facilities required to conduct the research. Some of this work is carried out in universities but much is located at the Daresbury Laboratory, and the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory . Currently, STFC does not have the requisite funds to invest in such R&D , which will lead to adverse consequences for the UK in the future. Thus a policy of capital investment in R&D projects is essential.

4. Reduced capital funding is likely to have a significant impact upon the UK ’s ability to take a leading role in the European Extremely Large Telescope (E- ELT ), which is the next flagship ground-based telescope project for Europe . The UK belatedly joined the E uropean S outhern O bservatory (ESO) , preventing industry from benefiting from the construction of the Very Large Telescopes; in contrast it is hoped that a leading UK role in E- ELT would facilitate a significant construction role for UK industry, something a long-term capital reduction in funding may jeopardise.

5. There are concerns that space science, now split between the UK S pace A gency (facilities) and STFC (exploitation) may not be sufficiently joined-up, with space science likely to suffer relative to space industry, giv en the relatively poor (capital) settlement for the UK S pace A gency in the 2010 Spending R eview.

6. Reduced capital funding is having a strongly negative impact on the development of astroparticle physics research within the UK . The field is growing rapidly internationally, and UK scientists, having played major roles in the early projects in the fields of dark matter research, ultra-high energy cosmic rays, ground-based gamma-ray astronomy and the detection of high-energy neutrinos, are being excluded from future participation by a lack of capital investment. Dark matter research, ultra-high energy cosmic-rays and ground-based gamma-ray astronomy are three areas in which the UK did much pioneering work and once held leadership roles which are being lost as the rest of the world has stepped in with better and more stable funding, but often using the same technologies. Indeed, the UK is now viewed as an unreliable partner. This cannot be good for the UK at any level; a good reputation can be lost quickly but only slowly regained.

7 . Given tha t STFC operates many major capital intensive facilities and that part of the international subscriptions is also classified as capital, any reduction in capital funding inevitably puts additional pressure elsewhere in a system which has never recovered from the £80m deficit following the 2007 Spending Review . This pressure, and the direct impact of the reduction of capital funding for equipment, has presumably led STFC to propose in its Delivery Plan for 2011 /12 -20 14/ 15 [1] a significant reduction in support for university technology R&D and, instead, focus STFC ’s in-house researchers on technology, instrumentation and detector development, with the suggestion of leaving academics to concentrate on scientific research. However, this decision is based on a misconception of how cutting-edge science and its associated innovative technology are related. Most of the recent technology, instrumentation and detector delivery in particle physics, such as to the LHC experiments, has been led by university groups, and together they house most of the UK expertise and international leadership in this area. In addition, such a decision will make it much harder for the next generation of PhD students and PDRAs to get access to the latest equipment. For instance, will students based at a Scottish university travel to Harwell to get access to the latest Agilent scope, or do they simply train on equipment that is five years out of date?

8 . Detectors in particle physics (and astronomy) can only be built successfully in close contact with those who use the data and understand the nature of the technical challenges and the reasons for the demanding technical requirements; this is how the rest of the world operates. Any attempt to make unilateral changes to this method of working would undermine UK leadership and innovation in detector technology, and may make it harder for UK industry to compete successfully for contracts. The reduction in support for university technology R&D also makes it difficult for universities to engage with programmes that deliver impact from their scientific endeavours, since this mainly comes from their own, in-house, technology development.


The impact of withdrawal from international ground-based facilities (for example the Gemini Observatory and Isaac Newton Group of telescopes) on the UK ’s research base and international reputation

9 . UK competitiveness in astrophysics and space science arises in large part from the multi-wavelength, multi-hemisphere facilities, both ground based and space based. Over the course of a few years, the UK lead in ground-based telescopes within Europe has been lost. T he dismantling of the UK-led ground-based fac ilities is scheduled to be implemented during the 201 0 Spending Review period. Recommendations from advisory panels and STFC 's ground-based review panel noted that access to a northern hemisphere telescope beyond 2012 was of a high priority, in part due to current UK-led international space-based facilitie s (i.e. Herschel, Swift).

10 . Th e forthcoming loss of island sites (i.e. La Palma , Hawaii ), will greatly reduce opportunities for UK-led innovative instrumentation development. Of particular concern to astronomers is the UK’s withdrawal from the La Palma site; f or the UK, this h osts the Isaac Newton Group of T elescopes, SuperW ASP and the Liverpool Teles cope, all with significant STFC involvement. The scientific and technical synergy between the La Palma telescope facilities, operating at a world-class site, provides a range of unique opportunities for UK and international scientists. For example, ULTRACAM was the first visiting instrument at ESO’s Very Large Telescope, which was only made possible after being commissioned at the Isaac Newton Group of T elescopes . In the specific case of the Liverpool Telescope, this instrument represents the world's larg est and most capable fully-robotic telescope providing the UK and the international community with unparalleled opportunities for exploration of the increasingly important time domain of astrophysical enquiry, as emphasised in the latest US Decadal Survey [2] .

