From: Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council
Posted: Monday, December 9, 2002
Government investment in fundamental physics will generate a new age of discovery
Following the increased funding for science announced by the government today, the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) has received a major uplift of 25m in its baseline budget. In addition PPARC will receive continued investment in its e-science programme, and specific allocations to increase its investment in accelerator R&D, gravitational waves, and planetary exploration. PPARC will also receive funding to implement the recommendations of the Roberts report and to upgrade the infrastructure of its institutes.
Overall PPARC's budget will rise from 255.77M in 2003/04 to 290.89M in 2005/06.
Commenting on the funding announcement, Professor Ian Halliday, PPARC's Chief Executive, said, "The government is to be congratulated. This much needed investment in fundamental physics will enable our physicists and astronomers to build on their high international standing, and engage in new collaborative international programmes, for example, Advanced LIGO, and the Linear Collider - ensuring the UK is in the global van of discoveries that push back the frontiers of knowledge".
Halliday added "Research in fundamental physics inevitable spawns new, key technologies that will underpin other areas of scientific research whilst benefiting the UK economy through the provision of highly trained people and the resulting advances in IT and technology transfer."
PPARC's allocations in the major cross-Council research programmes are as follows:
PPARC will receive a further 31.6M to continue its E-science programme throughout the period of this Spending Review. The programme will focus on establishing a UK High Energy Physics [HEP] Grid and the computing infrastructure required for the Large Hadron Collider [LHC] experiment at CERN when it becomes operational in 2007. In addition it will deliver a working virtual observatory based on key UK astronomical data sets; placing the UK in a leadership position in the international development of Virtual Observatories and in the development of an EU Grid infrastructure.
Over the next few years decisions will be made on the funding and construction of several international large accelerator-based facilities. They will include electron linear colliders, re-circulating linear colliders for synchrotron radiation studies and free electron lasers operating across a spectrum of wavelengths. High power proton accelerators will be developed as drivers for pulsed neutron spallation sources, muon derived neutrino beams, and muon colliders, and will have the potential to transmute and even derive energy from nuclear waste.
There is now international consensus within the particle physics community that the next particle physics accelerator should be a Linear Collider. A Linear Collider will not only deliver new opportunities for particle physics to explore beyond the Standard Model, but the associated technology will be key to the future development of synchrotron facilities for other science areas.
PPARC will receive 5.4M as part of a joint programme with the Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils [CLRC]. The new investment will position CLRC, universities and industry to win major shares in the construction, and possibly hosting, of major global facilities, a Linear Collider and Neutrino Factory, which are of strategic importance to the whole of the UK science base.
Gravity and Planetary Exploration
PPARC has been allocated an additional 9M to invest in these two areas.
Gravitational Waves will be detected in the next decade. Their detection will enable us to confirm one of the more exotic predictions of Einstein's theory of General Relativity. It will open up a new era in astronomy. The UK, through seminal work in universities at Glasgow, Cardiff, Birmingham, and Imperial College, is a world-leader in gravitational physics. The additional investment will position the UK to exploit its technological leadership in the design and deployment of the next generation of large-scale ground-based detectors and the first detector in space through Advanced LIGO and SMART2, and to lead on data analysis.
There is renewed and growing scientific interest globally in planetary exploration. In Europe, the European Space Agency [ESA] has proposed the AURORA programme with the strategy over the next thirty years for Europe's robotic and human exploration of Mars, the Moon, and even beyond to the asteroids. The broad science goals are to understand how planets form and evolve, their environments, and the search for life elsewhere in our solar system. The UK has a strong tradition and proven expertise in planetary science, and in the design and implementation of space-borne technologies for missions for planetary exploration. Through the Beagle 2 Lander on ESA's Mars Express mission, the UK has achieved a significant international lead in the design of miniaturised instrumentation for robotic missions. Through this new investment the UK has the opportunity to capitalise on its world-leading expertise, and to lead in the definition of both the ESA and NASA programmes, in the development of the technologies needed for planetary landers and miniaturised instrumentation for missions to other planets.
