Memorandum submitted by the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC)
The Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) is the UK's strategic science investment agency. If funds research, education and public understanding in four broad areas of scienceparticle physics, astronomy, cosmology and space science.
PPARC is government funded and provides research grants and studentships to scientists in British universities, gives researchers access to world-class facilities and funds the UK membership of international bodies such as the European Laboratory for Particle Physics, CERN, and the European Space Agency. It also contributes money for the UK telescopes overseas on La Palma, Hawaii, Australia and in Chile, the UK Astronomy Technology Centre at the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh and the MERLIN/VLBI National Facility.
PPARC's Public Understanding of Science and Technology Awards Scheme provides funding to both small local projects and national initiatives aimed at improving public understanding of its areas of science.
I am pleased as Chief Executive of the Paricle Physics and Astronomy Research Council to submit comments to this inquiry. The concept of an organisation such as NESTA, with funding to invest in talent and creative ideas and with a remit to speculate and take risks in selecting people and ideas is in itself novel and exciting and one that is welcome.
I was a NESTA nominator for a six months period in 1999-2000 and through that role PPARC had the opportunity to participate in the NESTA Fellowship programme. The NESTA Fellowships programme offered support for up to 50 fellowships annually across the arts and sciences with awards of up to £75kfor research, travel or other similar support.
The number of applications to an open call to such a scheme could have been many thousands and NESTA chose instead to seek fellowship nominations through organisations such as PPARC who already had highly competitive selection schemes in place for funding individuals with potential and leadership qualities.
I would commend the use of the expertise of other organisations as a basis for pre-selecting candidates for NESTA fellowship awards should the NESTA fellowship programme continue. This provides a high degree of assurance about the excellence of the individual within the area of the arts or sciences supported by the sponsoring organisation. It leaves NESTA to decide against its own criteria on whether or not to offer any additional financial assistance.
I make this point in the knowledge that applications for PPARC fellowships for example are oversubscribed by a ratio of around 8:1 by top quality applicants within the areas of science supported by PPARC. Selection for an award is a rigorous two-stage peer review process, which involves an initial paper based exercise, followed by interviews.
The inquiry may wish to note that a European Union research fellowship scheme currently under development is likely to seek nominations using a similar model, ie applicants for funding at European level will be drawn from successful candidates in national competitions.
One of the fellows nominated by PPARC in 1999 was successful in winning a NESTA award. The award provided a young and talented astrophysicist with funds to take on a PhD student and purchase a state-of-the-art workstation for use on his research project. He has since secured a permanent post as a lecturer at Cambridge University and is recognised as one of the outstanding scientists in his field.
Professor Ian Halliday