11 . Similar concerns exist for UK particle physics research. For instance, t he cance llation by STFC , in its 2008-2011 Delivery Plan [3] , of UK participation in the International Linear Collider programme has damaged the UK ’s r eputation as a reliable international partner. Its remaining activities are only possible because CERN has agreed to contract UK scientists directly to provide advanced equipment and technology, whilst other European nations participating understand the benefit s of contributing from their own resources.

12 . A possible UK involvement in the upgrades to the LHCb and SNO+ experiments, and many other opportunities, have been removed from the STFC roadmap for particle physics [4] , resulting in a very narrow focus which both stifles new ideas and initiatives and gives the UK a reputation (both internationally and to its own young scientists) for lacking vision and ambition.

Whether the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) has sufficiently engaged with its research community in these two areas on its strategic direction and impacts of budget reductions

13. The Institute appreciates the efforts made by STFC and EPSRC to engage with the physics community, particularly in the run-up to the 2010 Spending Review. Both research councils participated in town meetings at the Institute and discussed their hopes and fears for the science base and provided the community with an opportunity to raise its concerns about future prospects for specific research areas. STFC has also participated in another town meeting, held at the Institute on 10 February 2011, in order to allow the community to offer its views to inform STFC ’s Implementation Plan, which will translate the commitments in the STFC Delivery Plan for 2011 /12 -20 14/ 15 into an Operations Plan by the end of March 2011; STFC is also working with its science committees to seek advice on a number of research areas.

Opportunities for, and threats to, outreach and inspiring the next generation of astronomers and particle physicists

14 . It is ver y important to inspire the next generation of scientists in a wide range of research projects at the forefront of the science in particle physics, astroparticle physics, astronomy and nuclear physics. This is essential to ensure future breakthroughs and to achieve recognition for the successes of UK physicists. While research in all these areas is now multinational, it is vital that UK physicists achieve and maintain leadership roles in the science if they are to inspire the next generation and convince them that science is an area which is worth devoting their lives to. In order to lead, research scientists have to be fully engaged and cuts to capital funding will be a major obstacle to achieving this objective.

15 . Outreach in particle physics, astroparticle physics, astronomy and nuclear physics has nev er been in better health, spear headed by Professor s Brian Cox and Jim Al-Khalili but ably supported by a very large number of other scientists. Substantial media coverage in the broadsheets , the Internet and on television and radio backs up the very extensive work in schools – almost every day a STFC funded scientist is in a school somewhere in the UK enthusing young people to study physics and science in general. However, this level of outreach is undermined by cutbacks to the very projects schoolchildren find exciting.

16 . The incorporation of the LHC into the national consciousness is something that has both amazed and delighted the UK ’s particle physics community. All particle physicists have had the experience of being able to engage with members of the public about fundamental science because they have heard of CERN and the LHC, and many are genuinely curious about it. We are also pleased to acknowledge the significant part played in achieving this by STFC , who invested a great deal in preparing for the launch of the LHC and whose Science in Society funding s cheme s [5] in outreach are extremely valuable. However, STFC has discontinued the production of a large range of charts, booklets and posters that had been extremely popular with schools and the general public; the Institute has attempted to plug the gap with the production of a number of reports on particle physics, nuclear phys ics and the central facilities (with financial support from STFC ), but not at the level/volume previously undertaken by STFC .

17 . As well as its primary research function, the Liverpool Telescope is central to the operation of the UK National Schools' Observatory [6] providing UK schools with access to time on this front-rank research facility which allows access to research-quality data for experimentation in the classroom. The main aims of the NSO are to inspire the next generation about the study of STEM subjects as a whole by harnessing young people's innate enthusiasm for astronomy. No other telescope that falls within STFC 's (or ESO's) remit provides this opportunity for schools, and it would be hard to envisage a cost-effective way for the NSO function to be delivered via an alternative route. Currently, the NSO has over 2000 UK schools signed up. Of those, approximately 1200 schools have been very active users in the last 12 months. Since November 2004, the NSO has delivered over 23000 requests for Liverpool Telescope observations in total, of which 7000 were in the last 12 months and 1400 in the last month (i.e. a rapidly increasing level of activity).

18 . Currently, the astroparticle physics community has hopes that a proposal for a Virtual Institute to promote the field will be supported at an adequate level by STFC. This initiative has come from constructive dialogue between the community and STFC over the past few months and from extensive intra-community debate. The community is making the case for what would be needed to play important roles in the next dark matter and ground-based gamma-ray astronomy projects. Participation in these projects will be of immense value to any UK outreach programme leading as well, of course, to the long-term involvement of the UK in future astroparticle physics projects.

19. In addition, t he likely renaissance in nuclear power generation in the UK will clearly require many highly trained graduates, often at the doctoral level, in nuclear technology. It is vital therefore to have a thriving nuclear physics research community to inspire young people into nuclear physics and nuclear engineering. A strong outreach programme that demonstrates the impact of nuclear science should be considered by STFC .