PPARC's main strategic objectives in the next five years will be to:
* deliver its commitment to the construction of the general purpose detectors for the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, and the computing infrastructure needed to exploit the data from the LHC using grid technologies;
* exploit its membership of the European Space Agency (ESA) by winning scientific leadership in selective space science missions aligned with the UK's scientific priorities, and in the provision of international data centres;
* exploit its recent membership of the European Southern Observatory (ESO) and its investment in the Gemini telescopes;
* invest in smaller scale international particle astrophysics experiments, for example, in gravitation wave and neutrino detection, dark matter, and cosmic microwave background radiation;
* strengthen the UK's capability in accelerator science and R&D to position it to participate in the next generation of global accelerators, and, in particular, a Linear Collider and Neutrino Factory;
* invest in blue skies technology R&D, which will underpin longer-term facility development, and, through partnerships with industry, increase the potential for technology transfer;
* increase provision through grants for infrastructure and exploitation in universities;
* increase the number of research students to enhance the vibrancy of the research base and the throughput of high quality physicists and engineers into industry.
Notes for editors
PPARC's E-science programme in the period 2003/4 - 2005/6 will be targeted on the implementation of the international computing grid for the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) detector currently being built at CERN. The LHC will be operational in 2007. The programme will include the development and implementation of an International Virtual Observatory (IVO), which it is envisaged will be fully operational by 2010. Investment is also proposed to develop enhanced technologies and tools for a wide range of astronomical datasets and applications, and will enable the inclusion of automated real-time observation and theoretical modelling within a Virtual Observatory environment.
The technologies, which will be developed and tested on a production scale during the period, will have wider generic applicability for other sciences and industrial and commercial use in distributed real-time data intensive computing and the integration of large volume heterogeneous datasets.
Gravitational Waves - a new window on our Universe
One of the foundation stones of modern physics, predicted by Einstein in his theory of General Relativity, is the existence of gravitational waves - those weak blips from the far edges of the universe passing through our bodies every second. The detection of gravitational waves is fundamental to our understanding of the Universe and the world in which we live, and yet no one has detected them, simply because they are so weak. Yet their detection would enable us to see back to the beginning of time itself - the Big Bang - by detecting the resulting ripples, or waves of gravity, in space.
Our present understanding of the cosmos is based on observations of electromagnetic radiation emitted by individual electrons, atoms, or molecules, which are easily absorbed, scattered and dispersed, as they travel through space. Conversely Gravitational Waves, produced by the bulk motion of matter in the universe, travel nearly unscathed through space and time, carrying with them the fingerprint information of the regions in which they were originally created, be it the birth of a black hole or the universe as a whole.
The importance of their detection can not be overstated. Indeed, their discovery will initiate a new era in astronomy, greater in its impact to the advent of radio and x-ray astronomy. It will enable us to study for the first time, and in unexpected ways, phenomena in the most extreme astrophysical environments.
The hunt is on
A number of ground-based detectors are currently operating with sufficient sensitivity to detect these minute gravitational waves. Current collaborative projects involve research groups in the UK/Germany (GEO 600), France/ Italy (VIRGO), the US (LIGO) and Japan (TAMA).
GEO 600, funded in the UK by the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council [PPARC], has unique design and advanced technologies developed by scientists from several British universities. It was built as a small, low cost detector, but its degree of sensitivity is comparable to the US and French/Italian detectors. Such is the international regard for Britain's expertise in this detector technology that it is considered central to the development of larger, next generation ground-based detectors Advanced LIGO and ultimately to a space-based detector, LISA.
Placing a gravitational wave detector in space will allow us to observe and study the ripples in space-time in their purest form. A joint European Space Agency /NASA mission called LISA is planned at the end of this decade. LISA will use advanced technology lasers mounted on three identical drag-free spacecraft to detect gravitational waves. The three spacecraft will be positioned at the corners of an equilateral triangle with sides 5 million kilometres long!
The engineering and technology required to constantly measure the laser beams and control the satellites to micron accuracy across distances of 5 million kilometres are almost unimaginable - yet achievable. British scientists have the capacity to develop these leading-edge technologies, and in transferring the technology to wider applications and markets for the benefit of UK plc.
Planetary Exploration - Are we alone?
