Frontiers open up for UK physicists and astronomers

Press Release From: Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council
Posted: Wednesday, November 22, 2000

Contact Details
Peter Barratt
PPARC Publicity Team
01793 442025

Increased funding for science, announced by the government today, will enable UK physicists to play a lead role in developing the key technologies underpinning the government's e-science initiative and the next generation Internet.UK astronomers will prepare for the next generation of telescopes and expand their current telescope portfolio through membership of the European Southern Observatory [ESO].

The Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council [PPARC], the UK's strategic science investment agency, will receive 26M over three years to spend on two major E-science application projects, and an uplift of 22.5M over baseline during the next three years to join the European Southern Observatory [ESO] and pay increased stipends to their Ph.D. students.

In e-science PPARC will develop the computing technology and infrastructure required to process, transport, store and mine the massive amounts of data from the Large Hadron Collider [LHC] particle smashing experiment located at CERN [the European Laboratory for Particle Physics in Geneva]. When the LHC comes on stream in 2005 it will enable scientists to look further into the deep mysteries of the structure of matter and the origins and early evolution of the Universe. The data generated by the LHC will be about 1 petabyte of data per second - equivalent to filling a stack of CD-ROMS 1 mile high every second -from each of its four detectors. This enormous amount of data has to be available for analysis by thousands of scientists spread across the globe. Current computing technology does not scale to handle such extremely large data flow rates nor the complexity of the analysis process. The LHC data distribution and processing technology to be developed will underpin research in other areas such as Genomics and Earth Observation, whilst providing generic technology and software for the government's wider e-science agenda and the next generation Internet.

The second e-science project - the Astro-Grid - involves creating the computational network for a 'virtual observatory' - a project to combine vast amounts of astronomical data and images from a range of international ground and space based telescopes and instruments and distribute that data to a global network of research scientists. Again, this will not only solve specific computing distribution and processing problems in astronomy but also develop generic technologies applicable to other science areas.

The uplift to the Council's baseline budget will enable PPARC to enter into final negotiations for UK membership of the European Southern Observatory [ESO].   This will ensure that UK astronomers are actively involved in global scale preparations for the next generation of astronomy facilities, such as ALMA [Atacama Large Millimeter Array] in Chile and the very large ('50m) optical/infrared telescopes now undergoing conceptual studies. In addition, ESO membership will give UK astronomers access to a suite of four world-class 8-meter ground-based telescopes, as well as other state-of-the-art facilities at ESO's other observatory at La Silla. Through PPARC the UK already participates in joint collaborative European science programmes such as CERN and the European Space Agency [ESA], which have already proved their value on the world scale. Joining ESO will consolidate this policy for UK astronomers, strengthen ESO and ensure the future vigour of European astronomy.

Commenting on the funding announcement Prof. Ian Halliday, PPARC's CEO, said,
' These investment areas were recently highlighted as the top priorities for the next decade by the UK science community. This new funding will ensure our physicists and astronomers remain at the forefront of international research - leading in discoveries that push back the frontiers of knowledge - and the UK economy will also benefit through the provision of highly trained people and the resulting advances in IT and commercial spin-offs'.

The ESO Director General, Dr. Catherine Cesarsky said,' With the UK as a potential member country of ESO, our joint opportunities for front-line research and technology will grow significantly. This announcement is a clear sign of confidence in ESO's abilities, most recently demonstrated with the construction and operation of the unique Very Large Telescope [VLT] on Paranal. Together we will look forward with confidence towards new, exciting projects in ground-based astronomy.'

Prof. Mike Edmunds, UCW Cardiff, and Chairman of the Astronomy Vision Panel which recently set out a programme of opportunities and priorities for the next 10 -20 years said,' This is excellent news for UK science and lays the foundation for cutting edge research over the next ten years. British astronomers will be delighted by the Government's rapid and positive response to their case.'

Of the 44M allocated by the government for basic technology across the entire science base Halliday said, ' I fully expect PPARC scientists to make aggressive bids into this pot. They have a track record in developing ground-breaking technologies which have applications beyond our own science needs, as evidenced by spin-offs into medical imaging. The lead we gave the other Research Councils in developing the Long Term Technology Review, as part of the governments Foresight process, will provide a good framework for this, and Faraday partnerships with the DTI will help promote spin-off into industry. '

Professor Jim Hough, University of Hertfordshire and Chairman of the PPARC Education and Training Committee, said 'I warmly welcome the increase in student stipends. Our Ph.D. students are a talented and highly motivated asset to the UK, and one of the most important products of the PPARC programme. This sends a very positive signal and should encourage more of our talented young people to look towards the exceptional training we offer.'

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