20 . For early career researchers in particle physics and astronomy the picture is more mixed, including both opportunities and threats. Reductions in research grant support for both astronomy [7] and particle physics [8] will have the effect of reducing the competitiveness of such research with respect to rival nations and is likely to do long-term damage to the attractiveness of the UK for prospective postgraduate students, PDRAs and academics. New graduates are often encouraged to apply for PDRA positions overseas, especially for those seeking to embark upon an academic career, although a subsequent return to the UK would require competitive opportunities, which are at present lacking. This is despite astronomy and particle physics featuring heavily in the media and the government's ambitions to increase the number of scientists, engineers and physics teachers.


The impact of reducing capital funding on nuclear physics and UK access to international facilities

1. The physics community is also greatly concerned about the impact of a reduction in capital funding on nuclear physics research, and access to international facilities (particularly ISIS ).

2 . Since 1993 , when the last UK nuclear physics facility was closed , there have been essentially no funding for nuclear physics facilities. In the past, major capital equipment was provided as a contribution in kind which was welcomed by the directors of international laboratories. In addition, th e ~£10m per annum devoted to nuclear physics in 1993 has declined even in cash terms to a projected £6m per annum for the coming year s prior to any further cut following the 2010 Spending Review settlement. In terms of projects, prior to the 2010 Spending Review, nuclear physics had been reduced to one project to build a limited range of equipment for the Facility for Antiproton and Ion Research ( FAIR ) and a small part of the European Advanced Gamma Tracking Array (AGATA) . UK nuclear physicists have little or no influence on the future of a research area that relies on large facilities, where planning, building, commissioning and exploitation can take decades.

3 . At the same time nuclear physics is advancing rapidly elsewhere; major new facilities are being constructed such as FAIR (GSI, Germany ), ISOLDE   ( CERN ), SPIRAL2 (GANIL, France), and the Jefferson Lab (US). These facilities are important to UK nuclear physicists as they are where future advances in the field are most likely to be made; for instance, providing the beams of radioactive ions or high energy electrons needed to understand the structure of the nucleon, the wide variation in the properties of nuclei and the nuclear reactions fuelling stars and stellar explosions as well as the creation of the heavy elements. Unless the UK plays a major part in the development and operation of these facilities our nuclear physicists will be left out and will rapidly lose the leadership roles they currently possess. These facilities still require capital funding to complete some buildings and the equipment they house ; if the UK was able to contribute capital funding in the region of £20-25m to these projects spread over a five year period, the UK ’s standing and influence would be transformed.

4 . ISIS has for some time been the leading neutron spallation source worldwide, playing a pioneering role and offering experimental possibilities not available elsewhere. The ISIS Target Station 2, a £147m investment by the UK , has recently become operational and offers unique scientific opportunities in the areas of advanced materials, including biomaterials and soft matter. In response to a RCUK recommendation based on user demand, STFC plans to operate ISIS for only 120 days per year and with a limited suite of instruments. This is a significant reduction compared with the historic facility operation of 180 days per year.

5 . While we recognise the budgetary constraints under which STFC is operating, we stress that recognising the outstanding contribution ISIS makes to the UK’s capability in research and the potential of ISIS to deliver against the global challenges facing us today, ISIS should operate for a higher number of days to maximise its scientific output and the return on the UK’s capital investment.

6 . In addition, reduced capital funding will also have an impact on the construction programme of ISIS Target Station 2 instruments. T he engineering basis underpinning these projects could quickly evaporate, and it would be exceedingly difficult to rebuild it. Currently, seven Target Station 2 instruments are either operational or in the process of being commissioned, out of a total capacity of 18 instruments. Four Phase 2 instruments , on Target Station 2 , are currently awaiting a funding decision, which would also unlock significant contributions from international partners.  

7. Although STFC has stated its intention to adequately fund the Diamond Light Source, it has unfortunately taken the decision to cut the UK ’s contribution to the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) and reduced the UK ’s involvement in Free Electron Laser (FEL) research to zero. At the ESRF, this will reduce exploitation from 14% to 10%, most probably leading to a hard cap to UK access; as a result , physics users of ESRF will be hit particularly hard and will also not be involved in the pioneering science which is arising from the FEL research frontiers. 

The Institute of Physics is a scientific charity devoted to increasing the practice, understanding and application of physics. It has a worldwide membership of around 40,000 and is a leading communicator of physics-related science to all audiences, from specialists through to government and the general public. Its publishing company, IOP Publishing, is a world leader in scientific publishing and the electronic dissemination of physics.

[1] http:// www. stfc


[3] http://




[7] A reduction in the award of PDRA positions coupled with the withdrawal of independent junior – postdoctoral – STFC fellowships.

[8] The removal of funding from awarded research grants from October 2010, and the issue of awarding just one-year grants prior to that.