Our solar system began 4.6 million years ago when a dense knot in a vast cloud of gas, dust and ice began to collapse under its own weight. As gravitational forces pulled the clump inwards, its density and pressure increased. It started to spin faster and spread out to form a central core, which became the Sun, and a disc that coalesced into the planets, moons, asteroids, and comets - the Solar System that we know today.
As we gaze at the starry sky and recognise our place in the firmament, we cannot help but ask some very fundamental questions.
Is there life, or was there life, once existing on other bodies in the Solar System? How did they evolve to be the way we see them today and could this knowledge influence our understanding of Earth's evolution and ultimate fate?
Studying other objects in the Solar System provides us with information that can help us find the answers and UK scientists, funded through the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, are at the forefront of planetary research.
Considering the range of missions in which the UK is involved then to say 'The UK goes to the Planets' is no understatement.
The Red Planet
Mars, and the possibility that there was once life on it, captures all our imaginations. In December 2003 the European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft will enter the Martian atmosphere and detach Beagle 2, a UK designed and built Lander, which will parachute onto the planets surface to carry out in-situ analysis of the soil and atmosphere. The results should offer final proof as to whether life ever existed on the Red Planet. The technology employed in this UK Lander is a quarter the size and one tenth of the cost of similar landers planned by the US. This achievement clearly demonstrates how universities can co-operate with large and small industrial companies to create world-leading technology.
Mars is but one target. The UK is involved in similar science missions to unravel the mysteries of our Solar System.
Rosetta - Comet chaser
In January 2003 ESA's Rosetta mission will blast off from Kourou in French Guyana on its 8 year mission to the comet Wirtanen - a kilometre sized lump of ice and dust that could uncover clues about the formation of the Solar System. Such bodies are pristine fossils of the primal material that congealed into the bodies of our Solar System, and may even provide clues to the conditions that produced life on Earth.
Rosetta is the first space mission ever to attempt to land on a comet and UK scientists play a key role in the sensitive onboard instruments that will measure the composition of the comet's icy nucleus.
Our Moon - a new view
SMART - 1 is taking a trip to the Moon to test new technologies for the European Space Agency. After launch in spring 2003, an innovative ion thruster will propel the spacecraft in a spiral out towards the Moon, arriving in summer 2004. Once in lunar orbit SMART-1's miniature instruments will send back new information about the Moon's surface and plasma environment. A UK built instrument will take X-ray images of the Moon and investigate the chemical make-up of the lunar surface.
ESA's Huygens Probe is now on its seven-year journey to Saturn's moon Titan, aboard NASA's Cassini spacecraft. The joint NASA/ESA mission was successfully launched by a Titan IVB/Centaur launch vehicle on 15 October 1997 09:43 UT. It will reach Saturn in 2004.
While the Cassini Orbiter continues to explore Saturn and its rings, the Huygens probe will be released to parachute through the atmosphere of Titan. Shrouded in an orange haze that hides its surface, Titan is one of the most mysterious objects in our solar system. It is the second largest moon (only Jupiter's Ganymede is bigger), and the only one with a thick atmosphere. It is this atmosphere that excites scientific interest, since it is thought to resemble that of a very young Earth.
Huygens' six instruments, of which the UK has made significant contributions, will take measurements throughout its spectacular descent, providing details on the chemical composition of Titan's atmosphere, its weather and clouds, and then the surface itself. Spectacular data and images are already expected from the descent itself and, if the Huygens Probe survives the impact with the mysterious surface, it will continue to send unique information back to the mother ship until its batteries expire or the Cassini Orbiter is out of range.
Preserved in the deep freeze of Titan's atmosphere are chemical compounds thought to be similar to those of Earth's primeval soup. The in-situ results from Huygens, combined with Cassini's global observations from repeated flybys of Titan, will provide vital information towards the great mystery of how life began on Earth.
The Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) is the UK's strategic science investment agency. It funds research, education and public understanding in four areas of science - particle 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, which includes the Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank observatory.
PPARC's Public Understanding of Science and Technology Awards Scheme funds both small local projects and national initiatives aimed at improving public understanding of its areas of science.
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