Prime Minister Tony Blair Opens New Centre for Physics Research

Press Release From: Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council
Posted: Friday, October 18, 2002

The Prime Minister Tony Blair opened The Ogden Centre for Fundamental Physics at the University of Durham today [Friday 18th October 2002]. The multi-million pound science complex will create a world-leading centre of excellence in fundamental physics, combining research into the building blocks of the universe and the large scale structure of the universe, coupled with a mission to inspire a new generation of young scientists.

The Prime Minister stated that scientific research was not only of vital importance to expanding our knowledge and driving the economy but also of equal importance in enthusing young people to follow a career in science and technology.

The Ogden Centre provides state-of-the-art accommodation for two scientific teams comprising The Institute for Computational Cosmology [ICC] and The Institute for Particle Physics Phenomenology [IPPP], each working at the forefront of research at opposite ends of the known physical scale.

At one extreme, the Institute for Computational Cosmology (ICC) probes the past, present and possible future development of the universe using a huge combination of galaxy surveys and powerful supercomputer simulations. At the other extreme, the Institute for Particle Physics Phenomenology (IPPP) deals with the tantalisingly minuscule landscape of the sub-atomic world of electrons and quarks, providing a bridge between theory and experiment.

The new facility is also the base for a Public Understanding of Science and Technology project, funded by the UK's strategic science investment agency The Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC). It draws on the research work of the Centre to develop new teaching materials for schools and stimulate young people to aspire to be the scientists of tomorrow.

Commenting on the new centre Prof. Ian Halliday, CEO of PPARC said," The centre provides a major opportunity to strengthen and expand UK research in fundamental physics. The large investment by the university, Dr. Peter Ogden and the government is to be applauded." Halliday added," The government's strategy to expand research funding and put it on the road to sustainability is clearly visible here today - keeping this generation of scientists at the forefront of their field and inspiring a new generation in our schools."

At the opening Tony Blair met Ogden Centre staff, research students, and pupils from Spennymoor Comprehensive school in his own constituency, who are helping to develop the pilot programme of the Understanding Science project. The Prime Minister also joined staff and guests in viewing a special 3D-video simulation of a developing universe.

Background notes

The three functions of the Centre reflect the interests of the man after whom it is named. Dr Peter Ogden was inspired by his own physics teacher at school to read the subject at Durham University. He obtained his BSc and PhD degrees before co-founding a very successful business, Computacenter Ltd (where he was Chairman from 1981-1998). When he sold his business he established the Ogden Trust which now supports a wide range of educational projects.

Peter Ogden and the Trust are the principal private donors towards the cost of the Centre. Additional funding has been provided through JIF [Joint Infrastructure Fund sponsored by the DTI, The Wellcome Trust and HEFCE), The University of Durham, and JREI (the Joint Research Equipment Initiative). The Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council [PPARC] provide ongoing support. More than 1 million came from Sun Microsystems, providers of a new supercomputer that performs massive calculations at the rate of 456 billion arithmetic operations per second.

The Centre is housed in a dedicated building adjacent to the University of Durham Physics Department.

The ICC The research programme of the Institute for Computational Cosmology (ICC) encompasses all aspects of cosmology, from the birth of the first objects in the Universe, to the physics of galaxy formation. Its long-term goals are to understand the origin of structure in the Universe, to establish the identity and properties of the dark matter that dominates the mass density of the Universe, and to relate theoretical predictions to astronomical observations.

Director Professor Carlos Frenk explains: "The ICC's mission is to arrive at a physical understanding of how our universe works by using powerful supercomputer simulations to interpret astronomical data. The supercomputer is programmed with the basic laws of Physics (such as gravity) and fed the initial conditions that prevailed shortly after the Big Bang. The supercomputer then calculates a virtual universe, which can be compared with the real one on the basis of observations of galaxies, quasars and structures in the cosmic web. The comparison identifies the likely nature of fundamental cosmic properties including the identity of the dark matter and the long-term fate of our universe".

Researchers at the ICC engage both in collecting astronomical data and in developing the physical theory required to interpret the data. In particular, ICC members have played a leading role in the analysis of the groundbreaking `Anglo-Australian 2-degree field survey' of 250,000 galaxies. They have also pioneered the development of cosmological simulations to track the evolution of dark matter and gas in the universe and its eventual coagulation into galaxies and other cosmic structures. ICC researchers have extensively explored the current paradigm for the origin of cosmological structure, the cold dark matter theory.

The ICC is the UK base of the 'Virgo Consortium', an international collaboration involving around 25 researchers in Britain, Germany, Canada and the USA, which is responsible for many leading contributions to computational cosmology.

The ICC houses a multi-national research group of about 30 people. Its engine room is the 1.4 million 'Cosmology Machine', one of the most powerful supercomputers for academic research in Britain and one of the fastest in Europe. Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt switched on the Cosmology Machine in July 2002. The Cosmology Machine takes data from billions of observations about the behaviour of stars, gases and the mysterious dark matter throughout the universe and then calculates, at ultra high speeds, how galaxies and solar systems evolved. By testing different theories of cosmic evolution it can simulate virtual universes to test which ideas come closest to explaining the real universe.

