Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Annex 6

Memorandum from the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC)

  1.  This memorandum provides some observations from PPARC's perspective.

  2.  The overall picture for UK particle physics and astronomy is one of strength, vibrancy and growth.

  3.  As measured by citations the UK is a clear second to the USA in astronomy and is one of the top three behind the USA in particle physics. UK groups are world-leading in a number of specific highly competitive areas, for example, dark matter, gravitational waves, cosmic microwave background radiation, neutrino physics and theoretical modelling.

  4.  The PPARC community in academia is growing. For example there was a 40% increase in permanent academic staff in astronomy groups from 1995-2002 and this trend is continuing with the formation of new research groups. This growth has been driven primarily by the proven ability of PPARC Astronomy faculty to attract undergraduates.

  5.  Over 90% of PPARC researchers work in 5/5* physics departments. Competing internationally, often in large scale collaborations, requires departments to have a sufficient critical mass of high quality researchers. PPARC believes that the RAE is a powerful driver towards research excellence. The problem is that the current financial methodology places too much emphasis on rewarding historical achievement with little possibility of upward movement.

  6.  With its strong requirement for long term commitment to build its large facilities PPARC has and will collaborate with University management in growing capability in specific areas, and in enabling new groups to be created with the necessary critical mass. Examples of recent joint investment, in some cases supplemented by funding from RDAs and private endowment, are:

    (a)  Glasgow University—Gravitational Waves

    (b)  Durham University—Institute for Particle Physics Phenomenology

    (c)  Liverpool, Manchester, Lancaster—Cockcroft Institute for Accelerator Science

    (d)  Oxford—Adams Institute for Accelerator Science

    (e)  Edinburgh—Parallel Computer Centre

    (f)  Warwick—New Experiment Particle Physics Group

  7.  PPARC has increased the volume of studentships by 30% since 1995 and plans a further increase of 50% by 2007/08. Demand for studentships is running at over three times the number available. The take-up and quality has remained consistently high : an average of 98% take-up in the last nine years and over 60% of students who take up awards have first class degrees.

  8.  In summary

    —  the long-term nature of the investment required to enable PPARC's community to participate in the design, construction and exploitation of internationally competitive state-of-the-art facilities provides Universities with a framework within which to plan strategically;

    —  astronomy and particle physics are successful in attracting students into the physical sciences. Given their skills and the fact that about 50% do not stay in PPARC-funded research they could provide a growing pool of skilled expertise for both other disciplines and the private sector.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2005
Prepared 11 April 2005