At its heart is an integrated cluster of 128 Ultra-Sparc111 processors and a 24-processor SunFire. It has a total of 112Gbytes of RAM and 7 Terabytes of data storage [a Terabyte is more than a million, million bytes]. This is equivalent of nearly 11,000 CD-ROMS. The Cosmology Machine can perform 10 billion arithmetic operations per second, equivalent to about a million years of continuous calculation by a numerate individual. Or, alternatively, if all the Earth's six billion inhabitants were proficient at arithmetic it would take them about two hours to carry out the same number of operations that the supercomputer can carry out in a single second.

The gigantic facility, manufactured by Sun Microsystems and supplied by Esteem Systems plc, was installed at Durham with the help of 652,000.00 from the Joint Research Equipment Initiative [JREI]. The JREI was set up by the DTI's Office of Science and Technology, The Higher Education Funding Council for England [HEFCE] and, in this particular instance, The Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council [PPARC].


The Institute for Particle Physics Phenomenology (IPPP) fosters world-class research in particle physics phenomenology - the bridge between theory and experiment - in the study of the building blocks of matter in the Universe [the fundamental particles] and how they interact through the fundamental forces. Following a review of competitive bids from UK institutes by a panel of international experts the IPPP was established in June 2000 with funding of 7M by PPARC and 5M by the University of Durham.

Director Professor James Stirling explains: "Particle Physics Phenomenology is the bridge between theory and experiment in the study of the building blocks of matter in the Universe - the fundamental particles - and how they interact through the fundamental forces. Phenomenologists play the dual role of revealing aspects of theory that can be tested by experiment, while at the same time helping their experimental colleagues to see the implications of their measurements in the search for new fundamental laws. The formation of the Institute enables the UK to maximise the benefit from existing investment in major experimental laboratories around the world."

The IPPP currently has around fifty members, including postgraduate students and support staff. One of the main goals of the IPPP is to provide a forum for interaction between UK particle physics experimentalists and theorists, co-ordinating common interests and future research through discussion meetings, workshops and conferences. An extensive visitor programme brings international researchers to Durham all year round.

The research activity of the IPPP covers a wide range of topics in particle physics phenomenology, from precision calculations within the 'Standard Model' to more speculative work on possible `theories of everything', with the emphasis on the implications for current and future particle physics experiments. The research programme is closely aligned with that of the UK experimental community. Recent workshops have focused on physics topics relevant to HERA, the Tevatron, the LHC and a future Linear Collider. One of the key areas of study relates to the search for the Higgs boson. IPPP researchers are actively involved in ongoing national and international studies to assess and refine the discovery possibilities at the LHC and the Linear Collider.

Earlier this year, the IPPP sponsored and co-organised the first international conference on 'String Phenomenology', held in Oxford, at which the implications for experiment of the leading candidate for a theory of everything - string theory - were addressed. While much of the work of the IPPP focuses on physics relevant to present and future high-energy particle colliders, there is also a strong emphasis on non-accelerator and astroparticle physics. Neutrino physics has a high profile within the Institute, through ongoing work on developing theories that incorporate neutrino masses and mixing, and exploring their cosmological implications. Finally, studies of theories 'Beyond the Standard Model' reveal possible candidates for the dark matter in the universe, and form a natural bridge between the work of the IPPP and ICC.

Public Outreach

The goal of this project is to develop a public outreach programme in astronomy and particle physics in the North of England. Its primary target is 11-16 year old school children and their teachers. The focus is on exploring the origin of the Universe, the properties of the fundamental particles and the nature of the dark matter. The project builds upon the work of the Ogden Centre and The UK Dark Matter Collaboration, which is based in the Boulby potash mine near Whitby.

The programme is constructed around five key activities:

1. The development of innovative teaching packs.
2. The delivery of Masterclasses in particle physics and astronomy.
3. Establishing the first regional Faulkes Telescope Centre in the UK.
4. School visits.
5. Teacher support sessions.


Keith Seacroft
Head of Public Relations
University of Durham
Telephone: 0191 374 2947
Web site:

Peter Barratt
PPARC Head of Communications
Tel: 01793 442025
Mobile: 07879 602899
Web Site:

IPPP Contacts:

Prof. James Stirling, Director IPPP
Tel: 0191 374 2169

Higgs searches:
Georg Weiglein ( Tel: 0191 374 1641
Alan Martin ( Tel: 0191 374 2162

Collider Physics:
Nigel Glover ( Tel: 0191 374 3802

String Phenomenology:
Steve Abel ( Tel: 0191 374 2349/4614

Neutrino Physics:
Sacha Davidson ( Tel: 0191 374 2157

ICC contacts
Prof. Carlos Frenk, Director ICC
Tel: 0191 374 2141


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 broad 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 Organisation for Nuclear Research, CERN, the European Southern Observatory 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.

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